In amongst the various sporting highlights of August 2022, it’s unlikely that the qualifying rounds of snooker’s British Open ranked all that high on the ‘must see’ list. But the event captured headlines all around the world when Ng On-yee defeated Ken Doherty 4-3 to book her spot at one of the sport’s biggest tournaments outside of the majors.
Doherty, the former world champion, led the Hong Kong ace 3-2, but Ng showed all her resolve and class to win the final two frames and cement her place in the draw for the British Open, which gets underway in September. The delighted 31-year-old said:
This win is definitely one of the best of my career, against a great player like Ken. I have been practising hard recently with a lot of top players including Marco Fu, and I can see an improvement in my game. I’m very happy to get my first win of the season.
It’s the latest in an increasing number of instances in which women have beaten men in a level-playing field situation in sport, and it’s evident that – when given the opportunity to – the fairer sex can outshine blokes on the big stage. Mind you, this is nothing new, as women have been beating men at their own game for the best part of a century.
Jackie Mitchell (Baseball)
When a list of the best baseball hitters in history is drawn up, the names of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are somewhere near the top. And, so the achievement of Jackie Mitchell in striking out both of those legends in a single game simply cannot be underestimated.
She was just 17 at the time, representing the Minor League’s Chattanooga Lookouts in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees in 1931. While the game was supposed to be fun, Ruth had stoked the fires by claiming that women ‘will never make good’ in baseball because they were ‘too delicate’.
So, Mitchell set to work, and as Ruth swung and missed any notion that this was a fun outing was clearly squashed as he glared at the pitcher and verbally abused the umpire. Three strikes and Babe was out, but he refused to budge from the mound and had to be escorted from the action by his teammates.
Billie Jean King (Tennis)
While not necessarily a household name these days, Bobby Riggs is a former world number one tennis player who won two US Open titles and Wimbledon back in 1939. He retired in 1962, and eleven years later surfaced to bemoan the quality of women’s tennis – claiming that, despite being 55 years of age, he could beat any female player on the planet.
Riggs was true to his word in May 1973 when he defeated Margaret Court, the most decorated woman in tennis even now, in straight sets, but he would rue the day that he issued the same challenge to Billie Jean King. The match, dubbed the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ had a TV audience of 90 million worldwide and guaranteed a winner-takes-all prize of $100,000 – which by today’s inflation rate would now be worth a cool $610,000.
King gave her opponent the run-around, and the cocky Riggs – wearing a yellow ‘Sugar Daddy’ jacket – was forced to get serious. Losing, he ripped off the jacket and started playing his best serve-and-volley game, but King was simply too good and won their best-of-five encounter in straight sets.
Jackie Tonawanda (Boxing)
It seems almost barbaric these days that a woman would be allowed to fight a man inside a boxing or wrestling ring. Happily, boxing’s governing bodies have agreed with that stance, and are yet to give a female a professional boxing licence to fight in the men’s ranks.
But in 1975, Jackie Tonawanda – the self-styled ‘female Ali’ – was allowed to participate in the male-dominated All Martial Arts Tournament, and in doing so, became the first woman to box a man and the first woman to fight at Madison Square Garden in the process.
Incredibly, Tonawanda – a heavyweight in the women’s ranks but classified as a lightweight in the men’s – knocked out Larry Rodania in the second round with a clean left hook, and while it’s hard to advocate female vs male fights in combat sports, this was still a momentous moment for women in all-gender sports.
Danica Patrick (Motor Racing)
As a woman growing up competing in various motor racing disciplines, Danica Patrick had heard all of the ‘women can’t drive’ puns. It must have added fuel to the fire, because by 2008, she was regarded as one of the finest drivers in North American racing.
Her CV includes victory in the male-dominated Indy Japan 300, becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race, and she was also the first female to claim pole position in the NASCAR Cup Series.
To this day, Patrick has the most top-tens for a woman in NASCAR, and has recorded the highest finish by a female in both the Daytona and Indianapolis 500 – becoming one of just 14 drivers of any gender to lead both races.
Rachael Blackmore (Horse Racing)
Given that they are naturally shorter and more lithe, it’s a surprise that it took so long for female jockeys to dominate in horse racing. There was a certain pig-headedness about trainers and owners in days gone by, who handpicked male jockeys to take their rides – perhaps just because that was the way things had always been, as much as any gender bias.
But that all changed courtesy of Rachael Blackmore, who is now arguably the finest jockey in the sport. Her six winners at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival earned her the champion jockey award and her connections thousands in prize money, and a matter of weeks later she became the first woman to win the Grand National.
The Irish rider returned to Cheltenham 12 months later and this time won the Gold Cup, one of the most prestigious races on the National Hunt calendar. Forget gender, Blackmore is the best in the business full stop.