Charlotte Dujardin

Enfield-born dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin, 36, has the distinction of being the second most successful British female Olympian in history. At the 2020 Summer Olympics – which were, of course, postponed until 2021 – she won bronze in team and individual dressage aboard Gio, whom she co-owned, at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park in Tokyo to take her medal tally to six. Cyclist Dame Laura Kenny has also won six Olympic medals, but has two more golds than Dujardin.

Dujardin joined international dressage rider and trainer Judy Harvey straight from school and, in 2007, almost by accident, formed a partnership with five-time Olympian Carl Hester at his yard near Newent, Gloucestershire. Hester became her mentor, giving her the ride on Valegro, the horse aboard whom she would enjoy her finest hour at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. At Greenwich Park, Dujardin, alongside Hester and Laura Tomlinson (née Bechtolsheimer), won gold in team dressage and, two days later, won gold again in individual dressage.

Dujardin and Valegro continued to prosper, winning individual gold medals at the European Dressage Championships in 2013 and 2014, gold medals in both Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle at the World Equestrian Games in 2014 and the World Cup Dressage Final in 2014 and 2015. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the pair defended their individual dressage title and won silver in team dressage.

Valegro was retired from competition in December, 2016, following an emotional farewell performance at the London International Horse Show at Olympia. Dujardin, for her part, was awarded an OBE for services to equestrianism in 2013 and was further honoured with a CBE in 2017.

Fatima Whitbread

Born Fatima Vedad in Stoke Newington, North East London on March 3, 1961, Fatima Whitbread endured what she described as a ‘nightmare of a childhood’ before being adopted by her javelin coach, Margaret Whitbread, and her husband as a teenager. In 1977, Whitbread won the intermediate, or under 17, age group at the English Schools Athletic Association Championships with a throw of 43.52 metres. She subsequently represented England at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, where she finished sixth behind compatriot Theresa ‘Tessa’ Sanderson – the rivalry between the two would become legendary – with a throw of 49.16 metres.

Whitbread competed at the first of three Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California in 1984, winning the bronze medal behind Sanderson and Tiina Lillak of Finland. However, she is probably best remembered for her achievements between 1986 and her formal retirement from competition in 1992. At the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart, she won the gold medal with a throw of 76.32 metres in the final, by which time she had already set a new world record of 77.44 metres – 2.04 metres further than the previous mark, set by East German Petra Felke in 1985 – in the qualifying round. In so doing, she became the first British athlete, male or female, to hold a world record in a throwing event.

At the 1987 World Athletics Championhsips, Whitbread won gold again, with a throw of 76.64 metres. That year she was created a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to athletics and voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Whitbread won the silver medal behind Felke but, thereafter, he career was dogged by a long-term shoulder injury, which eventually forced her retirement.

Katie Taylor

Not to be confused with American former figure skater Katy Taylor, Katie ‘The Bray Bomber’ Taylor is an Irish professional boxer who, at the time of writing, has the distinction of being undisputed world lightweight champion. Born in Bray, County Wicklow, hence her nickname, but based in Connecticut in the United States, Taylor, 35, currently defends a perfect 21-0 record, including six knockouts, since making her professional debut in November, 2016. Most recently, she outpointed Puerta Rican Amanda Serrano, by split decision, at Madison Square Garden, New York on April 30, 2022 to retain her WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles. Taylor remains one of just eight boxers, of either sex, to have held all four major world titles at the same time.

Taylor was also a prolific winner as an amateur. She made her debut against Northern Irishwoman Alanna Nihell (née Audley-Murphy) at the National Stadium, Dublin, in what was, in fact, the first officially sanctioned women’s boxing match on Irish soil, on October 31, 2001, winning on points. In her amateur boxing career as a a whole, Taylor compiled a record of 175-12-1, with highlights including six gold medals at the European Amateur Boxing Championships, five gold medals at the European Union Amateur Boxing Championships and another five at the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, which included women’s boxing for the first time, Taylor defeated Russian Sofya Ochigava 10-8 in the gold medal match to become the inaugural Olympic women’s lightweight champion.

In May, 2022, she was honoured by the IBA with the accolade of ‘Outstanding Boxer’ for her role in promoting women’s boxing. Although yet to be confirmed, at the time of writing, Taylor is set to make her home professional debut, in a rematch with Amanda Serrano, at Croke Park, Dublin in October, 2022.

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan on October 16, 1997, but moved to the United States with her family at the age of three. She retained dual citizenship until October, 2019 when, as required by Japanese law, she chose one – in her case, Japanese citizenship – before turning 22 years of age. That decision also made her eligible to represent Japan at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

In July, 2014, Osaka made her debut on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour in the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California. Still only 16 and ranked number 406 in the world, Osaka came through the qualifying draw, but beat former US Open Champion Samantha Stosur, ranked 19, 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 in the first round proper, having saved a match point in the second set.

It was not until the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California in March, 2018 that Osaka won her first WTA title, beating Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the final. However, in September, 2018, she won her first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open in New York City, beating Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 in the final. Thus, she would become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Thereafter, Osaka won the Australian Open in 2019, the US Open again in 2020 and the Australian Open again in 2021, for a total of four Grand Slam singles titles. She reached the top of the WTA singles rankings on January 28, 2019, making her the first Asian player to do so and has spent a total of 25 weeks in all in the top spot. In 2021, Osaka took two self-imposed mental health breaks, one of which coincided with Wimbledon and, in 2022, announced that she would miss the event for the second year running due to an Achilles injury, which ‘still isn’t right’.

1 2 3 4 5 9