Women's Sport Week: British sports stars discuss their idols

Women from across sport share their inspirational heroines with BBC Sport
Women from across sport share their inspirational heroines with BBC Sport

Britain's top sportswomen have the medals to show for their talent and dedication. But who were the inspirational people they looked up to in their fledgling careers?

The inaugural Women's Sport Week, which runs from 1-7 June, aims to celebrate, raise awareness and increase the profile of women's sport.

BBC Sport kicks off the week by asking some of Britain's highest-profile sports women about their sporting idols growing up.

Lizzy Yarnold - skeleton slider

Denise Lewis and Lizzy Yarnold
Olympic heptathlete Denise Lewis was the idol of world and Olympic skeleton champion Lizzy Yarnold

The world, Olympic and European skeleton champion, 26, said: "I can remember so clearly watching Denise Lewis during the 2000 Olympics. She competed in the heptathlon, which was the event I competed in when I was younger, and I was glued to the TV throughout the Sydney Games.

"Denise had this awesome competition suit during the javelin with one arm exposed. She looked so majestic, so strong and powerful - you knew she was at the top of her game and it was so inspiring to watch."

Dame Mary Peters - athlete

Fanny Blankers-Koen and Dame Mary Peters
Fanny Blankers-Koen and Dame Mary Peters

The 1972 Munich Olympics pentathlon gold medallist, 75, said: "There was a world-record holder in the high jump. She is Thelma Hopkins and she went on to win a long jump silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and Fanny Blankers-Koen. She was the Dutch four-time gold medallist at the 1948 Olympics and we became great friends because she became a team manager of the Dutch team and she was my inspiration really.

She was very athletic, she was a mother with two children, she did what would have been the pentathlon in those days and won gold medals in three races, four races including the relay, and it made her a star in her own country."

Sophie Christiansen - Paralympic dressage

Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sophie Christiansen
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (left) is an inspirational figure for millions, including Sophie Christiansen

The 2012 Paralympics triple gold medallist, 27, said: "When I was younger Tanni Grey-Thompson [winner of 16 Paralympic medals] really inspired me.

"Not only was she a fantastic athlete but she was an amazing role model because she competed at a time when the Paralympics were virtually unheard of and she really brought disability sport into the mainstream. I knew that I wanted to be exactly like her.

"So when I found that I could do Paralympic dressage and actually excel at it I knew my dream could come true."

Nicola Adams - boxer

Nicola Adams with her uncle Robert Ottley (L), mother Denver Adams (2nd L) and brother Kurtis Adams (R)
Nicola Adams collected her MBE with (left to right) her uncle Robert, mother Denver and brother Kurtis

The Olympic boxing champion, 32, said: "Muhammad Ali inspired me and I'd have to say my mum as well. Even though she's not really a big sportsperson, she was always there to motivate me through the highs and the lows so I'd definitely say she's a role model for me too.

"Your role model isn't always a sports person or somebody famous - it can just be a genuine normal person. I guess I'm just a normal person as well. I think you just see the hard work and what they do to achieve whatever their goal is, it's what spurs you on and motivates you."

Nicole Cooke - cyclist

Nicole Cooke
Nicole Cooke was the first rider, male or female, to become Olympic and World road race champion in the same year and a two-time winner of the Tour de France

The Beijing Olympics road race champion, 32, said: "Robert Millar inspired me and that was because I'd watch him race on TV in the Tour de France and he was the only British rider. Seeing him attack in the mountains again and again was inspirational and I wanted to be a climber, thanks to him.

"When I started racing I got to meet Sally Hodge and Louise Jones, two cyclists from south Wales who won medals internationally.

"It was great chatting with them and finding out that it's all about the hard work and getting out there and doing the training that was going to make you successful. That was very reassuring and definitely appealed to my work ethic. If Sally and Louise can achieve success, so can I."

Casey Stoney - footballer

Marieanne Spacey and Casey Stoney
Marieanne Spacey (left) played in the same team as the woman she inspired, Casey Stoney (right)

The former England women's football captain, 33, said: "When I was playing in the girls' little league, Marieanne Spacey presented me with my first ever winner's medal.

"I remember her turning up in her Arsenal tracksuit and thinking 'I want to be like her' and four years later I was playing in the same team as her.

"She knew I looked up to her. She was a fantastic player and one of the very best I'd seen at the time. We used to share a lot of car journeys to Arsenal so I got to know her very well.

"The game has changed a lot but Marieanne was one of those players who got the ball rolling and put women's football on the map."

Laura Trott - cyclist

Dame Kelly Holmes and Laura Trott
Double Olympic gold for Kelly Holmes inspired Laura Trott to achieve a similar feat

The double Olympic gold medallist, 23, said: "I will never ever forget when Dame Kelly Holmes crossed the finish line at the Athens Olympics and couldn't believe that she'd won her second gold. I guess in a way I'm following in her footsteps, which is nice, because I really did idolise her at the time.

"The more women's role models we have the better. I was always quite sporty so was going to be involved in sport.

"But for some young girls who are struggling, and don't know whether to do it or not, to have people like Kelly Holmes, myself, Vicky Pendleton out there, it's so easy to feel like you can be part of their journey."

Jenny Meadows - 800m athlete

Sally Gunnell and Jennie Meadows
"Girl next door" Sally Gunnell was the inspiration for Jenny Meadows

The 2010 world silver 800m medallist, 34, said: "I remember being really young and watching Sally Gunnell in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when she won the 400m hurdles.

"She had such a great rivalry with an American athlete and it was so close down the home straight as to who was going to do it.

"I think it's the personality of Sally. She was the girl next door. You could really relate to her, she wore her heart on her sleeve and when she crossed that finish line you could see how much it meant to her.

"I remember her going up to her husband afterwards, finding him in the crowd, and you could really appreciate that moment they shared together.

"Whilst Sally was a talented athlete she always said how hard she had to work and how strict she had to be with her diet, which she didn't find easy and which every woman can appreciate. I love chocolate so I try to ration myself on that.

"Those positive female athletes are role models because they are human and you can definitely relate to those sort of athletes.

"I know Sally now and even though I know her as a friend, when I see her I still have goosebumps and think 'ooooh Sally Gunnell!'"

Maggie Alphonsi - rugby player

Denise Lewis and Maggie Alphonsi
Denise Lewis's family situation was relatable to that of Maggie Alphonsi's

The 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup winner, 31, said: "Denise Lewis was an inspiration to me.

"We have similar backgrounds, in that we both came from one-parent families, and I really connected with that.

"She said she owed a lot to her mother and I'm the same with my mum, Rebecca, who gave up a lot for me and has always been so supportive."

Paula Radcliffe - athlete

Grete Waitz and Paula Radcliffe
Paula Radcliffe (right) couldn't choose just one but the late Grete Waitz was an inspiration on and off the track

The women's marathon world record holder, 41, said: "My three heroines are Grete Waitz, Ingrid Kristiansen and Joan Benoit Samuelson.

"Joan, because she won the first women's Olympic marathon back in 1984. She really embodies someone who gets the most out of their running - and life in general - and is a great person.

"Ingrid was my first inspiration for marathon running when I went to watch my dad run in the London Marathon in 1995 and saw her go past, en route to setting the world record that day. She was someone I really aspired to be like one day.

"And Grete for the person that she was and for the success that she had on all surfaces, road, cross country and track. And also for the dignified and strong way in which she fought cancer right to the end and continued to be such a great person."

Chrissie Wellington - endurance triathlete

Zola Budd and Chrissie Wellington
Zola Budd (left) is one of Chrissie Wellington's sporting idols

The four-time Ironman triathlon world champion, 38, said: "My inspirations have changed throughout the course of my life.

"At a very young age my role models were my parents and teachers at school, including my headmaster at primary school who encouraged me to be the best I could be.

"More latterly athletes like Sharron Davies the swimmer, Zola Budd the runner inspired me to carry on sport in my teens and I've also been inspired by athletes like Michael Johnson, Jo Pavey and Sir Steve Redgrave. He is a phenomenal inspiration, he's gone through so much to achieve his five gold medals and I look to him and realise anything is possible if you're willing to work hard enough."

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