Meet the athletes: five ESSEC athletes paving the way to gender equality in sport


On International Women’s Rights Day, and just months away from the Paris Olympic Games, ESSEC Business School celebrates five remarkable female students, from both our initial and executive programs, whose athletic prowess has earned them acclaim in the world of sport. Their inspiring stories not only mirror the advancing recognition of women in sports but also highlight the persistent hurdles yet to be overcome.

Victória Vizeu: the golden sword, the 2028 Olympic goal

Victória Vizeu, a 19-year-old Brazilian fencing athlete, embodies determination and perseverance. Relocating to France at the age of 17 to train with renowned Master Daniel Levavasseur, Victória adeptly balances her rigorous training regimen with her studies in ESSEC’s Global BBA program, made possible by a leave of absence to accommodate her athletic commitments. Her crowning achievement thus far is undoubtedly winning the team gold medal at the 2023 Pan-American Games in Santiago, marking a historic triumph for women’s fencing in Brazil.


Despite the lack of visibility and financial support in the world of women’s sport, Victória remains resolute in her pursuit of her Olympic dreams in 2028. Determined, she states: “Though strides have been made, there is still a long way to go to achieve true gender equality in sport. Even today, young girls are often dissuaded from taking up combat sports, being told they are ‘too fragile’. Moreover, female athletes continue to be undervalued, as women’s sport is often perceived as less intense. It is often relegated to the sidelines and receives less financial support and exposure.” Yet, these obstacles only serve to fuel Victória’s determination to surmount them.

“Sport is one of the most powerful tools for inclusion and change in society because it encourages leadership and gives girls more self-confidence.”


Laura Koenig: champion in and on the water

Hailing from Strasbourg, 23-year-old Laura boasts a stellar swimming career prior to enrolling in ESSEC’s Master in Management program. Representing France at international competitions, she dedicated a decade to her sport, clocking in up to ten training sessions a week. After clinching several regional champion titles in her native Alsace across varying distances, in 2013, Laura rose to the top ten of French swimmers born in 2000, claiming the title of Best French Performance in the 200m backstroke category. After giving up club swimming to pursue pharmaceutical studies, Laura pivoted to rowing. Just this past March 3, she won the title of French university rowing champion, demonstrating her versatility and commitment to athletic excellence. Laura highlights the persistent challenges faced by women in the world of sport, including the impact of menstrual cycles on performance.

“Women often have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition as men in sport. It’s a daily struggle to prove our worth and talent."


Emily Thouy: from the tatami to the classroom

Emily Thouy, 31, started karate at the age of 6. Early on, a champion saw her potential, predicting she could become world champion if she persevered. This became her mantra for years until she achieved her goal. At the age of 23, she became world champion in the senior -55 kg category, six years after Laurence Fischer, also an ESSEC alumna. That same year, Thouy also passed the competitive examination to become a sports teacher, demonstrating that it is possible to reconcile top-level sport and academic pursuits. With numerous international titles under her belt, Emily turned to a professional career dedicated to sports development. Currently serving as the interim manager of the Maison Régionale de la Performance IDF, she inspires budding athletes to pursue their dreams. With her competitive sporting days now behind her, Emily has embarked on a new challenge: promoting her sport and nurturing the next generation of athletes. Currently enrolled in the Executive Certificate in Human Resources Management, she balances her professional responsibilities and classes. On this International Women’s Rights Day, Laura reflects on the progress made in recognizing women in sports, while underlining the enduring challenges towards achieving true equality.

"Overall, it’s undeniable that women now have more opportunities to get involved in the world of sport than ever before. Initiatives to encourage their participation in various disciplines are multiplying, and many sports organizations are developing specific programs to support and promote sportswomen. However, despite these advances, disparities persist, particularly in terms of visibility. The media representation and visibility of female athletes remain inferior to that of their male counterparts. It is therefore imperative to continue working to promote gender equality in all aspects of the sporting world."


Kyra Poh: fly high, aim far

At just 21 years old, Singaporean Kyra Poh reigns as a world indoor skydiving champion. She took up this miss-sexed sport somewhat serendipitously at the age of 8, and never looked back. Sponsored by Red Bull, Kyra Poh and her teammate Yi Xuan–the sole female pair entered in the competition–won the 2018 Indoor Skydiving World Cup. For this second-year Global BBA student, it is a badge of honor that she wears with pride. Despite the pressure and expectations that often accompany athletic prowess, Kyra remains optimistic about the future of women’s sport.

"As women athletes, we are constantly faced with challenges and unfair judgments. But every obstacle we overcome makes us stronger and paves the way for a future where sport is truly equal for all."


Marjorie Legrand: from ballet to rowing

Marjorie Legrand, 21, has a diverse athletic background. For 13 years, she devoted herself to ballet, after which she turned to rowing, a demanding sport that requires both technique and power. Currently in her first year of ESSEC’s Master in Management program, Marjorie deftly balances her studies with rigorous training. She was recently crowned French long-distance university rowing champion. Reflecting on her journey, she states that: “This title is the culmination of thousands of kilometers logged with my boat, and proof that perseverance and discipline pay off”. Despite these triumphs, Marjorie laments the glaring disparity in efficiency between men’s and women’s boats and equipment, which she attributes to the pervasive lack of visibility surrounding women’s sport. This dearth of exposure translates into limited sponsorship opportunities, resulting in subpar equipment for female athletes.

“I’ve frequently faced disrespect and disheartening, sometimes disparaging remarks, often from men and older people from my parents’ generation. There has been notable progress with our younger generation. We cannot let these criticisms sway us and we must stay true to ourselves This has helped me strengthen my resilience and character.”


These five women exemplify how ESSEC Business School nurtures the emergence of strong, determined, and inspiring women, excelling both academically and athletically. On this International Women’s Rights Day, let’s honor their bravery, perseverance and passion for sports, reaffirming our commitment to gender equality across all areas of society.

On Thursday, March 7, ESSEC Executive Education hosted a conference titled “Female leadership in sport management.” The event brought together four distinguished guests and some 50 participants. Central to the discussions was the pivotal role of women in managing sports clubs, federations, and organizations. Despite women’s continued under-representation in these fields, it was unanimously emphasized that their involvement serves as a vital catalyst for shifting mindsets and advancing towards greater gender equality. Promoting parity in sport management has thus become imperative in the pursuit of a more equitable society. The success of this event is a testament to ESSEC’s dedication to promoting gender equality in sport.

True to its ambition to nurture a new generation of future sport leaders, ESSEC Business School formed a partnership with Science Po, and CentraleSupélec to launch the Hautes Etudes Pluridisciplinaires pour Top Athlètes (HEPTA) program. The French President announced this initiative on January 22 during a speech at INSEP (Institut national du sport, de l'expertise et de la performance). This innovative program is designed to empower athletes to pursue high-level sports alongside top-tier academic studies. Thierry Lardinoit, academic director of the Bachelor HEPTA program, stresses that: “My deepest wish is that the young sportswomen graduating from this program will emerge as the leaders of tomorrow and propel the sport ecosystem into a new era.

This latest initiative is further proof of ESSEC’s commitment to promoting gender equality in sport.

Photos crédit
Victória Vizeu © BIZZI / FIE
Emily Thouy © Paul Gilham
Kyra Poh © Ewan Cowie Photography