Jess Ennis-Hill selects the sportswomen inspiring her and you this summer, and talks about why we’re all role models for future generations...
I don’t know about you, but I’m loving this incredible summer of sport, with a whole host of amazing women representing across the board, and the TV coverage highlighting every electrifying second.
Wimbledon was a roller coaster, with the emergence of prodigious teen Coco Gauff and a run to the final by the remarkable Serena - who is such a legend, she only needs one name!
There was the heartbreak of the women’s football and netball world cups, with both England’s Lionesses and the Vitality Roses bowing out in the final four - but in front of record crowds and TV audiences.
And the Anniversary Games was a packed two days of amazing athletics performances, with Dina Asher-Smith showing how she can compete on the world stage with the might of the Jamaicans and Americans (more on that later).
With all this going on and so much more to come (the World Championships in Doha in September will always have a special place in my heart), it’s a tough job to only pick a handful of inspirational women, but here goes…
"Girls like Helen are trailblazers in raising the profile of netball, with her performance in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia last year igniting netball across the globe"
SERENA WILLIAMS, TENNIS – FOR STILL LOVING THE GAME
Say ‘Serena’ and everyone knows who you’re talking about. The tennis star is one of the greatest athletes of our time, but she's also one of the most inspiring women (on and off the court), plus she’s been in a Beyoncé video! (Here if you need me, Bey!)
At 37, she’s dominated for a decade now, and I have so much admiration for all she’s achieved, with that including stepping away to have her first child, having a whole host of health complications surrounding the birth of her baby girl Olympia in 2017, then coming back strong.
Even though she’d already won everything going (multiple times), she has come back to tennis with a level of motivation and love for the game that is just incredible.
As you grow older, injuries creep in and it becomes harder and harder to stay on top of your game, but she’s still making Grand Slam finals (losing out to Simona Halep in this year’s Wimbledon) and I wouldn’t bet against her winning a few more yet.
HELEN HOUSBY, NETBALL – FOR TRAILBLAZING AND DETERMINATION
The first time I met Helen was at last year’s Commonwealth Games when she was just 23. She’s a really nice, normal and inspiring girl doing something extraordinary in a sport she loves, and watching her in action in the World Cup in front of an amazing home crowd this month has been brilliant.
Girls like Helen are trailblazers in raising the profile of netball, with her performance in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia last year igniting netball across the globe.
Helen scored in the VERY LAST second of the final for England to defeat the host nation and reigning world champions and showed incredible nerve and focus to put that crucial deciding goal away. I watched it again recently and it still has me on the edge of my seat.
England might have lost out to the eventual champions, New Zealand, in the recent World Cup semi-finals in Liverpool, but I was really impressed by the way she put that defeat behind her and didn’t miss a single shot in the bronze medal match-up with South Africa.
While lesser performers might have been subdued by the disappointment of defeat, Helen was determined not to end the tournament empty-handed.
"British sprinters have often looked impressive, but haven’t been able to contend with the Jamaicans and Americans for medals on the world stage. Dina can absolutely do that"
LIZZIE DEIGNAN, CYCLIST – FOR COMING BACK TO BRILLIANT
I’ve known Lizzie for a long time because we’ve both been adidas-sponsored athletes, we have worked on lots of campaigns together and were both Olympic 2012 medallists - I’ll never forget her flying down the Mall to win GB’s first medal at the Games.
What’s been really exciting about Lizzie’s year is that she has been incredible since returning in April after having a baby girl, Orla.
The highlight has been winning the six-stage Women’s Tour. She’d already won it in 2016 - ‘pre Orla’ - so has become the first woman to win it twice. And this time by just two seconds!
All of which is no mean feat when you are balancing motherhood while competing against the world’s best.
COCO GAUFF, TENNIS – FOR 15-YEAR-OLD FOCUS
To see Coco playing at Wimbledon was incredible this year. And that’s before you factor in her age. She’s 15. FIFTEEN, which makes her achievement of beating one of her heroes, five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams, in the opening round and making it through to the last 16, even more amazing.
The thing that was so incredible about her was how she just rose to the occasion, wasn’t daunted by anyone and just kept raising her game and thriving.
It’s a lot to ask of a 15-year-old to be that focused in such high-pressure situations and takes a lot of athletes years to be able to perform like that and not break down under pressure.
My son Reggie, who is now four, plays a bit of tennis for fun and enjoys it, but to think about how hard Coco must have had to train and her level of dedication, even when she was Reggie’s age, makes you realise how much is needed to reach her level. She is definitely one to watch for the future
DINA ASHER-SMITH, SPRINTER – FOR PERFORMANCE AND PERSONALITY
Despite being just 23, Dina has had a few frustrating injury setbacks – including breaking a bone in her foot ahead of the World Championships in London in 2017, then missing a medal by just seven-hundredths-of-a-second. Since then, she’s shown incredible resilience and gone from strength to strength.
She was a triple gold medallist in the Europeans last year and this year is running great times in both the 100m and 200m to beat the best women in the world.
British sprinters have often looked impressive, but haven’t been able to contend with the Jamaicans and Americans for medals on the world stage. Dina can absolutely do that – and you saw that at the Anniversary Games recently where it was her and Jamaica’s Shelly Ann Fraser fighting it out for first place in the 100m.
I’m so excited to watch her at the World Championships in Doha in September and not just for the performance I know she will deliver. She brings such great personality to the events and you can see she’s enjoying herself, which is great fun to watch.
I don’t really look at myself as an inspirational character, I’m just me. But it’s always great to meet young athletes and sportswomen who have watched me perform and are inspired to try sport, and it’s lovely that my son Reggie watches me doing circuits and then gets involved (he’s amazing at one-armed push-ups).
I think most people don’t realise how they’re inspirations for the people around them in the same way. But by going out there and playing your favourite sport or doing a ParkRun or circuit, you’re inspiring the people around you – your friends, family, kids – to do the same.