International Women's Day: 10 to watch in Tokyo
Tokyo 2020

International Women's Day: 10 to watch in Tokyo

07 March 2020 / 23:07
By Mark Staniforth, Olympics Correspondent for PA Media 

Success comes as second-nature to a new wave of female Team GB talent who are set to take this summer's Tokyo Olympics by storm. For the first time at an Olympic Games, British women are expected to outnumber their male counterparts in the Japanese capital, and they are continuing to revel in the hard-won weight of expectation. 

Less than a quarter of a century ago, Denise Lewis was the only female medallist for Team GB in Atlanta. The subsequent, exponential growth of women's sport in Britain culminated in 26 medals in Rio. It is perhaps no coincidence that such a trajectory should mirror the increasing focus on International Women's Day as an occasion to underscore to new generations of girls that the once-improbable has become possible in which ever field they choose to excel. The class of Tokyo 2020 can be sure their achievements will ring through to classrooms and sports clubs like never before, ensuring that never again will we count female Olympic success in single figures. 

Dina Asher-Smith

Dina Asher-Smith

It is 60 years since the last female British sprinter stepped onto an Olympic podium when Dorothy Hyman won silver in the 100m at the 1960 Games in Munich. The teenage Hyman, who had not even been expected to reach the final, finished second in a time of 11.3 seconds behind American Wilma Rudolph. 

It is a mark of Dina Asher-Smith's ascendency that a repeat-feat in Tokyo would perhaps present a tinge of disappointment. The 24-year-old emphatically staked her claim at last year's World Championships in Doha when she won the world 200m title in a new British record 21.88 seconds. 

Her silver in the 100m, behind double Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, set up the prospect of a pair of titanic duels between the duo in Tokyo. Having risen to the occasion so magnificently in Doha, few would put it past Asher-Smith re-writing the record books once again.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

The pursuit of heptathlon success in Great Britain brings with it a certain degree of historical baggage. Denise Lewis, Kelly Sotherton and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill have all tasted Olympic success in the discipline, and Katarina Johnson-Thompson has already gone a long way towards emulating her predecessors. 

The 27-year-old has fought hard for the right to mix in such illustrious company. Her hopes of using her sixth place in Rio as a springboard were dashed by a below par high jump which ruled her out of the medals at the 2017 World Championships in London. But Johnson-Thompson recovered brilliantly, a personal best at the 2018 European Championships in which she took silver behind Nafi Thiam paving the way to her coronation as world champion in Doha last year. 

In eclipsing world and Olympic champion Thiam by 304 points, Johnson-Thompson not only laid down a significant statement of intent,  but emphasised her place among the British heptathlon greats.

Lauren Price

Lauren Price

Lauren Price is the leader of a new generation of female boxers who are proving more than capable of reaping the benefits of the legacy left them by the likes of Nicola Adams and Natasha Jonas, who starred in the sport's Olympic debut in 2012. The 25-year-old Price took some time to find her true calling. She won kick-boxing world titles and attended GB Taekwondo's 'Fighting Chance' programme – all the while squeezing in a successful football career for both Cardiff City and the Welsh national team – before being convinced to switch codes after watching Adams' exhilarating gold medal success in London. 

Price made a breakthrough by winning Commonwealth Games middleweight gold in 2018 and repeated that achievement the following year at the European Games in Minsk. She will head to Tokyo as a reigning world champion after beating experienced Dutch fighter Nouchka Fontijn in last year's final in Ulan-Ude.

Sky Brown

Sky Brown

She is yet to celebrate her 12th birthday but Sky Brown has already achieved more extraordinary feats than most of her contemporaries will manage in a lifetime. Winning 'Dancing With The Stars: Juniors”? Check. Ambassador for an Oscar-winning documentary? Check. Qualifying for the Olympics? Almost. 

Brown's bronze medal at last year's Park World Championships in Sao Paolo puts the precocious skateboarder on track to become Team GB's youngest summer Olympian, and the second youngest overall behind figure skater Cecilia Colledge, who was 11 years and 73 days old when she competed at the 1932 Winter Games in Lake Placid. 

Remarkably, Brown, who was born in Japan, also had a shot at qualifying in surfing, in which she has competed professionally. She hangs with skating legend Tony Hawk and works with the 'Skateistan' social programme, whose short film triumphed at last month's Academy Awards. Just another regular day in the life of the nation's sporting star.

Becky Downie

Becky Downie

Most eyes may be on her younger sister Ellie, as she goes head to head with the extraordinary American Simone Biles across a range of gymnastics disciplines in Tokyo. But 28-year-old Becky Downie has a story to beat the lot if she can seal her first Olympic medal in Tokyo. 

Downie's career has been ravaged by elbow and ankle injuries and other setbacks, none more acute than her failure to make the team for London 2012. But at an age when most female gymnasts have long eased into retirement, Downie claimed her first individual world medal in Stuttgart last year with a silver medal on the uneven bars – coincidentally, the same day Ellie took bronze in the vault. 

The elder Downie's willingness to opt for all-or-nothing, high-risk routines puts her firmly in the frame for an exhilarating podium place in Tokyo, in what is Biles' - by her own admission - least favoured event. 


Shauna Coxsey

Shauna Coxsey

Technically, Shauna Coxsey is not Britain's first Olympic climber: that honour goes to the team led by Brigadier Charles Bruce who were awarded gold medals at the 1924 Games for three gallant efforts to conquer Mount Everest over the preceding years. But Coxsey, who freely admits she loathes the cold and outdoors, is one of the stars of a new generation of athletes who have swapped ice-packed peaks for the exhilarating world of sport climbing. 

Split into three indoor disciplines – speed, bouldering and lead, whose cumulative results dictate the medal positions – it offers fast-paced thrills without the plunging temperatures Coxsey disdains. Hailing from the less-than-vertiginous Lancashire town of Runcorn, is a two-time world champion in one of three disciplines, bouldering, and as such goes to Tokyo with a strong chance of emulating Bruce and co almost a century on.


Seonaid McIntosh 

Seonaid McIntosh

After watching her sister Jen compete at the London 2012 Olympics, something belatedly stirred in Seonaid McIntosh's mind. Despite being part of a family steeped in international shooting success – her mother Shirley won four Commonwealth Games medals, and father Donald also competed for Scotland – in her younger years the sport had largely passed her by. 

When she finally opted to commit to the family trade, McIntosh soon found she had the potential to eclipse her parents and even her sister, who had peaked with two Commonwealth Games and European titles. Seonaid made an historic breakthrough at the 2018 World Championships in Changwon, where she won gold in the 50m Rifle Prone, becoming the first British woman to win an individual medal at the ISSF event.

Last year, she won three World Cup medals, including a gold in Rio, and emphasised her emergence by being named Scotland's Sportsperson of the Year, joining the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Andy Murray and Dame Katherine Grainger.

Jade Jones

Jade Jones

Jade Jones admitted she struggled for motivation in the immediate aftermath of her first Olympic gold at London 2012. Barely 18 years old, the Welsh taekwondo star had kicked her way to glory at her home Olympics and faced the rest of her career in the knowledge that she had already achieved the ultimate accolade.

Over time, Jones came to realise that sustaining her place at the top of the women's featherweight rankings provided an equally appetising quest. A series of dominant performances to retain her Olympic title in 2016 belied the frustration of her battle for an inaugural world crown, not least in Russia in 2015 when she controversially lost her quarter-final after being hampered by a scoreboard malfunction. With plenty of imperatives to keep focused, Jones finally conquered the world in Manchester in 2019. Dominant in her division for the best part of a decade, the 26-year-old has no intention of relinquishing her hard-won crown in Tokyo.

Nikita Parris

Nikita Parris

As Olympic boasts go, Natasha Jonas has a good one: her women's boxing match against Ireland's Katie Taylor at the London 2012 Games was fought amid a crowd noise recorded at 113.7 decibels, four times louder than a regular rock concert. Sibling rivalry studded the childhood of Jonas and her sister Nikita Parris growing up in Toxteth, Liverpool, and Tokyo represents Parris' opportunity to raise the bar.

As an integral part of Great Britain's women's football team at the Games, Parris is desperate to continue to raise the profile of the sport. It is the same desire that led her to leave Manchester City last summer and join all-conquering Lyon, winners of the Women's Champions League for each of the last four seasons. A podium finish would go a long way to underscoring the emergence of the women's game in Great Britain, as well as, crucially, giving Parris the ideal advantage in their sisterly battles.
 

Emma Wilson

Emma Wilson

Plotting the same path as your double-Olympian mother can bring its own unique set of pressures. But they are circumstances that Christchurch windsurfer Emma Wilson is only too happy to accept as she increases preparations for her Olympic bow. Penny Way – now Wilson – secured top 10 finishes at both the 1992 and 1996 Games, and made her name in the sport with a trio of world title wins. But 21-year-old Emma is beginning to create her own waves in the sport.

Consecutive youth world titles in 2016 and 2017 eased her up to senior level where she benefited from training alongside 2008 bronze medallist Bryony Shaw and almost made a spectacular first impression, narrowly missing a medal at the 2018 World Championships in Denmark. A subsequent fourth place finish in the Tokyo 2020 test event in Enoshima suggests it will not be long before Wilson is soaring out of her mother's shadow.

Tokyo 2020