Trampoline World Championships Special: Bryony Page

Bryony Page’s beaming smile after she completed her second trampoline routine at Rio 2016 was for many the highlight of that year’s Olympics.

To see an athlete so completely overwhelmed with emotion after producing the performance of a lifetime is a memory that will stick in the minds of those who watched forever.

The fact that she then won a silver medal too just made it that bit more special.

While it was an incredible moment to see play out, nothing can match how it must have felt for Page herself to achieve something no British woman had ever done before.

It was the culmination of a long and at time arduous journey too; a journey that certainly didn’t follow the norm.

Unlike many of her counterparts, Page never represented GB at youth level – ‘I just wasn’t one of the top youths. I was always trying to fit into that team of four but was always fifth or sixth’ – and didn’t actually compete at a major championship until becoming a senior.

But instead of giving in she stuck at it, believed in her ability and before long was winning British Championships, World and European team golds and then finally that Olympic silver medal.

Her story provided the perfect lesson to any aspiring athlete; if you really want something enough, you will get it as long – as you persevere.

“My journey has been quite different, not being part of any junior major championships and then getting into senior level, doing ok and building up,” the Sheffield Trampolining Academy member told team-mate and The 52 writer Laura Gallagher in an exclusive interview for SportSpiel.

“It just goes to show that you can start later, you don’t have to be the best in your age group at the time. It’s just about enjoying your journey.

“That’s something I took from the Games. It was just two weeks and one competition. 16 years boiled down to one day. You’ve got to make those just as enjoyable as each other.

Even if she hadn’t won a medal that day, Page had already created British history at the Games by becoming one of the first British women to reach an Olympic trampoline final.

She did so alongside Kat Driscoll, who had finished just one spot outside the top eight at London 2012, and sharing the accolade together was something Page was also very proud of.

“For us both to experience it together was something really special,” the 28-year-old said.

“Kat continued after London and fought and fought having just finished outside the final then. To know that she’d made it this time and knowing how much it meant to her, it was really nice.

“It was nice to know that after the competition, whatever happened in the final, both of us would be pleased to have achieved that together.”

While Page has many fond memories of the final itself – aside perhaps from a slight faux pas on the way to the podium where she walked past it and bumped into gold medallist Rosie MacLennan (‘it was so embarrassing’) – nothing could beat celebrating with her parents that evening.

“For me that was my favourite part, being able to share that moment with them because they’ve supported me my whole life,” she recalled.

“It was fantastic, just seeing so much happiness all at once in all of us.

“I got messages from [my brothers] Jack and Marcus. We saw Marcus’ Facebook post where he’d been at home watching it with his friends were gathered round. They had a picture where each of them had a wine bottle in their hand as if they were downing it and Marcus said ‘well you did say we could have a drink to toast this’! That was quite funny.

“And Jack had written something really lovely where he said ‘last night I posted about being so proud of my sister who is going to compete at the Olympic Games and you want to watch her. Now I’ve never been so proud’. It was so sweet.”

 

Despite feeling ‘invincible for months and months’ after Rio, it’s not been all plain sailing for Page since as she suffered with ankle injuries that kept her out of action for a prolonged period.

But that silver medal has proved to her that she can compete with the world’s best and now she wants to add individual World and European medals to her collection, starting at the current 2019 Trampoline, Tumbling & DMT World Championships in Tokyo where she has qualified for the individual semi-finals and team final at the time of writing.

“I have unfinished business. I want to find where my limits are. I feel like there’s more in me in terms of difficulty,” she stated.

“I don’t want to be doing anything else right now. Trampolining is what I want to do for as long as I can.

“I’d like to compete a harder routine and succeed at major championships at my potential. I’ve got close at World Championships before. In 2010 I did the best routine I could have done at that time and finished fourth. I’ve done a European where I finished fourth but was way off where I could do.

“There’s more in me and I just want to keep pushing myself and if I can compete in another Olympic Games that would be fantastic.”

You can follow Bryony in action alongside team-mates Gallagher, Driscoll and Izzy Songhurst until 1 December on the BBC Sport website and BBC Red Button.

Trampoline World Championships Special: Izzy Songhurst

Image Credit: British Gymnastics

You know an athlete is a special talent when they are winning World Championship medals in their teenage years.

Great Britain trampolinist Izzy Songhurst is one of those, having helped her country to a team bronze at the 2017 Trampoline, Tumbling & DMT World Championships aged just 18.

The pressure on her was huge. Not only was it her first ever major event at senior level, she knew there was no place for mistakes if GB wanted to medal as the team featured only three members (nations nearly always field four athletes, with only the three best scores being taken).

And she was up first in the final.

Despite all of that, Songhurst produced a fine routine that helped the British team – also featuring Kat Driscoll and The 52 writer Laura Gallagher – to a well-earned third-placed finish.

Recalling that day, she said: “I think it was a smart move for me to go first in the final because I felt really nervous, more nervous than I did in the qualification.

“I felt a lot of pressure because not only did I need to get through the routine, I needed to do a good routine. That was a new type of pressure for me because in the individual event it’s only on you, whereas in a team final you’ve also got the pressure of not letting other people or your country down.

“The main thing I remember was feeling relief and being pretty satisfied with the routine I’d done as it was similar to the one I’d done in qualification. I was optimistic after the routine, even before seeing Laura’s or Kat’s, that we had a chance to get a medal.”

 

While this was a new scenario for Songhurst at senior level, she had competed in plenty of finals at age group level.

She had competed very well too, securing the junior British, European and World titles within just a few months of each other in 2014, signalling to the world that she was someone with a very bright future in the sport.

However, in spite of this and her immediate medal success at senior level, the Dorset-born athlete admitted she found the initial transition into the women’s team difficult.

“I’ve learned a lot more about competing compared to all those years I had in my junior career because it’s just such a different atmosphere,” she said.

“At the start I was really worried about not being good enough. There was a time where I didn’t believe I could make it there because I was starting at the bottom again and I was wondering if I was going to ever make it to that level.

“At the end of my junior career it got to a point where I was consistently finishing in the top eight and I was struggling to motivate myself because I knew on an average day I could still get a European or World medal or could still be the best in Britain for my age group. I felt that I was getting a bit stagnant.

“But when I transitioned into being a senior, I realised I needed to be on my top form if I was going to make the top 20 in the world. That’s been really good for me because I know if I’m feeling a bit unmotivated that can switch me on.

“You know that you need to be working your hardest no matter what because if you achieve what you want to achieve that’s how you’re going to do it.”

It’s not all been plaining sailing for Songhurst.

Just one day before the start of the 2018 European Championships, Songhurst suffered a dislocated ankle during training and underwent immediate surgery in Baku.

Such a serious injury can not only have a serious impact on the career of an athlete, but their day-to-day life too.

However, having now recovered fully, Songhurst believes that the incident has actually helped her become a better athlete.

“The philosophy I live by now is that everything happens for a reason and looking back I definitely believe that it was a blessing in disguise and that I have learned a lot from it as an athlete and also as a person,” the 20-year-old reflected.

“It was a really good test of my patience because it got to a point where I didn’t think I was going to be able to get back on a trampoline, I didn’t know if I could wait any longer to get back on a trampoline. I didn’t know if I wanted to go through that whole process.

“I also learned how I react to trauma and mental health issues and how I was able to get myself out of the whole I was in and come out of the other side a better person or a stronger athlete.

“It was the first major injury I’d had in my life. It was very unexpected and I felt very lost at the start but had a great team of people behind me and I don’t think I would be where I am today without them so I’m very thankful.”

Songhurst will now be looking to help Great Britain secure an Olympic berth at the 2019 Trampoline, Tumbling & DMT World Championships alongside Bryony Page, Driscoll & Gallagher this week. You can follow the event on the BBC Sport website and BBC Red Button.

Trampoline World Championships Special: Kat Driscoll

Image Credit: British Gymnastics

As she prepares to compete at her 11th World Championships, there are no signs that Kat Driscoll will be giving up trampolining anytime soon.

Described by team-mate and The 52 writer Laura Gallagher as a legend of the sport, come January 2020 Driscoll will be heading into her third decade of competing on the international stage.

She has achieved plenty of success during that time too – two World Championship gold medals, three European titles, a stint as world number one and becoming the first GB trampolinist to appear at two consecutive Olympics.

The Chatham-born athlete was also the first British woman to jump in an Olympic final in 2016, having agonisingly missed out during London 2012. She finished fifth in Rio, while team-mate Bryony Page secured a memorable silver medal, Britain’s first ever Olympic trampolining medal.

As Tokyo 2020 draws nearer many athletes will be thinking about their future post-Games; some will already have it in their heads that they will be retiring.

Not Driscoll though. She isn’t intending on going anywhere.

“I’ve always loved trampolining and I’ve always said that as long as I wake up in the morning and feel I can go in and achieve something, I’ll keep going,” she told Gallagher in an exclusive interview for SportSpiel.

“Obviously there are days where you hurt, you feel tired and it’s a struggle; I don’t mean those days. It’s if there was a prolonged period of time where I wasn’t enjoying myself, didn’t feel like I was achieving anything or there wasn’t anything to smile about – that would be time to call it quits.

“My motivation just comes from trying to make the seven-year-old me proud of the journey she’s been on. I still love what I do and I think ‘why stop if I still love it’? There’s still things to achieve.”

Rewind seven years ago though and she was in a much different headspace.

By the end of 2012, Driscoll was a European gold medallist, a two-time World Championship runner-up, had been ranked world number one in both the individual and synchro listings and was a three-time British individual champion.

She’d also just missed out on reaching the Olympic final in London, finishing ninth in front of a packed home crowd.

Reflecting on this, Driscoll thought she perhaps had gone as far as she could.

However that year she was also introduced to Tracy Whittaker for the first time, a key part of the British Gymnastics World Class Programme who would go on to be named as the Head National Coach for Trampoline in 2017.

“I didn’t start working with Tracy, our national coach, until 2012 and at that point I was content with being done; I didn’t think I could do much more,” the former HSBC employee recalled.

“But she opened my eyes to believe that there’s more out there.

“Your career is not really defined by one competition. It’s defined by all the little things that got you to where you are and the person that you become at the end of it.

“That’s what I’ve learned in later life – it isn’t about the medals, it isn’t about all the achievements. Once you stop people forget that anyway but they don’t forget the person that you are or the person you become.”

This philosophy has transformed Driscoll’s career and under Whittaker’s tutorship she has gone on to win at least 16 more medals across all competitions, including both her World titles in 2013.

Whittaker’s influence has not just impacted on Driscoll’s performances either; it’s also made her want to take up coaching once her competitive days are over, a role she was ‘adamant I was never going to do’ earlier in her career.

“There’s something about the way in which Tracy approached me, my career, my story. I never realised how much of an effect a coach can have on a person rather than an athlete,” she explained.

“She has helped me develop as a person and made my life so much better. If I can do that for one person in a way she’s done that for me I would be more than happy.

This week’s World Championships in Tokyo could see Great Britain secure places at next year’s Olympic competition, which will be held in the same venue. If she qualifies next year it will be a third Olympic appearance for Driscoll, something no British trampolinist has achieved before.

And despite making history by reaching the final in Rio last time out, her most treasured memory will always be being introduced to the crowd for the first time at London 2012.

“I remember the cheer, it was unreal, “ she said.

“When you initially march out that’s fine as you see it as a cheer for the competition, not necessarily just for you. But after I was introduced to the crowd I remember turning back round and, I can’t remember who I was standing next to, but she was smiling at me like she’d just got how mad that was.

“Tracy also said she didn’t know how I completed my routine because when I walked up to the trampoline and they announced my name, she bent down to pick up the mat and nearly couldn’t get back up because the roar was that loud. She said it overtook her body.

“For our sport to have a venue like we did [the O2 Arena], to have that many people watching [16,000]; that was important.

“The more people see the sport the more people understand what we do and don’t think we’re just flipping around on a garden trampoline and it’s really easy!”

 

Kat will be competing alongside her team-mates Gallagher, Page and Izzy Songhurst at the 2019 Trampoline, Tumbling & DMT World Championships between 28 November – 1 December. You can follow the event live on the BBC Sport website and BBC Red Button.

Is Sophie Hahn one of the greatest British athletes this era?

(Image Credit: British Athletics)

Paralympic champion. Five-time European champion. Seven-time World champion.

Throw in a Commonwealth title, a Paralympic silver medal and two world records and it’s easy to see why we’re asking if Sophie Hahn is one of the greatest British athletes of this era.

The list doesn’t end there. Following yet another double gold at the 2019 World Para-athletics Championships in Dubai this week, Hahn holds the Paralympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles, a feat no other British woman has achieved.

She also hasn’t lost an individual T38 race since finishing second in the 2016 European Championship 200m final.

Hahn has certainly come a long way since being introduced to Charnwood Athletic Club by her brother after being inspired by London 2012.

A year later she was a world champion, breaking the 100m world record on her way to winning gold having claimed 200m silver the day before.

It was her first major competition. She was 16. She had yet to even learn how to use starting blocks.

A star had well and truly been born.

Of course statistics don’t solely determine how good an athlete is; there are many other factors.

One key example is the ability to capture the public’s imagination. It doesn’t mater how successful you are, if the fans aren’t on your side it can be very difficult to be remembered as one of the greats.

This is largely achieved through a combination of the way in which titles are won and the personality exhibited along the way.

Usain Bolt did both brilliantly. Not only was he unrivalled in terms of his outright success, he won in style. He would decimate fields of extremely talented athletes and make it look like child’s play.

What’s more, he never failed to turn up for the biggest occasions. He broke the 100m and 200m world records in Olympic and World finals.

Furthermore he was a showman. The celebrations, the media interviews, the playful interactions with volunteers before races – all endeared us to him.

On the track, Hahn certainly matches Bolt. She is in a class of her own, dominates each race she’s involved in and continues to record the fastest times ever seen, particularly in finals.

And while she man not exhibit the same gregarious personality as the Jamaican, Hahn is immediately likeable off the track. Quiet but polite, interesting and very mature for her age, she never fails to come across well in interviews.

It was the latter point that really stood out when things became rather difficult for her in late 2017.

Having stormed to double gold at the World Para-athletics Championships in London a few weeks earlier, Hahn unwittingly found herself dominating the back – and some front – pages for the wrong reasons.

This was because Michael Breen – father of fellow British T38 athlete Olivia Breen – claimed she had abused the classification system.

He was of the belief that Hahn – who has cerebral palsy – had been wrongly classified, did not have the required disability to compete in the same events as his daughter and was therefore at an unfair competitive advantage.

The issue of classification in para-sports is a very complex one and has led to several issues in recent years, one of which we previously wrote about after two-time Paralympic champion archer Danielle Brown’s career was halted overnight after being told she had failed re-classification tests.

In short, she was told she was not disabled enough to continue competing.

But rather than coming out all guns blazing to defend herself, Hahn kept her head down, got on with her training and said all she needed to say in court. She was found to have been correctly classified.

Of course such is her domination of the T38 sprints that some of you reading this may think Hahn is in the wrong class. Alternatively it could also ask the question about the level of competition she is up against.

This is an issue that is often raised with para-sport; ultimately many events are still in their embryonic stages and that means there aren’t the numbers of competitors you may see in able-bodied events.

But as an athlete all you can do is beat what’s in front of you and that’s exactly what Hahn has done.

Harking back to the Bolt analogy, another thing that made him so good was how he continually saw off a plethora of sprinters desperate to take his crown.

Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay were just a handful of immensely talented runners who tried to overcome him but every time they threw anything at him, he would have an answer.

 

It’s similar with Hahn. Many have tried to match her but only Margarita Goncharova has ever come close, with the two sharing titles early on in Hahn’s career.

But the Russian’s form has dipped in the shorter sprints as she’s focused on the 400m and as a result Hahn hasn’t been challenged since 2016.

However the emergence of Hungarian athlete Luca Ekler and Australian teenager Rhiannon Clark in Dubai is certainly an enticing one and it will be interesting to see how Hahn responds to their threat.

So, to answer our original question: Is Sophie Hahn one of the greatest modern British athletes?

To be honest, it’s too early to tell. She is still only 22.

But if she continues to win gold medals and break world records in style while fighting off any potential challengers, she certainly will be remembered as one of the finest athletes this country has ever seen.

Lionesses’ Wembley extravaganza epitomised #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired; now we need all sports to get on board

“Daddy, I think I want to be a goalkeeper.”

This was the heartwarming statement made by a young girl sat behind me as nearly 78,000 people watched the Lionesses take on Germany at Wembley at the weekend.

Despite being no older than six, she was fascinated by the events unfolding on the pitch, constantly asking her Dad questions about the sport before declaring that she wanted to begin playing when she got home.

It was our idea of #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired playing out in front of our eyes. And it was brilliant.

While it was disappointing to see the team lose so late on, the result from this game will largely be forgotten. But the spectacle as a whole will live on for a long time to come.

While the crowd of 77,768 didn’t quite beat the record attendance for a women’s game in the UK – 80,203 saw a Carli Lloyd double clinch gold for the USA during the London 2012 Olympic final – it smashed the previous highest figures for crowds watching English and British teams on home soil.

However this wasn’t a one-off. Records have been tumbling all year as women’s football capitalises on the momentum surrounding it at this moment in time.

We’ve had never-seen-before World Cup figures, the highest number of spectators at an individual FA WSL game and a 383% rise in the average attendance of top tier domestic matches this season (at the time of writing).

Regular league games have also been moved into bigger stadiums, a dedicated Women’s Football Weekend (16-17 November) set up and now more people than ever before roaring on the national team at one of the country’s most iconic venues.

Watching women’s football in this country has never been so easy. Nor have there been fewer excuses not to attend.

It’s not just football that fans are turning up to watch. Rugby union, netball and hockey have all seen either their own records broken or experienced greater numbers of spectators than ever before too.

The difference however is that where football is seeing regular growth across the international and domestic games, with other sports it’s either limited to just the national teams or is even just a one-off.

Of course football is at an advantage in that it has a greater established fanbase and more money than any other sport. But it can sometimes feel like others aren’t trying to think outside the box, be innovative or pioneer new strategies to try and encourage more fans.

England Rugby women’s head coach Simon Middleton made that point last week, praising Harlequins women for the work they’re doing to attract more fans to watch women’s domestic rugby and called out other clubs for not following suit.

As we wrote about previously, we are big fans ourselves of the work that Quins do, particularly around the #GameChanger event they host each year when they take the women’s team to The Stoop, where the men’s team traditionally play.

Their messaging around the event isn’t subtle but it’s highly effective; they want you to be part of something special. they want you to be part of a record breaking day.

It works too, with the figure rising year upon year, and even the FA adopted a similar line when promoting last weekend’s game for the Lionesses.

Of course not everyone has the option to move into bigger stadiums or lay a temporary pitch in a new venue as GB Hockey did at The Stoop earlier this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try something different.

Double headers are another way forward and they have successfully been used by England Rugby and GB Hockey in recent years, with one ticket covering a men’s and women’s game played back-to-back on the same day with a short break in between.

It’s a fantastic way of encouraging fans to watch women’s sport and has also been used successfully in the WBBL, which makes it such a shame that The Hundred won’t be utilising it next year.

This is the biggest opportunity in a long while to attract a new wave of fans to women’s cricket but there are no plans to host any double headers at the moment. And, with the men’s and women’s tournaments taking place at the same time and therefore the latter likely to receive a lot less interest, it feels as though this will be a huge opportunity to grow the women’s game missed.

There are plenty of other options too. Offers for schools/clubs/universities and themed weekends are just two. How about England Netball and GB Basketball joining forces to host international matches in the same venue (i.e. the Copper Box) on the same day? How cool would that be?

 

The point we’re trying to make is that there are so many options for clubs and NGBs to try something different, to showcase themselves and to let prospective fans know of the opportunities to come and watch their exceptional female talent.

If women’s sport is to continue to grow, we need to not just attract more fans but inspire them to want to take up the events themselves.

We want more people to have the same reaction the little girl had watching the Lionesses at Wembley at the weekend.

We want women’s sport and it’s fans to have more opportunities than ever before to #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired.

Keightley the key to unlock England’s talent & catch up with Australia

Following her appointment in October, Ollie Godden looks at the reasons why Lisa Keightley could help England’s female cricketers catch up with Australia.

If you can’t beat them, hire them.

It’s becoming something of a trend for English teams to employ Australian coaches in order to turn around a lean patch.

Eddie Jones was one; Trevor Bayliss another. Now it’s the turn of Lisa Keightley as she was last week appointed the new England women’s cricket head coach.

The 48-year-old was already set to take the reigns of an English team next summer, having been announced as the women’s coach of London Spirit in The Hundred.

But she will now relinquish that role in favour of taking charge the national team after Mark Robinson – who led England to their sublime World Cup victory on home soil back in 2017 – resigned.

A fine player – averaging nearly 40 in ODIs and becoming the first woman to score a century at Lord’s in 1998 – Keightley has since coached Perth Scorchers in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) amongst other domestic roles.

She was also the Australian women’s head coach between 2007-2008, the first female to hold the position. Coincidentally she will now also become the first full-time female head coach of England’s women.

It is not just her exploits on the pitch and as a coach which made her the stand out candidate for the role, but her knowledge and experience of the Australian system in general; of how it works and how to overcome it.

Australia’s dominance has been plain to see for a long time. The side has not lost a One Day International since October 2017 and hammered England 12-4 in the multi-format 2019 Ashes. 

It’s safe to say that investment has had a large role to play in Australia’s stay at the top of the rankings. After failing to reach the 2017 World Cup final, Cricket Australia agreed a deal which saw payments lifted from $7.5 million to $55.2 million and a minimum retainer for international representation set at $72,076.

However, it is not the representation fee that has automatically created a winning streak, but the general professionalism in the game that the investment has bought, as most clearly shown in the running of the WBBL.

It has allowed talented players to become athletes dedicated to their craft and provided opportunities for players with promise. This includes 16-year-old-Pheobe Litchfield, who is already creating headlines in her debut WBBL season, becoming the youngest player to notch a 50 in the competition.

This would not be possible with a coaching structure in place to facilitate the development of individuals. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia coach Matthew Mott explained how the country’s investment in coaches over a period time has been a major factor behind the women’s international success. 

In short, Australia have created a blueprint for success. Increased Investment, brilliant players and quality coaching equals success and Keightley has been at the heart of that.

The ECB have already taken steps to emulate that, with the aforementioned The Hundred at the heart of their plans.

Whilst there has been controversy surrounding the format, there is no doubting that it will supersede the Kia Super League in terms of strength and Keightley believes that stronger domestic competitions will create better domestic cricketers which will, in turn, mean greater international sides.

 

The eight regional performance centres born out of The Hundred will also provide an important pathway for domestic players not yet on the international stage. Every year, five players from each region will gain full-time deals independent of the central contracts, meaning there will be 60 full time female cricketers within a year and over 100 in five years time – a catalysed for an improvement in standards.

The ECB announced last month that £20million will be invested over two years, and £50million over five, to help fund 40 full-time professional contracts and help grow all areas of the women’s game. There’s one tick.

And now, by appointing Keightley, the ECB have someone at the helm who not only knows how to implement this level of funding in the best way possible, but someone who understands how to do it in English cricket.

That’s because the former New South Wales batter was also in charge of the England Academy between 2011-2015 and will have worked with many of the current crop of internationals. 

She understands what is needed to succeed yet respects how this can be converted into a familiar structure elsewhere.

As head coach of the Scorchers, Keightley will seen more of the likes of Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy et al. than most others and will consequently have more plans of how to overcome and beat them, something which seemingly no-one has done for quite a while.

And with a host of world class stars already at her disposal – Tammy Beaumont, Danni Wyatt, Heather Knight and Nat Sciver to name a few – she certainly has the talent there to close the gap before the investment brings through a new and expanded group of international stars.

With the T20 World Cup just a few months away, there will be an early opportunity for Keightley to show her credentials as England seek to exact revenge on Australia after losing in the 2018 final.

She certainly faces a tall order though to turn around the fortunes of a side that performed rather poorly this summer so quickly.

In truth, the test of whether this theoretically shrewd move will manifest into on field success will be judged over a long period of time.

here is an opportunity for Keightley to assemble the components of a successful side at a time when the ECB are making a real and tangible pledge to driving forward the standard of the women’s game.

Undoubtedly an exciting voyage lies ahead, and Lisa Keightley is could be the driver of change. 

The remarkable rise of GB women’s basketball

Great Britain’s women’s basketball team are ‘on the cusp of something special’.

These are the words of Basketball England CEO Stewart Kellett. And he’s not wrong.

In 2017, they failed to reach for the main draw at the Women’s EuroBasket event. In 2018, they were threatened with disbandment after Sport England withdrew emergency funding.

Yet now they find themselves in with a chance of appearing at Tokyo 2020, having finished a historic fourth at this year’s EuroBasket event and securing a place at the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in February.

Furthermore, England’s women also secured a superb silver at last spring’s Commonwealth Games.

This remarkable turnaround has been overseen by the enigmatic head coach Chema Buceta, who was first appointed in 2015.

But for the Spaniard even reaching Tokyo – the first time a British women’s team would have qualified for an Olympics after appearing as hosts in 2012 – would only be half a job done.

He knows his team still have the capability to improve even further.

“When you have a good group of players with a good attitude who believe they can do it and you give them the chance to grow, to take responsibility, to be ambitious about achieving something then anything is possible,” he said.

“What is important is that we are able to compete at a high level and get the results. If we want to continue at this level we have to move forward, keep doing things well and improve the things we have to improve.”

When put into context, what this have achieved over the past two years really is astonishing.

UK Sport cut their elite funding in 2016, while Sport England withdrew a £10m grant two years later despite basketball being the second most participated activity in the UK, with 1.2 million participants.

This left the international teams on the brink of not being able to play until 2020 at the earliest, yet less than two months later they overcame Canada – ranked fifth in the world – on their way to that silver at Gold Coast 2018.

They then gave eventual champions Spain and London 2012 runners-up France serious scares at the recent EuroBasket event, proving they can mix it with the world’s best on their day.

It may be a very British trait to relish in the role of the underdog but for Kellett he believes this has helped bring the best out of the players.

However he also hopes their recent successes can also lead to the authorities boosting their cashflow so the players can fully realise their potential.

“At the EuroBasket tournament everyone underestimated us but we kept winning and each time the team managed to punch above the weight of the money we’ve got,” he reflected.

“The belief in the women’s game has really rocketed. There’s a real pride that has developed around the team and a belief that we’re on the cusp on something special.

“We’ve done so well with so little resource that the feeling is that if we just got a little bit more support, just think what we could do.

“We’ve been the underdog and won. We’ve been the underdog with no money and won. Now we’re in the Olympic qualifier and there’s an expectation that’s rising and we do need to put resource on it to get over the line.”

There can be no doubting that there is some serious talent in this team. Temi Fagbenle – who plays professionally for Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA – averaged a tournament-high 20.9 points per game at this year’s EuroBasket. Johannah Leedham averaged more steals (3.4) than anyone else as well as providing 4.7 assists per game.

The team is also full of experience, with five players – Leedham, Fagbenle, Stef Collins, Rachael Vanderwal and Chantelle Handy – having played at London 2012.

Sacrifice and a desire to play for their country have also been key characteristics behind their remarkable resurgence. However Buceta believes it is another that has played the most crucial role in their rise.

The willingness to change.

“Elite athletes in any sport, if they are successful they don’t like to change,” he explained.

“After one of my first campaigns here – where we didn’t quality for the main EuroBasket event – we had a meeting and said if we do the same the result will be the same. We have to change.

“These women, even those who were 30+, were able to change and this has been very important. It’s not always easy for a 30-year-old to change things they have done for many years.

“But the attitude to change, to take more risks, to do things they haven’t done before, to go out from their comfort zone, that is a great quality of this team.”

Can they qualify for Tokyo 2020? If you combine recent form, the skill and desire of the team and the fact that there are 10 spaces to be filled at the upcoming qualification tournament, they certainly have a strong chance.

Women’s team sport is flourishing in this country right now and this could be the time for basketball to join the party as a major player.

 

We will return with a second basketball piece next week, outlining the brand new All Girls campaign and how Basketball England will be using it to attract even more participants to the sport and use the success of the national teams to inspire the nexts generation. #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired

Beevers continuing to set records as women’s rugby league flourishes

How did you celebrate your 18th birthday?

Studying for your A-levels? Buying your first round? Taking in a nightclub?

How about helping your club to a historic domestic double in a game shown live to thousands of people on Sky Sports?

That’s exactly what Caitlin Beevers did on Friday, playing a pivotal role in helping Leeds Rhinos secure victory over Castleford Tigers in the Grand Final to secure their first ever Women’s Super League title.

It’s the culmination of an incredible 22 months on the pitch for the fullback that started with her selection for the Rhinos U19 academy in January 2018, saw her promoted to the senior team just weeks later, finish as top try scorer last season, win two Challenge Cups alongside the league title and score two tries on her England debut last October.

Beevers has now flown out to Australia having been selected to represent her country once again in the inaugural Rugby League World 9s, has also been picked for a historic tour of Papua New Guinea and is widely regarded as one of the finest young players in the world game.

It has been a truly remarkable ascent, one that even the Dewsbury-born player never saw coming.

Speaking about it in an interview with SportSpiel, she recalled: “I’d trained a few times with Leeds U19s and then we trained with the first team and that was the first time I met my the players who would become my team-mates.

“It was amazing to firstly get into the first team as it wasn’t something I expected so early on, with me not playing any games for the U19s.

“And then I never imagined the first England call. Don’t get me wrong, it was a huge goal of mine but I just thought it was miles ahead into the future, not at this age.

“I was massively shocked [to be selected for the World Cup and Papua New Guinea]. I didn’t expect to get the call for either.

“It’s something really, really special and it’s an absolute honour to represent my country again.”

Even though she has only just turned an age where she can legally vote, Beevers has already become a star of the game in this country.

And unlike those who have gone before her, the former St John Fisher pupil is able to show her outrageous skill and pace to the watching world as women’s rugby league continues to attract ever more supporters and media coverage.

As well as the Grand Final being shown on Sky, both of Leeds’ Challenge Cup victories have been streamed on the BBC.

More than 4,000 people also turned up to watch this year’s cup final at the University of Bolton Stadium, while clubs have also been taking some of their games to men’s stadiums this year, something we have subsequently seen in the FA WSL.

Having grown up only with male role models to try and emulate, Beevers is relishing the opportunity she has to inspire the next generation of rugby league stars.

“When I was younger the only people I could look up to were the males playing in the Super League,” she said.

“But now young girls have women to look up to and aspire to be and I think that’s absolutely fantastic for the game. It shows how much it is growing. There’s so much great talent coming through the system at every level and at every club.

“This year’s Challenge Cup final was an outstanding game and it really promoted the women’s game in a phenomenal light.

“A lot of people watching may not have even seen it before so what an introduction that would have been to them.

“And to get 4,000 people coming to the game, some of those may have bought their daughters to watch so hopefully they have been inspired to try and get to our level one day.”

It’s not just as a player where Beevers is breaking boundaries either.

As we wrote last year, she first shot to prominence by becoming the first woman to referee a game at Wembley Stadium, taking charge of the 2018 Year 7 Boys’ National Schools Final on the same day as the men’s Challenge Cup final.

She has since gone on to officiate a number of other high profile games, including a first international game as a touch judge when an England Youth side took on France.

Beevers is following in the footsteps of Belinda Sharpe, the first woman to referee an NRL match having taken charge of Brisbane Broncos v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs earlier this year after also being the first to run the line in the men’s league back in 2014.

And as well as inspiring women to take up the game she loves, Beevers also wants to give them the self-belief to be able to pick up a whistle too.

“I couldn’t find words to describe it at first,” she said of her historic Wembley day.

“It was such a big record to hold and such a big event on the calendar to do it at as well, at Wembley on Challenge Cup day.

“At the end of the game someone told me to look around, take a minute and I had no words for the occasion. It was something special.

“I’m there to do my job and if people can look at me and be inspired then I’m happy; it’s a win-win.

“If promoting female officials can come through me I would put my hand up for that. If they questions I’ll be there to answer them because at the end of the day that will help them grow in confidence.”

 

Why The Hundred should be a force for good for English women’s cricket

After a disappointing 2019 and the conclusion of the Kia Super League (KSL), Ollie Godden explains how he thinks The Hundred could revolutionise English women’s cricket.

The Kia Super League was the jump start English women’s cricket needed.

Having played a significant part in continuing to grow the game in this country, the tournament was largely seen a success. It acted as a pathway for national representation and allowed domestic players to rub shoulders with the best in the world. 

However, the birth of The Hundred will offer opportunities to advance the women’s game in England beyond what the KSL could have ever achieved. 

As the curtain came down on the KSL’s existence, many mourned the death of a platform which helped take women’s cricket in England to new heights. A factor behind the thrilling 2017 World Cup win, it should be recognised for the job that it has done in growing cricket. 

But it was never destined to last. A standalone tournament with little or no integration with the men, it stalled while other tournaments – notably the Women’s Big Bash League – continued to grow.

And while The Hundred may be a unique venture into the unknown, the ECB are planning on running the men’s and women’s events side-by-side. Furthermore, it is also included it as a key part of their exciting new #InspiringGenerations project, with £20m set to be invested in the women’s game over the next four years to elicit gender equality across the sport.

Players will be split across the franchises through a two-stage draft, the first of which has already been completed with 16 of England’s centrally contracted stars snapped up. The second round will see teams permitted to choose one more of the remaining England internationals and up to three overseas players, leaving the nine remaining spots to be filled with domestic talent which was seen aplenty in the KSL.

The eight franchise competition will kick off next summer, and, amongst the mayhem and confusion that has been born out of the media swirl – including rules which are still seemingly being manipulated – an objective truth has been realised by a minority: The Hundred has potential to be a force for good for the players, coaches and fans. 

Most notably, the teams will be strong. Very strong. Do we need a new format to facilitate strong teams? Probably not. Does the advent of a new format make the selection process more intriguing? Absolutely. 

The women’s game has never been filled with so much ability globally and this selection process will ensure star-studded line ups, leading up to an abundance of cricketing strength across the regions. 

Facilitating coach development is another potential positive of The Hundred. It is hoped that it will act a breeding ground for coaching prospects and a tester for established ones, the new format providing an opportunity for them to prove their worth in unknown experiment.

Of the seven franchises to announce their women’s head coaches, five have selected women, with four of those – Salliann Briggs (Trent Rockets), Charlotte Edwards (Southern Brave), Danni Hazell (Northern Superchargers) and Lydia Greenway (Oval Invincibles) – being English. And while the men’s tournament is being heavily criticised for a lack of home representation, The Hundred could play a significant factor in not just producing the next generation of talent but also potential future England women’s (or men’s) head coaches.

Furthermore, the simultaneous running of the men’s and the women’s events provides both sides with resources to feed off from one another, as has been the case with the Big Bash. As Briggs aptly described: “once everything is aligned, you are part of a wider strategy, and with that you get better investment, better resourcing and better people”. This shared strategy refers to the festival atmosphere at grounds which will serve to attract new fans into the spectacle and both events will benefit from the experiences of the other, even if it is true that the women’s game has more to gain in terms of popularity and growth potential. 

 

The Hundred represents what is hoped will be a seminal turning point for women’s cricket on home terrain both at the elite end and the grassroots level after a difficult year. England were outplayed and outclassed in the 2019 Ashes and it’s hard to disagree that England’s amateur domestic structure, both in terms of the wage and provision, is a “big contributing factor” to this drastic loss, as claimed by Clare Connor, the Director of England Women’s Cricket.

It’s not perfect yet – the discrepancy in the salaries between the men and women is a serious concern – but it could be the change that was needed.

Having now announced their #InspiringGenerations project, the focus has switched to not just improving the elite women’s game but the sport at all levels. The standard of cricket needs to improve in order to keep up and overhaul Australia once again and it is hoped increasing the professionalism and investing more in the grassroots will achieve just this.

Clearly only time will tell whether the potential growth for cricket will be realised through The Hundred. The correct steps have, however, already been taken in utilising the competition as an avenue for raising the standards of the game from a playing and coaching perspective.

From the fans’ perspective, we have seen a recent shift in the perception and popularity of women’s football, and have experienced just how strategic implementation can grow the game. The Hundred can be the avenue through which new fans are attracted to cricket. An accessible route into the sport for the novice, and an intriguing spectacle for the veteran, the engine of women’s cricket is running and The Hundred may well shift English cricket through the gears and into a new top speed.

McCallin ready to use Euros pain to ensure GB qualify for Tokyo 2020

Rio 2016 hockey gold medallist Shona McCallin explains how she and her England team-mates will be using their Euros disappointment to ensure GB qualify for Tokyo 2020.

I’m back! Back on the international hockey scene after 17 months out of the game and back blogging for The 52.

When asked to write a piece on England’s recent EuroHockey Championships campaign, I was slightly reluctant at first.

On paper, it was our worst European showing in more than a decade. 

You have to go back to 2003 as being the last time England’s women finished outside the medals at the event; until now.

I’m personally still very much hurting from the tournament. To finish fourth, outside of the medals, hurts; the way we performed hurts and the semi-final result really hurts.

The scars from our 8-0 defeat at the hands of the Dutch run really deep and will be etched in my memory for a long time. 

I’ve not watched the game back but I will. I will because it will help the recovery process. I will because I don’t shy away from uncomfortable things. I will because I want to learn.

I will because I want to ensure it never, ever happens again.

Going into the tournament, a victory for England would have ensured a place at next year’s Olympics for Great Britain’s women. 

That was our aim. It didn’t happen so the focus now switches to regrouping as a GB squad and qualifying through a two-legged Olympic Qualifier.

The draw for the event took place last month, with Chile selected as our opponents, a team I’ve never played against in my six years as an international hockey player. 

We will face off in two matches over two days in London on 2-3 November, with the aggregate score totalled up and the winner taking it all – Olympic qualification.

There is no opportunity for an off day, no opportunity to qualify through a different route.

This is it, crunch time.

We win the series, we qualify. We lose, we don’t qualify. Simple.

As Tokyo draws closer, I’m finding myself having more frequent conversations with friends and family members about the Olympics.

The conversations are often long and quite confusing, leading me to think that the whole qualifying process is unnecessarily complicated for both hockey and non-hockey fans.

It requires some teams to wrack up a serious amount of air miles and is not consistent across continents. For a team like Spain to qualify, they had to win the Euros, overcoming six of the world’s top ten teams. Conversely, New Zealand secured their place by winning a three-game series against Australia. I hope it’s a process that’s amended by our governing body, the FIH, before Paris 2024.

I always state that, first and foremost, GB women still need to qualify – winning gold at Rio 2016 doesn’t automatically qualify you for Tokyo 2020.

The countdown is on and training has begun. A gruelling first week of fitness testing is out the way and it’s now about knuckling down as a team to ensure we are in the best shape, physically and mentally, come that first game on 2 November.

Some good and honest conversations between the whole squad and staff have been had and actions put in place. A clear and structured training plan has been implemented to improve the areas of our game that fell short as both GB during the FIH Pro League and as England at the Euros, whilst we will also continue to build on our strengths.

This Olympic qualification process means we are all entering an unknown that is exciting, nerve-wracking and pressurised.

Never has a place on the pinnacle of our sport rested on two matches in 24 hours and it’s time to show up.

Come the first weekend of November, we will be ready. And we hope so see many of you there cheering us on!