Record seven-time women’s world squash champion Nicol David has campaigned tirelessly for several years to get her sport into the Olympic Games programme.
In the final countdown to this weekend’s International Olympic Committee Session in Buenos Aires – where the IOC will decide if Squash is to be the new sport to join the 2020 Games – the 30-year-old Malaysian celebrates the longest ever unbroken reign at the top of the world rankings.
With accolades today peppered with words like ‘wonderful ambassador’, ‘living legend’ and ‘role model’, Nicol David first came to international prominence in 2001 when, aged just 17, she became the first player ever to win the biennial World Junior (U19) Championship title for a second time.
She went on to become the first Asian to top the women’s world rankings, for three months from January 2006, but then reclaimed the position in August that year and has remained there, unopposed, ever since - her 86-month reign this month being the longest continuous run ever.
David has reached 85 Women’s Squash Association (WSA) World Tour finals and has won 66 titles, including a record seven world championship titles.
Off the court, David has left no stone unturned in her eagerness to promote the sport’s 2020 campaign, including organising Flashmobs in Kuala Lumpur and New York; issuing weekly #SquashAroundTheWorld pictures on Twitter and FaceBook highlighting her involvement in the sport; posing with a ‘Back the Bid 2020′ banner all over Amsterdam on World Squash Day; and meeting up with campaign supporters like Roger Federer. She has also found time to help developing squash countries by participating in the WSF Ambassadors Programme every year.
David played a major role in the World Squash Federation presentation to the IOC Executive Board in St Petersburg in May – when Squash was shortlisted alongside wrestling and baseball/softball.
“I am very passionate about the chance for squash to take part in the Olympic Games,” explained David. “I know from other multi sport games I do participate in how their four year cycle is such an important target to train for and peak at. As for the Olympics, this is the moment every athlete is waiting to be part of and it’s at a completely different level altogether! Every one of us players would do everything we possibly can to participate at the Olympic Games and to live the dream of becoming an Olympian.
“For me, the opportunity to be part of the squash presentation team in St Petersburg and have the honour of being able to meet the IOC Executive Board and explain to them what participation in the Olympic Games would mean to squash players was memorable.
“While I am preparing for the forthcoming Malaysian Open, a good part of my mind will be thinking of the team in Buenos Aires, who will surely convey our passion and will hopefully be given the chance to participate for the first time. I mean what I said about giving up my seven World Open Squash titles for just one Olympic Gold – so I still hope I can have something to look forward to if squash is given that chance to be included in the Olympics in 2020.”
His Royal Highness Prince Tunku Imran, President of both the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Olympic Council of Malaysia – and also an IOC Member – is unstinting in his praise of David.
“During the build-up to the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, development programmes were started and one product was this little girl from Penang. Since then she has not only grown into a remarkable player but also a wonderful ambassador for squash and Malaysian sport.
“She makes our country proud of her success on the court, but her efforts off court to promote squash, the Olympic Games aspirations for the sport and generally as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN, for example, are especially outstanding. We could not wish for a better young role model.”
Sarah Fitz-Gerald, the distinguished Australian who topped the world rankings for 40 months and whose five-world-title record David beat in 2011, added: “Nicol is such a genuine person off the court and an incredible athlete on the court. She even manages to smile when under massive pressure.”
“I’ve watched her improve her game over the years, become a fantastic ambassador for our game and become a living legend.”
Fellow Tour player Aisling Blake, who is President of the Women’s Squash Association, said: “Each champion is unique, bringing different characteristics to their role. Nicol is no exception to this rule. What is exceptional is this: her seven-year dominance over a succession of rivals while exuding a gracefulness that belies the intense mental strength she possesses.
“Nicol has dominated a sport which is individual and gladiator-like, given the close physical proximity to the opponent. Along with her admirable mental prowess Nicol also possesses a rare gift – she is a champion whose humility and humble nature shines through in every situation, both on court and off.
“Nicol is a true ambassador for the sport and at WSA we consider ourselves very fortunate to be associated with such a living legend. She has inspired a new generation of female squash players both in her home country of Malaysia and globally, many of those who we hope to welcome into the WSA ranks in the years to come.”
Mike Lee OBE, Chairman of VERO Communications and a highly-successful Olympic campaigner, said: “Nicol is an outstanding ambassador and role model, not just in squash, but for women’s sport. Her contribution to Squash’s Olympic bid campaign has been immense and having worked with her in both set piece presentations and media interviews, she is a true professional.
“Her performance as part of the Squash 2020 Olympic bid team presenting to the IOC earlier this year was a great mix of high level professionalism and genuine personality. It has been fantastic to work with her and she has proved to be a great asset to the Squash 2020 bid.”
Cyclist Victoria Pendleton, gold medal star of the London 2012 Olympic Games, was overwhelmed when she met David in London recently (both pictured above): “It’s such a total honour to meet you,” Pendleton told the Malaysian. “Your consistency is incredible and you really are amazing.”
On showing David her Gold and Silver medals from the London 2012 Olympic Games, Pendleton said: “You so deserve to have one of these.”