The Rio 2016 Olympic Games are set to make history for women in sport, with an army of female competitors from across the globe poised to run faster, swim harder and vault more spectacularly than ever before. Here are the ones to keep an eye on.
Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Great Britain)
The Olympics’ reigning heptathlon queen, Ennis-Hill, 30, whose son Reggie turned 2 last month, will be challenged by 23-year-old team GB teammate Katarina Johnson-Thompson for her crown this year. The Liverpudlian ‘pretender’ won the pentathlon at last year’s European Indoor Championships. Either could win gold when the pair compete against each other (and the rest of the world) this summer. Watch their final showdown on ‘Super Saturday’ (13th August).
Helen Glover (Great Britain)
Rated the world’s number 1 female rower, 30-year-old Glover is expected to bag an early medal for team GB this summer, alongside her partner, 31-year-old Heather Stanning. The pair won Great Britain’s first gold at London 2012, in the women’s coxless pair event, but narrowly missed victory in this year’s world cup due to Heather falling sick.
Yusra Mardini (Refugee Team)
Last year, 18-year-old Mardini saved 20 migrants from drowning when the world class swimmer pushed a sinking boat to land along with her sister and two others fleeing their homes in Damascus. The young athlete resumed her training under more conventional conditions on reaching Berlin and looks set to be one of the ‘faces’ of this year’s Games.
Shelley-Ann Fraser Pryce (Jamaica)
If she wins gold in the 100m, 29-year-old Fraser-Pryce will become the first athlete to win three successive 100m Olympic titles (Usain Bolt will also have his heart set on claiming this honour). She faces stiff competition from favourite Dafne Schippers (Netherlands) and teammate Elaine Thompson, though, so it could be a close-run thing.
Katie Ledecky (USA)
Ledecky sent Rebecca Adlington into retirement with her 800m freestyle win at London 2012, aged just 15. The swimming prodigy now boasts 11 world records, with wins in every major international race she has ever competed in. At 19, she now swims the 800m an awe-inspiring 8 seconds faster than she did 4 years ago – commentators have compared this to a cyclist winning the Tour de France by 30 or 40 minutes. She will compete in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events. Look out for teammate Missy Franklin too, who is expected to mount a challenge in the 200m – Katie’s ‘weakest’ event.
Simone Biles (USA)
Making her Olympic debut at the age of 19, Biles is already favourite to win gold in all six artistic gymnastic events. The 4’8″ powerhouse became the first woman to win three consecutive all-around world titles in Glasgow last year.
Dipa Karmaka (India)
Dipa Karmaka, India’s first female gymnast, is expected to challenge Biles for the vault title. The 22-year-old will attempt the perilous ‘Produnova’ vault which catapulted her into the Games. Dubbed the ‘vault of death’, the move, named for Russian champion Elena Produnova, has only ever been executed by five gymnasts, Karmaka included.
Caster Semenya (South Africa)
Semenya was subjected to gender tests on winning the 800m world title by more than 4 seconds in 2009. The resulting ruling that female athletes with unusually high levels of testosterone would be required to take hormones in order to bring them down to ‘normal’ levels was suspended in 2015. The 25-year-old has subsequently shown a return to her previous form. Despite settling for silver in 2012, she recorded her quickest ever 800m this year and is favourite to win gold.
Laura Trott (Great Britain)
Sir Chris Hoy has said he has “every faith” that the double Olympic gold medallist and world number 1 will repeat her success in 2016. The 24-year-old, who took up cycling in an attempt to manage her childhood asthma, brought home a clutch of medals from this year’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships. She says that her perfect evening involves sitting at home on the sofa watching Eastenders.
Jo Pavey (Great Britain)
At 40, Pavey became the oldest female European champion in history, claiming gold in the 10,000m in Zurich just ten months after giving birth to her second child. Now 43, the Devon-born long distance runner is still one to watch.
Jade Jones (Great Britain)
Jones won Britain’s first gold for taekwondo in 2012. Having taken gold in her weight category at both the 2015 European Games in Baku and the 2016 European Championships in Montreux, she is expected to bring home another this summer. Born in Bodelwyddan, Wales, the 23-year-old has been nicknamed ‘The Headhunter’.
Katy McLean (Great Britain)
McLean, 30, who captained England to victory in the 2014 Rugby World Cup, is considered one of the best captains in women’s sport. Team GB are tipped for the top of the podium in the rugby sevens event, to be introduced to the Games for the first time this year.