Florence Griffith Joyner

The late Florence Griffith Joyner, popularly known as ‘FloJo’, died at her home in Mission Viejo, California in September, 1998, aged just 38, having suffocated during a severe epileptic seizure. A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Griffith Joyner first attracted worldwide attention when winning the silver medal in the women’s 200 metres at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, behind compatriot Valerie Brisco-Hooks. Instantly recognisable by her one-legged jumpsuits, long, bouncy hair and ornate, curved fingernails, she quickly became the darling of the media. However, lacking the financial support to concentrate exclusively on track and field, Griffith Joyner was forced to seek alternative employment.

It was not until 1987 that Griffith Joyner started training seriously again. In October that year she married triple jumper Al Joyner who, alongside her official coach, Bob Kersee, oversaw her preparation for the 1988 US Olympic Trials. Together, Joyner and Kersee incorporated more weight training into her routine, giving her a more muscular physique, and improved her starting technique.

The result was nothing short of miraculous. On July 16, 1988, at the US Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Griffith Joyner ran the 100 metres in 10.49 seconds. In so doing, she not only improved her personal best by over half a second, but set a new world record, beating the previous mark, set by Evelyn Ashford four years earlier, by 0.27 seconds. That September, at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Griffith Joyner set a new world record, 21.56 seconds, in the semi-final of the women’s 200 metres and lowered her own mark, to 21.34 seconds, when winning the gold medal in the final. At the time of writing, both world records still stand.

Bryony Frost

Bryony Frost, 27, is the daughter of Grand National winning jockey Jimmy Frost, but first rose to prominence in her own right when winning the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on Pacha Du Polder, trained by Paul Nicholls, in March, 2017. The following July she turned professional and, on Boxing Day, won the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Black Corton, also trained by Nicholls. In so doing, she became just the second woman – after Lizzie Kelly, who won the same race on Tea For Two two years previously – to win a Grade One jumps race in Britain.

Indeed, 2017/18 proved to be a breakthrough season for Frost. All told, she rode 38 winners, including Milansbar, trained by Neil King, in the Grade Three Classic Chase at Warwick. She also had her first ride in the Grand National, on the same horse, finishing a staying-on fifth, beaten 32½ lengths, behind Tiger Roll. The following November, Frost rode Marienstar, trained by King, to victory at Kempton Park, taking her career total to 75 winners and becoming just the fifth British-based National Hunt jockey to ride out her claim.

In March, 2019, Frost won the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on Frodon, trained by Nicholls, thereby becoming the first woman to win a Grade One race at the showpiece fixture. The following month, she won the conditional jockeys’ title, finishing the season with 49 winners – 11 more than second-placed James Bowen – making her just the second woman, after Lucy Alexander in 2012/13, to do so. In December, 2020, Frost also won the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Frodon. In so doing, she not only became the first female jockey to do so, but also took her career tally to 175 winners, making her the most successful jockey in British National Hunt history.

Hayley Turner

Nottingham-born Hayley Turner, 39, has the distinction of being the most successful British female jockey in history. She officially retired at the end of the 2015 season, but returned to race riding, full-time, in 2018 and passed the landmark of 900 career winners when steering Master Milliner, trained by Emma Lavelle, to a comfortable, 7-length victory at York in September, 2021.

A graduate of the Northern Racing College in Doncaster, Turner rode her first winner, Generate, trained by Mark Polglase, in an apprentice handicap at Pontefract in June, 2000. However, she enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2005, riding 53 winners in the year as a whole, 44 of which counted towards the apprentice jockeys’ title. Eventually, she shared that title with Saleem Golam, but nonetheless became the first female jockey to do so and just the fourth, after Alex Greaves, Emma O’Gorman and Lisa Jones, to ride out her claim.

In 2008, Turner rode exactly 100 winners, becoming the first female jockey to reach three figures in a calendar year. Three years later, in 2011, she became just the second female jockey, after Alex Greaves, who dead-heated for first place in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 1997, to win a Group One race and the first one to do so outright. In fact, Turner steered Dream Ahead, trained by David Simcock. to victory in the July Cup at Newmarket on July 9 and, on August 19, won the Nunthorpe Stakes herself, on Margot Did, trained by Michael Bell. Reflecting on her success, she said, ‘I can’t believe it – it’s the best season ever.’

Much later in her career, in 2019, Turner won the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot on Thanks Be, trained by Charlie Fellowes, to become the first female jockey since Gay Kelleway in 1987, and just the second ever, to ride a winner at the Royal meeting. Just for good measure, she won the same race again on Onassis, also trained by Fellowes, in 2020.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn (née Kildow), who retired from competitive skiing, aged 34, after winning a bronze medal in the ladies’ downhill at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Åre, Sweden in February, 2019, is the most decorated American skier in history. Before her retirement, she had written on Facebook, ‘My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of.’ Certainly, her story is one of perseverance, as she came back from multiple injuries, including broken bones and torn ligaments, time and time again in an extraordinary career.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota on October 18, 1984, she was just turned 16 when she made her World Cup debut, in slalom, at the Park City Mountain Resort in Park City, Utah on November 18, 2000. Two years later, still only 17, Vonn made the US team for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, finishing sixth in the women’s combined event. She raced at three more Winter Olympic Games, in Turin in 2006, Vancouver in 2010 and Pyeongchang in 2018, only missing out in Sochi in 2014 after reinjuring her reconstructed right knee the previous winter. She won her only Olympic gold medal in the downhill in Vancouver, but also a bronze medal in the super giant slalom that year and another in the downhill in Pyeongchang.

Vonn also has eight FIS Alpine World Ski Championships gold medals to her name, including gold medals in downhill and super-G at Val-d’Isère in 2009. However, her main claim to fame is her World Cup record; she remains one of only two women to win four World Cup overall titles (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012) and, with 82 World Cup victories to her name, is second only to the legendary Swede Ingemark Stenmark in the all-time list.

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