Rowen Nicola Ball

Female athletes: the lesser known legends

almaz_ayana2c_beijing_2015_cropped1

Credit: Erik van Leeuwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Almaz Ayana won the 10,000m in historic fashion last Saturday at the IAAF World Championships. But do you know her name?

“Did you see that race at the World Championships on Saturday?”
“The one where Usain Bolt lost?”
“No, the one where Almaz Ayana lapped most of her competitors on the 10,000m track.”

This is a conversation I had recently, and it got me thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, Bolt is a legend. I watched his last race on the edge of my sofa like the rest of the world and I’m also aware that the 100m is a lot faster and a whole lot sexier in the sphere of athletics than the 10,000m. But can you remember the name of one female sprinter?

As I watched Ayana dominate the track in an astounding feat of physical fitness, prowess and determination, I wondered if she’d get anywhere near as much coverage as a male athlete would if they literally lapped their competition on an international scale? Just to put her talent into perspective, Ayana also set a World Record for the Women’s 10,000m last year at the Rio Olympics 2016.

The perceptions of women’s sport are changing fast, although maybe not quite as fast as Almaz Ayana.

The UEFA Women’s EURO tournament was aired on the Channel 4 for the first time this year, and a particularly powerful moment was when Jodie Taylor scored a hat-trick in the match against Scotland. This thrust Jodie Taylor into the company of legends like Gary Lineker and Jeff Hirst, making them the only 3 England players ever to score a hat-trick in an International Finals Tournament. It also highlighted that it’s been around 20 years since a male footballer has performed such a feat.

This isn’t the first time that women’s football took centre stage. Consider the fact that during WW1, women’s football was hugely popular, since any man fit enough to play football would’ve been sent to the front line. As women served their country in munitions factories and traditionally male roles, so too did they fill the football fields – in the stadiums, but also for informal kickabouts. One woman’s love of the game was so strong that she is said to have gone straight from her wedding to a match, where she not only played but scored twice.

After WW1, as men worked to re-establish their roles in society, women were edged out of the factories and the football fields. Football was once again seen as a highly unsuitable game for the delicate female frame. Following this for decades and decades it has been stigmatised and underfunded – and we’re still surprised that women aren’t as technically good as men? But what fans who dismiss women’s football miss out on is the excitement of the burgeoning field of women’s football as the sport gathers momentum.

We should be standing in awe of the female footballers – and indeed all female athletes – who have defied history and expectations of what a women can and should do with their bodies, and become elites in their own right, powerful and at the top of their game, and getting better every day. That, to me, is legendary.

I’ll end with a quote from Serena Williams: “If I were a man, I would’ve been considered the greatest a long time ago.”

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