The 52’s Favourite Moments Of 2019


At the end of another groundbreaking year for women’s sport, The 52’s Will Moulton (WM), Alasdair Hooper (AHp), Alex Horowitz (AHz), Ollie Godden (OG), Julia Cook (JC) and Shona McCallin (SMc) have collated their favourite moments of 2019.

And in case you missed it, you can also read Tess Howard’s excellent review of her top moments from the year here.

Attendances soar & will only grow more
WM
: It’s been incredible to see how many attendance records have been broken this year. And it’s not just the international teams but also domestically too. Of course many of these figures had previously been low and were there to be broken but to generate such great numbers already is a good start.

It is proof that the appetite is there; people do want to watch women’s sport.

The level of innovation implemented in football and rugby – moving into ‘men’s’ stadiums, creating a Women’s Football Weekend etc. – is certainly a different approach but it seems to be working. It will be interesting to see if/how this changes going forward.

It’s been a privilege to be a part of many of these crowds – including part of the 77,000 roaring on the Lionesses on at Wembley and the 10,000 watching the England Rugby’s Red Roses thump Italy at Exeter’s Sandy Park – and I can’t wait to see how these figures progress further next year.

SMc: I think 2019 has been a big year for women’s sport. Attitudes and perceptions seem to be finally changing and, more crucially, being maintained.

One of my favourite moments of the year was seeing the Lionesses filling up Wembley on the back of a whirlwind World Cup campaign which I was certainly gripped by. The previous record home attendance record for the team was 45,000 – set five years ago – which just shows how much interest has grown.

AHp: This summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France was the competition where the world finally realised the potential and the appeal of the women’s game.

Overall 1.12bn viewers watched the tournament on TV at home, on digital platforms or out-of-home. The final was seen live by more than 260m viewers and the average live match audience more than doubled from 2015.

While marketing and attendance levels in France itself were far from perfect – there were some record crowds but also plenty of empty seats – in several countries many people tuned in for the first time and stuck with it.

We’ve seen that here in the UK. England’s semi-final defeat by the US attracted a TV audience of 11.7m, more than the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special and a new record for women’s football in this country. Follow that up with the record attendances and the renewed interest we have seen in the WSL and it tells you women’s football is here to stay.

The game has got coverage like never before, attention like never before and it really is about time. We have athletes demanding equal pay and the players are continuing to break down barriers. France 2019 was a large part of showcasing the product to a new audience and for that it has to be seen as a landmark tournament for women’s sport.

Dina’s Doha Delight
AHz: My first standout moment has to be Dina Asher-Smith’s historic achievement as she became the first British woman to win 200m gold at a World Athletics Championship. It was an event that brought huge tears of joy to my eyes despite being sat on the sofa 6,000 miles away.

JC: From studying history to making it, Dina Asher-Smith had another sensational year, setting a new British record on her way to 200m gold at the 2019 World Athletics Championship.

Having been a kit carrier at London 2012, she will now head into Tokyo 2020 as a medal favourite having also secured silver medals in the 100m – where she was only beaten by multiple World and Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – and 4x100m events. 

Her time of 21.88s in the 200m final was leaps and bounds ahead of the rest, finishing 0.34s ahead of Brittany Brown as the American claimed silver.

From winning the European youth title in 2013 to becoming Britain’s first senior female sprint world champion in Doha (and obtaining a First Class degree from King’s College London in between), it has been a remarkable rise for Asher-Smith over the last few years.

If she continues like this, she looks set to add more Olympic medals to the relay bronze she won in 2016.

SMc: Dina Asher-Smith taking medals in both the individual 100m and 200m at the World Championships was pretty special. Until Dafne Schippers of The Netherlands came along, those fields had been notoriously dominated by Jamaicans and Americans. To medal at a major event just one year before Tokyo 2020 is a pretty exciting prospect for any sports fan and will ensure we’re all watching her next August.

OG: Dina Asher-Smith took arguably the greatest leap in terms of sporting achievement this year with her efforts out in Doha.

She looked stunned at the end of her 200m title winning run, as shown by her emotional interview to BBC Sport after clinching the gold medal. However, in truth, it wasn’t a shock to most, so good had her form been leading into the event.

Importantly, it was not just her athletic exploits which made her such an inspirational figure but also the way in which she carried herself off the track. A relatable role models for girls and boys alike, she showed the rewards of hard work and dedication with beaming enjoyment along the way. 

I think she characterised selflessness and gratitude during her interview at Sports Personality of the Year where she praised the impact of her parents and Coach of the Year John Blackie. In Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Britain have found new age heroines who truly can inspire a generation.

Biles cements legendary status

AHp: An incredible year for an incredible individual. At the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships, Simone Biles secured gold medals in the individual all-around, vault, balance beam and floor to go along with a team gold for the USA.

She now has 25 World Championship medals to make her the most decorated gymnast in the history of the competition. Of those medals, 18 are gold.

She’s 22 years old.

What really defined her star turn this time round was inspiring the way she continued to push her sport to new levels. She became the first woman to perform a triple double (two flips with three twists) on the floor and she also added another novelty – a double-double dismount off the balance beam (watch it on YouTube – it’s incredible!).

This is not just Biles continuing to stay as the world’s best gymnast. In 2019 she bettered even herself. Couple that with the way Biles continues to carry herself in the wake of the Larry Nasser scandal and it’s clear we are looking at a sports star who will be remembered for generations.

You have to ask yourself just how far she can go? And what on earth are we going to be seeing in Tokyo next summer?

Bowing out in Petter-fect style
OG:
Few, if any, events this year came close to matching the drama of the Solheim Cup. I’m not usually a massive golf follower but the circumstances surrounding Suzann Pettersen as she sunk the winning putt in her ninth Solheim Cup gripped even the tamest of sports fans. 

Originally selected as a vice-captain after taking time out of the game in November 2017 to have a baby, Norwegian Pettersen returned to playing and was a surprise pick by captain Catriona Matthew. But her selection was vindicated on the final day.

With the American’s leading 13.5-12.5, Europe needed to win both the matches remaining. Bronte Law, playing against Ally McDonald, holed a magnificent 15-foot putt on the 16th to half the hole before securing victory in her match on the 17th.

That created a tense finish for Pettersen; with the scores between her and Marina Alex level after 17, she could secure the victory by beating her opponent on the final hole.

The American missed an eight foot putt for the win, meaning Pettersen was left on the verge of a birdie that would see Europe win the trophy for the first time since 2013. The 38-year-old personified coolness and used all her experience to knock in a tricky putt that sent her team-mates and the Scottish crowd into a frenzy.

Pettersen then announced her retirement from the sport, a decision that wasn’t planned but after the game she admitted to the BBC that it felt like “the perfect stage to say goodbye to professional golf.”

Gallagher hits new heights
WM:
Many people know how much of a fan I am of GB trampolinist and fellow The 52 writer Laura Gallagher. Since being fortunate enough to earlier this year share the incredible story surrounding her comeback to the sport, I have followed her exploits with keen interest.

Heading into this year’s World Championships, the British team knew that a place at Tokyo 2020 was up for grabs. And while most eyes were focussed on Rio silver medallist Bryony Page, it was Laura who produced the goods as she reached her first ever world final and secured GB a quote spot for next year’s Games.

After everything she’s been through, to watch Laura produce such a spectacular routine in the semi-final – she qualified for the final in third place – was not only fantastic to witness but also proof that on her day she can mix it with the world’s best.

Her place at Tokyo is not yet guaranteed but she’s currently in a strong position to make the cut. I cannot think of anyone else who would deserve to appear on sport’s biggest stage more. One of the nicest people you’ll meet and a brilliant athlete, she’s one to watch out for in 2020.

KJT finally reaps the rewards on the big stage
JC: After years of struggles and disappointments, Katarina Johnson-Thompson finally put the demons behind her to win her heptathlon gold at the 2019 World Championships medal in Doha, her first ever medal at the competition.

In an interview the morning after taking gold, KJT was moved to tears thinking about how she almost quit the sport after a disappointing performance at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Despite her unquestionable talent and potential, much of her career had been defined by heartbreak, especially at the major events where she never seemed to be able to unleash her potential. 

After the Rio heartache, KJT made the life changing decision to leave everything she knew and loved behind and moved to live and train in Montpellier, France. 

It’s a decision that’s certainly paid off so far as she has gone on to win golds at the World Indoor, European Indoor and Commonwealth Games alongside a silver at last year’s European Championships.

This performance was by far her best yet though. Not only did she overcome reigning Olympic champion Nafi Thiam – widely regarded as one of the greatest heptathletes of all time – she set four new PBs on a way a British record score of 6,981pts (more than Jess Ennis-Hill ever achieved), the sixth score highest of all time and a total Thiam has only beaten once. Their battle at Tokyo next year is going to be electric.

Teenager wreaks havoc at Wimbledon
AHz: Another stunning moment for me was Coco Gauff’s superb performance at this year’s Wimbledon. At just 15-years-old, she not only became the youngest player to qualify for the women’s singles draw, she then beat Venus Williams on the way to reaching the fourth round. And even then she was knocked out by eventual champion Simona Halep in a close encounter.

She showed superb style, strength and tenacity throughout both this tournament and her run to the third round of the US Open, which was proof that Wimbledon was no one-off performance. I am sure she has inspired many girls across the globe.

Taylor becomes the undisputed Queen of the Ring
AHp: We’ve all known about Katie Taylor’s talent for a long time but in 2019 she proved beyond doubt just what an incredible figure she is. 

The 33-year-old fought three times this year and won on each occasion. Furthermore all three of her opponents were world champions.

In March she knocked out Rose Volante in the ninth round to add the WBO title to the IBF and WBA belts she already held. On 1 June she became undisputed lightweight champion when she added the WBC belt after winning a majority decision over Delfine Persoon.

But that wasn’t enough for Taylor. She moved up a weight division and on 2 November beat Christina Linardatou on a unanimous points decision to claim the WBO super-lightweight title in Manchester.

Taylor now has 15 wins in 15 bouts as a professional boxer, which follows up brilliantly on an amateur career that ended with a record of 175-10-1 (including 34 knockouts), appeared in two Olympic Games and won a gold medal in 2012.

Furthermore, according to our research, she is the only woman to currently hold world titles in two different weight divisions (alongside only three men – Canelo Alvarez, Jermall Charlo and Leo Santa Cruz) and is the only professional boxer (male or female) to currently hold all four belts (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO) in the same weight category.

The best bit is that there is a whole lot more to come from this sporting star.

How one tweet began a promising career
OG: Imagine a video of you training going viral on social media; a professional outfit seeing it, signing you and then turning you into one of the country’s brightest young starlets. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?

Yet that’s exactly what happened to 16-year-old Phoebe Litchfield this year.

Litchfield was picked up by Sydney Thunder after a tweet of her netting at New South Wales Breakers’ training went viral. She made her Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) debut for Sydney Thunder against Sydney Sixers a week later and infiltrated social media once again as she ramped Hayley Silver-Holmes with just her tenth ball in elite cricket.

In her second appearance, the left hander from Orange scored her maiden WBBL fifty with a plethora of elegant shots, guiding her side to victory against eventual tournament victors Brisbane Heat. 

We have become used to Australia perpetually producing cricketers of such ability but Litchfield has made a bigger splash than most. The prodigious talent seemed mature beyond her years on and off the pitch.

Furthermore many, including Australian legend Alex Blackwell, believe she has a massive future in the sport. That is if she chooses it over hockey, where she has represented her country at age group level.

Cox continues to defy the odds
JC: Kadeena Cox’s 2019 Para-athletics World Championship 400m silver medal was a remarkable feat. Not just because she once again battled through the multiple sclerosis that affects her every single day but also because just three days before competing, Cox wrote an honest and thought-provoking blog post detailing the seriousness of an eating disorder she has.

It was in April of this year that Cox opened up about the topic, saying that she no longer knew what normal eating was. This wasn’t something new either; it has affected her for a long, long time.

Add in a career-threatening knee injury, it is a miraculous feat that Cox made the start line at all. To walk away with another global medal, in what was only her second 400m race since winning the world title in 2017, was incredible.

Less than a month later she was back in the velodrome claiming gold medals at the Manchester Para-Cycling International.

Cox, who developed MS after suffering a stroke in 2014, told of how being at the World Championships had caused her to relapse with her eating disorder, feeling all of the attention was on her. She has explained how she hopes to get her eating disorder under control in time to defend her Paralympic titles in both cycling and athletics. 

Sometimes winning medals isn’t the most important thing.

Hockey creates yet more special memories
WM: It has been a tumultuous year for British hockey for a number of reasons but there have still been plenty of brilliant occasions too. This includes making history at The Stoop, seeing GB qualify for Tokyo 2020 and Scotland’s women and Wales’ men producing sensational European performances.

However it was one small moment that stood out for me.

Tess Howard burst onto the international scene at the 2018 Champions Trophy, scoring in just her third game and bringing a new lease of life to the team. Come this spring she was making her home debut against the USA in the FIH Pro League, a game that went to a shootout on a dreary April afternoon.

Not only did the 20-year-old have the bottle to step up and have an attempt, she casually approached the ‘keeper before slotting the ball between her legs, much to the delight of the home crowd.

It was cheeky. It was brave. It was absolutely brilliant and an early sign of how seriously talented Tess is, something subsequent performances have only further proven.

A tough, fierce and determined competitor, expect her to be at the forefront of GB’s charge for a third consecutive Olympic medal in 2020.

 

A mention must go to Shona too. Having worked with her for more than two years and being one of the first athletes I got to know, it was so tough to see her out of the game for 17 months. But she never gave up, showed a brilliant attitude throughout all the rehab and finally got back onto the pitch this year. It was so great to watch her as GB overcame Chile in a highly pressurised two-legged Olympic qualifier and I cannot wait to see even more next year.

SMc: I may be biased but my personal highlight of the year has to be qualifying for Tokyo 2020. More specifically, it was when the moment Izzy Petter scored the opening goal in the first leg. Once that went in, we were able to relax a bit more after a nervy first half and play our proper game. We came away with a 5-1 aggregate win clinching our spot at Tokyo and boy it felt good!

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The 52’s Shona McCallin & Will Moulton celebrating after GB’s women qualified for Tokyo 2020

AHz: Being half-Scottish, I felt great pride seeing the women’s team produce five fine performances on home soil to secure EuroHockey Championships II gold and earn promotion back to the top tier for 2021. Seeing the likes of GB internationals Amy Costello and Nicki Cochrane, who I have volunteered alongside over the years, enjoy such success was hugely rewarding. 

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