To get you in the mood for the Tokyo Olympics, we’ve gathered together our favourite Team GB athletes from recent years. From unbeaten boxer Nicola Adams to London 2012 darling Jessica Ennis-Hill, here are some of the best British female athletes.
The UK may have a pretty rubbish record when it comes to men’s football, but we’re excellent at Olympic sports. Team GB has a hefty medal collection across track and field, swimming, cycling and martial arts – and many of them have been won by home-grown strong women.
So, let’s have a look at 12 of the best female British Olympians and Olympic hopefuls that we’ve produced over the past few years. From Sydney 2000 to Tokyo 2021, here are the women who have inspired us to move.
Jessica Ennis-Hill: heptathlete
No one sums up the magic of London 2012 quite like the humble heptathlete from Sheffield. Jessica Ennis-Hill won gold in the heptathlon at the London Olympics with a whopping 6,955 points – beating the silver medalist runner-up by 306 points. Her time in the 100m hurdles set a new British record and was the fastest time ever run in a heptathlon.
After struggling with an Achilles tendon injury in the run up to the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Ennis-Hill still won silver, and later that year, she announced that she was retiring from professional sport.
Over the course of her career, she’s won one Olympic gold, three World Championship golds, one World Indoor Championship gold and two European Cup combined event golds.
Nicola Adams: boxer
Nicola Adams was one of the stars of London 2012, picking up gold in the flyweight division, then going on to do the double at Rio 2016. By May that year, she was the reigning Olympic, European Games and World champion at flyweight, having won every amateur championship event available. She retired with an undefeated record in 2019, having turned pro in 2017.
As if being a woman in boxing isn’t hard enough, Adams was the first openly LGBTQ+ person to win an Olympic boxing gold and has been named as one of the most eminent lesbian women by the DIVA Power List.
Laura Kenny: track and road cyclist
Laura Kenny (nee Trott) is the most successful female track cyclist in Olympic history, and Team GB’s most successful female competitor in any sport. She took gold in both the team pursuit and omnium events at both the 2012 and 2016 games, with her team setting a world record time in the 2012 race.
Kenny was awarded an OBE for services to cycling back in 2013 and both her and her cyclist husband, Jason Kenny, have a CBE for the same reason. What he doesn’t have, however, is a leisure centre named after him in Cheshunt, the launch of which Kenny attended ahead of competing in the fourth stage of The Women’s Tour, a stage race around the UK.
Oh, and she’s still only 29.
Kelly Holmes: middle-distance runner
Who can forget one of our best middle-distance track athletes, Kelly Holmes? Initially a British Army recruit, Holmes ran her way to success when she won silver at the 1994 European Championships. Her first Olympic medal came at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where she took silver. Four years later, Holmes became a double gold medal-winner in Athens, winning the 800m and 1,500m races.
She retired from athletics in 2005 and as well as being given a DBE, has since become an honorary colonel and global motivational speaker and author.
Dina Asher-Smith: sprinter
If there’s one athlete that needs no introduction, it’s Team GB superstar sprinter Dina Asher-Smith. Currently the fastest British woman in recorded history, Asher-Smith won gold in the 200m at the 2019 World Championships – breaking her own PBs in the process – as well as silver in the 4x100m relay and 100m sprint. She’s the first Brit to win three medals at the competition.
Her first Olympic performance saw her take bronze in the relay at the 2016 Rio games but she’s definitely set to be one of our top stars in Japan this year.
Charlotte Dujardin: dressage rider
The most successful British dressage rider in the history of the sport, Dujardin has won all the major titles and world records that exist. She took gold in the individual event and silver for the team at the 2016 Olympics and a double gold at the 2012 Olympics – both riding horse Valegro.
Since he retired, Dujardin has been working with a number of new horses and in 2018, she won a double bronze on her new mare, Mount St John Freestyle. Can Mount make it to gold in Japan?
Laura Muir: middle-distance runner
If you think sprinting for 30 seconds is hard, imagine *almost* sprinting for nearly four minutes. Laura Muir has broken the British record in the 1,500m twice, with it now sitting at 3:55:22. She’s also in the world’s all-time top 20 for mile records, running one mile in 4:18:03 (for context, the average pace for a woman running one mile is nearly 10 minutes).
Inverness-born Muir didn’t place for a medal at the 2016 games so this year could be her chance to get her hands on some Olympic metal.
Christine Ohuruogu: 400m runner
Ohuruogu was one of the “golden girls” of British athletics back in the 00s, winning gold at the 2008 Beijing games, silver at London 2012 and bronze in the 4x400m relay in Rio four years later.
Raised less than a mile from what would become the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, she graduated in Linguistics at UCL the same year that she won gold in the relay at the 2005 European Cup and a relay bronze at the World Championships. Two years later, she came back for gold in the 400m.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: heptathlete
Liverpudlian KJT will be looking to follow in Ennis-Hill’s success in the heptathlon this year and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t. In 2019, she took gold in the heptathlon event at the World Championships in Doha, as well as picking up a pentathlon gold at the European Indoor Championships. The year before, she won two golds and a silver in the world indoor and European Championships, and the Commonwealth Games.
Fun fact about the Müller ambassador, KJT’s best friend and biggest supporter is the Killing Eve star, Jodie Comer.
Rebecca Adlington: swimmer
One of the greatest British swimmers, Adlington picked up two gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in the 400m and 800m freestyle races – breaking the former world record in the latter event. At the following games in London, she won bronze in both events.
In recognition of her achievements, the local swimming pool in her hometown of Mansfield was renamed as the Rebecca Adlington Swimming Centre.
The OBE-holder has spoken before about the incessant trolling and online abuse that many female athletes receive. She previously told Stylist that after becoming the first British swimmer to win two Olympic gold medals since 1908, the comments turned from congratulatory to abusive: “They became really personal. It was stuff you wouldn’t say to your worst enemy. Had it been about my performance in the pool, I would have taken it, but it had nothing to do with my swimming ability.
“I didn’t know that you had to look like a model and be a size 8 to be a swimmer.”
Victoria Pendleton: track cyclist
With two gold and one silver Olympic medal, Pendleton is one of our most successful female Olympians.
After retiring from the Sky Track Cycling team post-London 2012, Pendleton turned her hand to horse racing. She made her competitive debut as a jockey in 2015, finishing second and the next year, won a race at Wincanton.
Denise Lewis: heptathlete
What is it about the UK that makes us produce such brilliant multi-event athletics? Denise Lewis was the first European to win the Olympic heptathlon at the 2000 Sydney games, setting a British record number of points which was ubsequently broken by Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
Since retiring, Lewis has been a regular athletics pundit for the BBC. In the 2019 edition of the Powerlist, she was listed as one of the most influential Black Britons.
Feeling inspired? Hop over to the Strong Women Training Club where you’ll find tonnes more first person stories, healthy recipes and workout ideas.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.
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