She was never given the chance to shine on an Olympic stage, but squash superstar Nicol David may derive some compensation from being named the World Games Greatest Athlete of All Time.
Winning the accolade on Monday (Feb 1) with almost three times as many votes as the runner-up, the 37-year-old Malaysian said she hoped the award would help to boost the profile of a sport seemingly unloved in key quarters.
“Hopefully it can elevate attention for the future of squash,” David said as the sport – already part of the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games – now eyes inclusion in the Paris Olympics in 2024.
She enjoyed an unprecedented nine-year reign at the top of the World Rankings between 2006-2015 and lifted two Commonwealth Games gold medals, five Asian Games gold medals and five British Open trophies during her distinguished career, which came to an end in 2019.
“It’s a huge honour to be nominated and to gain so much support from everyone in Malaysia and the squash community,” she said.
“It came as a surprise to see me amongst these other top athletes and I’m grateful for this… and it’s a proud moment to represent my country and Asia.”
For years David has been the face of a campaign to admit squash to the Olympics, but has instead had to watch sports including rugby sevens, climbing, karate, surfing and skateboarding gain the stamp of approval ahead of it.
While tennis players, badminton players and table tennis players all enjoy their spell in the Olympic sun every four years, squash still peers in from the outside.
The now-retired David, ranked world number one for a record 108 consecutive months, beat Irish tug-of-war titan James Kehoe into second place, with third going to Ukrainian powerlifter Larysa Soloviova.
Athletes on the shortlist came from sports including lifesaving, sumo, dancesport and racquetball.
The World Games take place every four years – a year after the Summer Olympic Games – and feature athletes, sports and disciplines that are not part of the Olympics.
Founded in 1980, the 11th edition will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, in July 2022, when some 3,600 athletes from more than 30 sports and 100 countries will take part.
World Squash Federation president Zena Wooldridge said: “Nicol has beaten a number of distinguished athletes to first place and her victory is recognition of a wonderful career that saw her break numerous records and win everything there was to win in the sport.
“Not only is Nicol one of the greatest athletes of all time, she is also a tremendous role model for thousands of people across the globe and a true ambassador for our sport.