As another year draws to a close it’s once again time for me to reflect on my favourite memories from the previous 12 months.
This year’s list features game changing moments, unadulterated chaos, new faces rising to the top and old ones setting yet more records. So sit back and relax as I take you through the first half of my top ten moments of 2017 (you can see my first five picks here).
*Disclaimer: This is entirely my opinion and not a statement of fact! There are so many incredible athletes who could quite easily have been on this list (e.g. Adam Peaty, Hannah Cockroft, Kay Wilson), but these are the ones that resonate with me the most.*
5) Walk-ing into the history books
What a year Bianca Walkden has had. Six world titles, a SPOTY nomination and a whole host of new faces all went her way as the smiley Liverpudlian dominated the world of taekwondo.
The disappointment of a bronze in Rio has clearly had a huge impact on the Liverpudlian who has been without fault all year, bulldozing her way through all those who tried to get in her way.
Any of her four Grand Prix victories or the recent World Grand Slam victory could easily have made this list but it was the defence of her World Championship title that really stood out. She beat long-term rival Jackie Galloway 14-4 that day, becoming the first British woman to defend a World title in the process.
Aged just 26, it’s frightening just how good Walkden could become.
4) Leading from the front
Following on from Great Britain’s sensational gold in Rio, the spotlight has been on England Hockey this year to see whether they can replicate that success.
Several new faces have come into the squad this year but coach Danny Kerry has been lucky to have kept a solid core from that special August night, including the legendary Alex Danson.
The new captain has led her new charges superbly this year and nowhere was this better emphasised in July as her 100th international goal sparked a superb comeback from her side to draw against current world champions The Netherlands in front of a packed house at Lee Valley.
With a home World Cup coming next summer, expect Danson to once again show why she is regarded as one of the finest players hockey has ever seen.
3) The perception changer
This was the year the British public finally started taking women’s rugby seriously.
While much was initially made of England’s 2014 World Cup triumph, this was quickly pushed to one side. But this year there was no ignoring the outstanding feats of the Red Roses, who swept to a Six Nations Grand Slam, beat New Zealand in their backyard and reached the World Cup final.
While the scoring feats of Kay Wilson and Jess Breach could have made this list, World Cup semi-final against France was the moment perceptions of the game changed for me.
While many fixtures throughout the tournament were rather one-sided, this certainly wasn’t as France threw everything at England but ultimately couldn’t break through their incredible defence.
It was tense, exciting, brutal and utterly brilliant to watch. This was the game that showed just how entertaining women’s rugby is.
2) C-Anya believe it?
23 July 2017. Lord’s. 24,000 fans. Nat Sciver – 51. Anya Shrubsole – 6-46. History made.
One of the greatest sporting moments our country has witnessed, this was one of those occasions where people will always remember they you were the moment Shrubsole bowled India’s Rajeshwari Gayakwad to claim the most remarkable of victories.
I was working at my desk, with Dad doing likewise in his study while Mum cleaned the bathroom. All three of us were listening on the radio but had largely given up hope with India needing 38 runs with seven wickets left.
But by the end we’d stopping in our tracks, hanging off every word of the TMS commentary as Shrubsole produced one of cricket’s finest ever spells.
Much like the aforementioned rugby game, this was the moment everyone took notice of women’s cricket. I would go so far as to compare it to the 2005 Ashes, it was that special for me.
1) King of the world
While it may have not grabbed as many headlines as others on this list, seeing Sammi Kinghorn win her maiden world title was hands down my favourite moment of the year.
I was lucky enough to chat to Sammi for SportSpiel shortly before London 2017 and immediately I became one of her biggest fans. Not only is she a supremely talented athlete, she’s also such a lovely person to speak to, really polite and eloquent.
Most of all though, she’s inspirational. Listening to her describe her accident and the way she’s turned her life around for the best was an incredible privilege.
Sitting in the crowd ahead of her T53 200m final, I couldn’t believe how nervous I was. There was no need to be though as she stormed to victory, leading to me to rather unexpectedly let out an almighty scream – my celebrations are normally much more reserved!
As a journalist there’s always one story that you really connect with and Sammi’s was certainly mine. I feel very lucky to have been able to chat to her and am so excited to see what she does going forward in her career.
2017 has also been an incredible year for me personally, with two highlights in particular:
1) Landing my dream job
It’s fair to say I’ve become rather hockey obsessed since Rio 2016, although having little cartilage left in one knee means I can never take it up!
But if you’d told me then I would be working with some of my heroes from that night I probably would’ve told you where to go!
I am under no illusions; I’ve a very lucky guy. Who else can say they get to work with the finest athletes this country has to offer?
My first three months have certainly been a challenge and I’ve already made plenty of mistakes but it’s been so worth it. I’ve been fortunate to have already interviewed many legends of the game – including Danson and Barry Middleton – and was lucky to get the opportunity to work with Olympic champion Shona McCallin and help produce a video for her blog, which can be seen here.
With new camera equipment having arrived and two World Cups next year – one in London – I could not be more excited for the next 12 months. It’s going to be epic!
Who knew chatting on the Tube could actually lead to such good ideas?
I remember the moment fellow trainee and now good friend Alasdair Hooper asked if I wanted to set up a podcast with him and I immediately jumped at the chance. As an aspiring commentator and having shadowed Alison Mitchell shortly before, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity for me to get on the bandwagon and have some fun along the way.
I can’t lie, it’s not been the easiest of rides – some episodes have not picked up as we hoped, interviews have been hard to track down and it’s not always easy to find time to record.
But seeing the recent love for our work on social media – in particular from the Women’s Sport Trust – and the enjoyment I’ve had speaking to each of our guests has made it certainly worthwhile.
I’m so grateful to Alasdair for suggesting this to me and I can’t wait for next year. We’ve got big plans for 2018 so make sure you stay tuned for what we assure you will be another barnstorming year for SportSpiel!