When you make it past the soap-like drama of the back pages and into the reports on sports aside from football, rugby and cricket it is rare to read about women athletes. When articles do arise it is usually hailing their success on a world stage. Therefore the omittance of any female athletes from the BBC’s iconic list should perhaps not come as a surprise, but that doesn’t make it acceptable, especially when Britain has many World renowned sportswomen.
Keri-Anne Payne was the first British athlete in any sport to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, in the field of open water swimming. Alongside this, she won the world championship in 10K open water event in Shanghai and is FINA’s open water swimmer of the year. Whilst she was absent from the BBC’s list, she was named the British Olympic Association’s Aquatic athlete of the year.
A further sportswoman who missed out on greater recognition was triathlete Helen Jenkins, who was ITU World Champion, achieving six top 3 finishes in the World Championship series. Her one win of the Championship coming on home soil in front of a rapturous Hyde Park crowd, boding well in her hunt for Olympic Gold this year. With the success of the London event, where Britain’s men also triumphed as Alistair Brownlee beat his younger brother, Jenkins’ omission can be understood as a disregard for the sport rather than a rejection of her achievements, as neither triathlete featured.
A sportswoman who continued her success in 2011 was Mary King, who holds the top World Event Ranking. The events, which receive over a quarter of a million spectators at Badminton and Burghley horse trials, exceeding a match day at Wembley, dismiss the argument that this is a minority sport. Furthermore, King fills the additional criteria, which seems to be seldom considered, that of ‘personality’. King will be hoping to attend her 6th Olympics this year and at the beginning of her career had to sell her own horses to fund her career truly shows personality.
Jenkins and Payne certainly defy all the odds medically expected of women who, as reported by the The Times in 1960s, should not run more than 200m. Whilst this view now seems ridiculously dated, especially with Carmelita Jeter, running 100m in 10.64 seconds to claim the women’s World Championship, the exclusion of any women from the BBC’s list harks back to darker times.
What further frustrates regarding the exclusion of any women is the inclusion of two men that failed to cover themselves in glory during 2011. Has the time not come to stop congratulating Andy Murray on reaching another semi-final? However many add up to a record (seven in one year) I’m sure he’d sacrifice all of them for a single Gram Slam victory. Since when has losing a World title (Amir Khan) or the American Open gained you a place on the short list? It makes you wonder how we will praise them if they do actually win, or are we just accepting their defeat already and giving them some credit for trying?
It cannot be said that as a nation in 2011 we were without women athletes succeeding at the highest level and I would argue that as well as achieving feats greater than that of their male counterparts, many also possess wonderful personalities. Failing to acknowledge their achievements at prestigious events like the BBC’s Sports Personality Award restricts the development of women’s sport. Therefore 2012 is one for Women to categorically prove that they are not only holding their nerve on the start line, but are catching up too.