SJA Sportswoman of the Year: The case for Jessica Gadirova

VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED to decide the winners of three major categories at the Awards, to be held at The Kia Oval in London on Thursday 7 December; Jake Wightman, Beth Mead and the Lionesses claimed the equivalent 2022 honours; who will take the top prizes this year?

By Tom Picillo

Despite facing adversity, it’s been a marvellous year for 19-year-old British superstar Jessica Gadirova.

Jessica, one of the two Gadirova twins, is a household name after her standout performances at April’s European Championships in Antalya where she won three gold medals.

Since bursting onto the scene at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, when she helped Team GB take home bronze in the team event, her performances have continued to improve.

Many gymnasts across the world saw 2023 as an opportunity to build momentum ahead of the 2024 Olympics, with both the European and World Championships the main stages for their Olympics auditions.

Gadirova took Antalya by storm, collecting all three of Great Britain’s women’s golds, thanks to stunning performances in the floor, the all-around, and the team events.

Her trio of golds saw her become the first female gymnast to win three gold medals at the same European Championships since Cătălina Ponor for Romania in 2004.

Gadirova wrote on her Instagram: “Since the World Championships, the journey to the Europeans hasn’t been easy.

“There were many bumps along the road but with my coaches Joshua Rio Richardson, Molly Mae Richardson, and my team, we fought through every setback that came our way which I am so grateful and proud of.”

Gadirova was also selected to compete at the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships but was forced to pull out of the competition after suffering a full anterior cruciate ligament tear in training, keeping her out of action for a significant and still undetermined period of time.

Gadirova now faces a battle against time to compete at her second Olympics in Paris.

She said on Instagram: “At this point I don’t know for sure how long I’ll be out for but I’ll be doing everything I can with the support of those around me to return to the sport I love as soon as I can.”

If Gadirova returns to fitness in time for the summer Olympics next year, she’ll have her sights set on bettering the singular bronze medal she won in the team event in Tokyo.

However, the return of her idol, America’s Simone Biles, is likely to pose her biggest challenge yet.

Sports journalist Tom Picillo is a member of the SJA Academy, find out more about membership here.