What are the best women's sport books on International Women's Day?
If you take a look at the shortlists for William Hill Sports Book of the Year over the past few years, books written by or about sportsmen dominate. When you look at bookshops, the sports shelves are adorned with a variety of athletes, from footballers and rugby players to cyclists and cricketers. Only thing is, they are all men.
Sure, these are often fantastic books, and this is absolutely not to detract from their success nor the talented authors who pen them. But if we are to paint a full picture of the wonderful world of sport, a bit of diversity is needed to celebrate the full spectrum on offer.
So, on International Women’s Day (and every other day, let’s be honest) I ask, what about the women? Don’t our unsung heroines, our inspiring female athletes, and cutting-edge female journalists have something important and remarkable to say too?
I bloody well think so, and so do the wonderful people of Twitter. What started as a modest list has grown exponentially, and I’m still getting new recommendations in my mentions now! So here is a not-so-exhaustive list of fabulous books about female athletes and women’s sport.
Isabel Best – Queens of Pain
This is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in recent years. I have written a full review of it here, but fundamentally you are left outraged and inspired in equal measure. Inspired by the jaw-dropping escapades of female cyclists throughout history and all over the world and outraged that you are only just hearing about them.
The next two books are written by two journalists who I have long looked up to, as they continue to fight for equality and for better coverage of women’s sport.
Kicking Off – How Women in Sport are Changing the Game – Sarah Shepherd
Sarah’s offering explores that fight for coverage and asks why female sports stars receive much less than their male counterparts. But don’t just take her word for it – she also calls upon some of the greatest sportswomen the world has seen for their take. This will light a fire in your belly.
Eat, Sweat, Play – Anna Kessel
Another book that will leave you raging – in a good way. This should be on every school curriculum and read by girls, boys, mums and dads everywhere. It cuts straight through the bullshit institutionalised sexism we have all suffered for years, exposes it, and breaks down the gender and societal constructs that have either deliberately or subconsciously stopped women and girls doing sport for generations. I devoured it.
The Breakaway – Nicole Cooke
"When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward. Tyler Hamilton will make more money from a book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour."
Remember THAT retirement statement? Welshwoman Nicole Cooke won every race she could have dreamed of and more. And in leaving the sport, blew it wide open. If you want to understand the struggles of female cyclists – no matter how successful they may be – Cooke’s story is essential.
Chrissie Wellington – A Life Without Limits
It is no surprise this book was recommended time and time again on Twitter. It is nothing short of inspiring. Multiple world ironman champion Chrissie Wellington first came to my attention when she rightly spoke out about the 2011 Sports Personality of the Year shortlist – you know, when they had Zoo magazine as one of the “judges” and failed to nominate ANY women – as being blatantly sexist and unfair. I then met her at a book signing to do an interview - she signed a card for me, and wrote “Never Give Up”. There are many lessons to take from this book but without doubt – that is one of them!
Lizzie Armitstead – Steadfast
This was another firm favourite on Twitter and is simply the story of one of the greatest road cyclists Great Britain has produced. Lizzie eloquently tells the story of her rise to the highest heights of road cycling – from her preparation for and subsequent delight at winning the 2015 World Championships, to plummeting to her lowest low ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when her three WADA strikes were leaked to the press. Along the way she almost casually takes a swipe at the powers at be at British Cycling – telling stories of sexism and discrimination towards the women’s squad and how she overcame them.
Julianna Buhring – This Road I Ride
When books either inspire me to write, or inspire me to ride my bike – you know you’re on to a winner. I adored this extraordinary tale of adventure – the highs, the lows, the setbacks, the tears, as Julianna Buhring, spurred on by a heart-breaking personal tragedy, set out to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world on a bicycle. Utterly inspiring.
Victoria Pendleton – Between The Lines
An astonishingly honest book that’s as shocking as it is engaging. Victoria Pendleton, who recently came out in the press to say she has suffered severe depression and has contemplated suicide, tells the story of her quest for Olympic gold, and the price she paid along the way. It paints a picture of a woman who is as strong and powerful on the bike, as she is fragile and vulnerable off it. A must-read.
Race to the Truth - Emma O’Reilly
Feargal McKay recommended this on Twitter as the best post-Lance-fall-out account. I had forgotten it, so I’m bloody glad he did! Remember Lance Armstrong’s soigneur – the one he basically insinuated was sleeping around when she began to talk about him doping? Yes, this is her. And this is HER story – not Armstrong’s, and not David Walsh’s, the journalist who used her testimony amongst others to bring Lance down. It’s a blistering read and I want to read it all over again.
Plus Katherine Grainger - Dreams Do Come True. An inspiring read about an extraordinary woman’s quest to win an Olympic gold medal in rowing, after three silver medals. Home water, at the London 2012 Olympic Games. We all know what happened next…
And now I need to make a confession. There is a huge amount I have not read. No really, A LOT. Here are some recommendations from the lovely people of Twitter. Lots of books, about extraordinary women, doing extraordinary things.
Feast your eyes on these:
A Short Story About a Long Run – Lizzie Hawker
Full Circle – Ellen MacArthur
Running like a Girl – Alexandra Heminsley
Climbing Free – Lynn Hill
Roar – Dr Stacey Sims
Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy – Ishbel Holmes
Eat, Drink, Run – Bryony Gordon
Jog On – Bella Mackie
Knowing the Score – Judy Murray
Find a Way - Diana Nyad
The Pants of Perspective – Anna McNuff
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls
Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era of Women’s Bicycle Racing by Roger Gilles
What Goes Around – Emily Chappell
As Good as Gold – Kathryn Bertine
Personal Best - Beryl Burton
Gamechangers – The Unsung Heroines of Sport History – Molly Schiot
Swell – a Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth
A tire-d’Elles: Femmes, Velo et Liberte – Claude Marthaler (French!)
Adventure She Magazine
Following On – Emma John
… And the list goes on. What are your favourite books? Who are your unsung heroines in sport? Let me know in the comments. I’ll try to get through them all…