Women's Sport Week: Celebrating Team GB's female athletes

It’s Women’s Sport Week, and after our most successful foreign Games ever, with our biggest ever female contingent for an overseas Games, what better time is there to celebrate Team GB’s female Olympians?

We could start in many places, but the obvious place is with Laura Trott – or should that be Laura Kenny? We’ll stick with Trott.

The 24-year-old from Harlow, Essex, became our most successful ever female Olympian at Rio 2016 as she won the omnium and team pursuit, both for a second time.

After stunning the world as a 20-year-old at London 2012 when she, with Dani King and Joanna Rowsell Shand, won team pursuit gold and set a new world record in the process, before further shining with a dominant omnium victory, she wowed the crowds again with equally impressive displays in Brazil – this time with Roswell Shand, Elinor Barker and Katie Archibald in the team pursuit.

And while Trott may have seven world titles to her name and ten European golds, she also has four world silver medals and one bronze.

But when it comes to Olympic competition she only deals in gold. Trott has only ever entered four Olympic events in her two Games, and she has been victorious in all four.

Trott had to wait until August 13, day eight of Rio 2016, to get her hands on her third gold medal and become Team GB’s most successful female Olympian, but Charlotte Dujardin could have got there first.

As it was, the 31-year-old from Enfield had to settle for silver, alongside Fiona Bigwood, in the team dressage, on day seven of the Games, before winning individual gold three days later.

Those medals took the rider to three Olympic golds and one silver – almost matching Trott in the 100 per cent hit-rate stakes.

And Rio 2016 was not only Team GB’s most successful foreign Games, it was actually our most successful ever for women’s sport.

We had more females than ever before at an away Games, with 164 making the trip to Rio, and the second-most ever at any Games, behind only London 2012 where there were 262.

Out of the total team in Rio, 45 per cent were female, with 45 per cent of the medals being won by women.

And not only that, Rio 2016 saw more female medallists, and more medals won by females, than ever before at an Olympic Games, topping London 2012 where we had 45 female medallists winning 24 medals – in Rio we had 59 female medallists winning 26 medals between them.

And one of the more memorable moments from the Games was the hockey squad winning our first ever women’s gold medal in the sport.

Defender Crista Cullen had retired after winning bronze at London 2012, but she came out of retirement for one last shot at gold, and she hopes Team GB’s female success can inspire more women to get into sport.

"After the recent successes with the medal haul from GB I really hope that post-Rio we are able to engage with the public, engage with women and try to maintain this really exciting roller-coaster that sport has created over the summer," said Cullen.

Back to the track and the women’s team pursuit success was followed by double silver for Becky James and a bronze for Katy Marchant.

And James, who overcame serious injury and illness just to be on the startline in Rio, is keen to see more women on bikes.

“I started in an after school club, when I was 11-years-old, the guy taking the sessions said I was really talented and I should go racing with him and his son,” said the 24-year-old.

“So I went and I started beating the boys in my first race. Then I was lucky enough to go through the British Cycling programme, so I got into the Welsh Talent Team when I was 13, then into the Olympic Development Team when I was 15, so I’ve been lucky to go down the pathway of talent ID.

“There are quite a lot of outdoor velodromes, I began at Maindy, in Cardiff, a little concrete outdoor velodrome.

“You don’t have to start out at Newport, or Cardiff or Manchester, you can join a local club and I’m sure they’ll have sessions on outdoor velodromes.”

From one track to another and there was female success for our 4x100m and 4x400m squads, who both won bronze, adding to a surprise bronze for Sophie Hitchon in the hammer and Jess Ennis-Hill’s heptathlon silver.

Ennis-Hill’s medal was particularly impressive given that she took time out after London 2012 to give birth to her first son, Reggie, and another woman known for her grit and determination is Katherine Grainger.

The rower won her fourth silver medal, and fifth medal in total, as she sculled to second place with Vicky Thornley.

And there was more rowing success in Rio as Helen Glover and Heather Stanning retained their women’s pair title, while the women’s eight crew scored a sensational silver of their own.

In vessels of a different kind Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark sailed to women’s 470 gold, while in the pool Jazz Carlin picked up two silver medals in the 400m and 800m freestyle, while Siobhan-Marie O’Connor also finished second in the 200m individual medley.

A woman of many talents was Vicky Holland, who out-sprinted her teammate and housemate Non Stanford to take women’s triathlon bronze, while there was also bronze for Bianca Walkden in the +67kg taekwondo class.

Maintaining the fighting theme and there was another bronze for Sally Conway in the -70kg judo category, while Jade Jones defended her -57kg taekwondo title and Nicola Adams made history with a second gold in the women’s flyweight boxing.

From floating in the ring to floating above a trampoline bed and Bryony Page shocked even herself to win silver in the women’s event, while Team GB’s youngest member in Rio, Amy Tinkler, stunned the crowd to win floor bronze in the gymnastics.

So, if all of that success hasn’t made you keen to go out and try sort for yourself, maybe these words from Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch, will convince you.

“Being active and playing sport has enormous benefits - it improves mental and physical health, boosts confidence and leadership skills, and brings people together,” she said.

“I want to encourage more girls and women to get involved in sport for the positive impact it can have on their lives.

“Women’s Sport Week is a fantastic campaign that showcases the best of women’s sport from the grassroots to the elite.”

Sportsbeat 2016