Fallon Sherrock is making PDC history but darts has a long way to go yet

Following Fallon Sherrock’s two historic victories at the 2020 PDC World Darts Championship, Ollie Godden explains how darts still has a long way to go when it comes to encouraging women to play the game.

As Fallon Sherrock stepped up to the oche on 17 December 2019, she had three attempts at double 18 to make history. Cheers and whistles reverberated through TV screens as the fans at Alexandra Palace (or ‘Ally Pally’) rose in tandem.

The first dart nestled outside the wire, enough to hush the rapturous crowd into tense silence. The second pierced the centre of the red sisal fibre and sent the crowd – and social media – into overdrive.

In overcoming Ted Evetts, Sherrock became the first woman to beat a man at the Professional Darts Corportion (PDC) World Darts Championship since it began in 1994.

Evetts was gracious in defeat while Sherrock, after taking a few moments to compose herself, showed wisdom beyond her years: “I feel really happy. I’ve made something for women’s darts. I have proved we can play men and beat them. Fingers crossed that puts us in the right direction.”

The win sent a shockwave through the sport and sparked a media frenzy, with people from all corners of the sporting spectrum hailing a performance of such magnitude.

It had been a case of when, not if, this landmark moment would happen but that didn’t mean it had any less magnitude.

Then came Sherrock’s second round victory over world number 11 Mensur Suljovic, proving the previous performance was no fluke. A plethora of leg-deciding darts were thrown with coolness. The Austrian became just another victim in Sherrock’s path to relative stardom.

She was already fairly well known in darts circles but these two wins have thrust the 25-year-old into the national spotlight.

She will go onto face world number 22 Chris Dobey on 27 December with nothing to lose, a multitude of new fans in her corner and history already made.

Women’s Darts – The Journey
The PDC World Championship has always allowed women to compete in its 26-year history, with Canadian Gayl King the first to do so when the event was held at Essex’s Circus Tavern in 2001. She lost in the first round.  

The same year the British Darts Organisation (BDO) launched their Women’s Championship which allowed them to compete for a prize pool of £6,000 – a figure which has now risen to £25,000. The winner of the men’s championship pockets £100,000. 

Between King’s appearance and last year’s tournament, no female player appeared in the  major draw of the PDC World Championship. Russian Anastasia Dobromyslova was handed a wildcard entry in 2009 but lost in the preliminary round.

There we no technical barriers preventing women from entering but a lack of equitable prize funds and limited provisions meant growth in the women’s game was stunted.

Despite Trina Gulliver’s 10 BDO Women’s Championship victories she was, and is, a relative unknown in the sporting world. The PDC did attempt to respond to the lack of female exposure by creating a Women’s World Championship in 2010 but this was discontinued after one running.

Things changed in 2018 when PDC Chairman Barry Hearn stated that the organisation would expand the World Championship competition from 72 to 96 players and guarantee two places for women.

This was an important move.

Two qualification tournaments were run to determine the athletes, with Dobromyslova and four-time BDO Women’s World Champion Lisa Ashton the two who won their events to reach one of the sport’s biggest stages.

This year Sherrock, who has had to also overcome the adversity of kidney disease following the birth of her son in 2014, was joined by fellow qualifier Mikuru Suzuki of Japan. She almost made her own piece of history, taking Englishman James Richardson to a deciding leg before losing 3-2 in the first round.

Following her first victory, Sherrock suggested that more places should be guaranteed for female participants. However Hearn’s response was that a pathway is now visible and said it is up to the female players to create more opportunities by proving their worth.

Still a way to go
It is important that Sherrock’s win doesn’t mask the progress that still needs to happen in darts. She has taken her opportunity with aplomb but things aren’t all rosy in the women’s game.

Whilst the prize pots remain small and competitions at a premium, they will remain semi-professional and this is an inherent barrier to growth.

Moreover, there is still a shift required in the cultural position of women’s darts. In an online Q&A in 2018, Michael van Gerwen – a three-time PDC World Champion – said: “You can’t compare woman darts and men’s, [I] don’t have a reason for it but [it] just doesn’t happen for some reason.”

The word number one wasn’t wrong for saying so. It was, and is, correct that few comparisons have been drawn but with little justification.

Two-time PDC Grand Slam of Darts champion Gerwyn Price joined the debate on Sherrock’s successes after his own first round victory this year, stating: “She hasn’t beaten a man, she has beaten a young boy with the crowd on his back.”

This was a startlingly regressive comment from a leading light in the sport.

Price himself beat Suzuki on his way to a second Grand Slam title a year ago but maintains the crowd impairs a player’s ability to perform to their potential and cited this as the reason for Evetts’ loss.

The comment from Price was not only patronising to Evetts, a young player with a very bright future, but undermined the success of Sherrock, who scored six 180s and nineteen 140s.

Similarly, Sherrock appeared on Good Morning Britain the day after she beat Evetts for an interview with the infamous host Piers Morgan. In a hugely trivialising stunt, Sherrock was tasked with beating Morgan in a three-dart challenge. As he swaggered over to the board, Sherrock looked understandably bemused before comfortably beating the presenter as he joked it was up to him to ‘restore pride in male darts playing’.

After her subsequent victory against Suljovic, Morgan stated that she was his ‘female empowerment role model’, but until such a point that we can take an achievement at face value without feeling the need to turn it into a gimmick, we are failing to truly celebrate the sport and those within it.

 

To continue the growth, fans must ensure that their appetite for the women’s game remains or even broadens, whilst organisers must reward women appropriately and broadcasters have a duty to televise events.

We can see the potential for development with the Women’s Super League in football this year, where exposure and sponsorship has contributed to a boom in the game. The same must occur here and there is no reason why it shouldn’t.

A quarter-final berth is not beyond the realm of possibilities by any means for Sherrock but, regardless of where she finishes in this year’s competition, the point has been made.

Women have a place in the upper echelons of the sport but they must first be given a chance. The onus is now on Hearn and his team to ensure the strategic progression of the sport which will, in time, effect the cultural beliefs about females in the sport. 

“Hockey is a flagship team sport & pioneer for athletic equality”

In her first piece for The 52, England and GB international Tess Howard reviews her favourite hockey moments of 2019 and explains why they show the sport has a blueprint for gender equality that all other should follow.

To legitimise women’s sport, it is often perceived as an add-on to its male-counterparts: ‘rugby’ and ‘women’s rugby’; ‘cricket’ and ‘women’s cricket’ etc. But hockey, whether you’re a man or woman, is simply just ‘hockey’.

It is a flagship team sport and pioneer for athletic equality.

Our world of hockey is a game of 50-50 representation. We move towards equality without the need to separate the sport in events, media or communication. There is no need to artificially construct a social hierarchical divide.

We appreciate the game for the sake of the game; a meritocracy. Viewed in this way, our sport separated by gender becomes a categorization much like weight classes in boxing; not a tool for prejudice.

As a human geographer, studying remotely with Durham University, my degree addresses the symbolic, historical and political cultures which influence our society, economy and environment. I am fortunate to be situated in elite sport whilst studying the academics of feminist movement. This has inspired me to critically reflect on highlights for women’s sport and, for me personally, revealing how sport can be a deeper indicator of contextual social progress.

The first two of my ‘women’s sporting highlights’ should probably be reworded as ‘greatest GB Hockey moments of the year’, where hockey is appreciated as the game where both men and women compete equally in their respective competitions. Perhaps a sport marking a movement ahead of its time.

1) Making history at The Stoop
This was an unprecedented event. A crowd of nearly 12,000; an enclosed and covered stadium; a hockey pitch laid down over a rugby field. And two wins, the men with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand (securing their spot in the FIH Pro League Finals) and the women then recording a 3-1 victory over the same opponent.

I was lucky enough to play in this and it was doubly special as the team put in one of our best performances in the FIH Pro League and showed that despite a tough year, we were evidently growing.

2) GB secure their places at Tokyo 2020
That feeling – to be part of that moment in our squad’s journey, helping secure our spots at the Tokyo Olympic Games – is easy to essentialise and reduce it to a single word, either ‘relief’ or ‘elation’.

But in reality it is extremely difficult to give an honest, straightforward account of what it means. Overwhelmingly, it was a feeling of achievement: successfully completing a job we simply had to complete. Happy, but realising we were always going to qualify because there was no way we couldn’t.

Within the squad there was a steady calmness, a conviction to stick to our game plan and deliver what we believed would unfold. To share the event with a rallying crowd, our fans and supporters at Lee Valley, reminded us it was more than just a match we had both won.

The reality of the event inspires reflection. A lot was shared. The huge pressure felt by both teams, the understanding that both men and women had to independently qualify. You share the relief, the elation, the experience, the event. We are grateful to GB Hockey and the FIH for hosting hockey in this way and hope this continues as we keep making positive steps to achieving true equality in events and operation. EuroHockey’s #EquallyAmazing campaign is one demonstration of how we empower athletes as athletes, nullifying performance discrimination based on gender categorisation.

 

3) The game that had it all
My final highlight is slightly unconventional. As well as England and GB Hockey, I also play for East Grinstead (EG) and one sodden October afternoon we found ourselves playing away to Hampstead & Westminster (H&W) in what was to turn out to be an all-time classic.

Given we went 3-0 up after the first quarter, it was a game we really should have won. As an EG player it was hard to concede three goals, score again to go 4-3 up but eventually draw 4-4. However, from a reflexive feminist standpoint, after the game I think my only comment to the media was “it was epic”.

The game was a clash of two top teams, fuelled by adrenaline and healthy rivalry. Both were coached by women excelling in their professional fields; H&W’s Kate Richardson-Walsh and Sarah Kelleher as well as EG’s Mary Booth.

What the H&W coaches or players said at quarter-time to ignite a three-goal comeback, the first scored by inferno-attacker Lily Owsley, we do not know. How the EG girls found it in themselves to score a flames-worthy goal, put in by Laura Unsworth, to go up 4-3 we do not know. And how H&W equalised in the last few minutes, we will never know. This game is an incredible advocate for women’s sport.

What sticks in my mind about this game is that we were able to share this moment. Standing pitch-side was not only a dedicated rain-saturated crowd, but more than 30 U12 schoolgirls from The Perse School. They had taken a school trip to play matches against a local school and then to watch elite level hockey. The Perse is my old school so afterwards it was fantastic to see them all, chat about the game and be intoxicated in their enthusiasm despite being drenched.

“Ohh my word, Tess, did you see there was Owsley, Unsworth and Bray playing… What a match – why didn’t you win?! They are all soooo fast… I wanna learn how to do that thing Bray did… Did you see Kate Richardson-Walsh is one of the coaches… You’re so muddy – are you playing rugby or hockey? When are you coming back to school to coach again?!”

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These were just some of the quotes I can remember when talking to them, my white kit soaked in mud from the horrendously slippy pitch.

Sharing that moment reassured me we are part of something greater than a scoreline when we play high level hockey.

As female athletes, we constantly challenge the patriarchal ideology upon which sport was originally based; we negotiate what athletic femininity means and we are part of discovering, as Dr Alison Enever asks, “how the modern girl attains strength and grace”.

Elite sport and their athletes afford the power to legitimise knowledge around their sport, and play a part in affecting culture for the benefit of equality.

As athletes, we perform on a stage where our performance can be understood quantitatively: in the scoreline. But it is the qualitative, intangible meaning of our performance as an individual, with our intersectional identities and complex cultural tendencies, which continually construct the society we are part of.

The fight, bravery, determination, passion and excellence on display during these matches, led by brave and passionate women, and shared with young people discovering their own passion and bravery in sport is continuously contributing to the equal society we all want to live in. And I hope 2020 will bring many more moments like this.

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Cain’s allegations raise further uncomfortable truths for athletics

Julia Cook looks at one of the latest controversies dogging athletics after Mary Cain alleged abuse by banned doper Alberto Salazar during her time with Nike Oregon Project

Mary Cain shocked the sporting world last month with her allegations of abuse by Aleberto Salazar, a story that is growing in relevance everyday.

Cain, a former Nike Oregon Project runner and one of America’s biggest young talents, revealed how she was pressured by Salazar to lose weight, and broke five bones due to weight loss linked osteoporosis. 

Seen as the future of the sport, Salazar started advising Cain in 2012 and she reaped the rewards almost immediately, qualifying for the World Championships as a 17-year-old a year later. 

But instead of nurturing her talent, Cain was told by the all-male staff to get thinner and thinner.

Cain, now 23, told the New York Times: “I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike.”

Cain also detailed how she lost her period for three years and how the abuse led to suicidal thoughts and self harm. 

She says that her dreams quickly went out of the window.

“I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics any more, I was trying to survive,” she said.

This is just the latest scandal of many for Salazar, who has been banned from coaching for four years for doping offences. He is currently appealing the decision.

In an email to the New York Times, Salazar denied many of Cain’s claims and said he had supported her health and welfare. On 11 October, Nike announced it was shutting down the Oregon Project.

In a statement to the Times, Cain said that “after the doping report dropped that led to his suspension, I felt this quick and sudden release. That helped me understand that this system is not O.K. That’s why I decided to speak up now.”

Cain described the abuse within the project: “He wanted to give me birth control pills and diuretics [which are banned on anti-doping lists in athletics] to lose weight. I felt so scared and alone and I felt so trapped and I started to have suicidal thoughts.

“I started to cut myself. Some people saw me cutting myself. And nobody really did anything or said anything.”

Many within athletics have spoken out in support with Cain, including former Nike athlete Allyson Felix, who was dropped when she got pregnant, and current Nike athlete-turned-coach, Shalane Flanagan. 

Cain’s story raises important issues. When do we stop supporting Nike? And at what cost? Do we prioritise shoes that give us personal bests over fighting for clean sport, women and integrity?

Whilst Cain’s picture of Salazar and the Oregon Project may seem unbelievable to some, it is by no means the only toxic culture within athletics, or sport as a whole. It’s an extreme and high-profile example of the issues faced by countless others, raising questions about how athletes are trapped within a sporting system not fit for purpose. With no dedicated nutritionist or psychologist, and a culture that made athletes feel alone, where are they meant to turn?

There’s an undeniable truth that weight and performance are linked. But that should never come at the cost of an athletes mental or physical wellbeing. And that should never allow a culture of bullying and harassment to be created. 

What has to be considered is how and when an athlete’s weight is talked about, with nutritionists and psychologists, and how it should never come before the physical or mental well being of the athlete. Having an outside professional, whose sole job it is to act in the best interests of the athlete’s health, means that coaches can focus on what’s important, and don’t have to weigh in on issues that they don’t have expertise or experience in. 

Cain herself also offered a solution, suggesting that more women need to be involved within athletics. “I got caught in a system designed by and for men, which destroys the bodies of young girls. We have to protect them.” 

Women can’t do this alone. Men need to step up and be allies, calling out problems when they see them, and supporting women who do. 

Cain sharing her story has started an incredible debate within athletics and sport as a whole. It’s stories like Cain’s that change the world, and make it a better place for the women after. 

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