Women Athletes Who Redefine The Sport
09th April, 2020
These women athletes defied the odds and emerged victorious, not once, but every single time they set foot in the arena of professional sports. Women athletes in professional sports continue to make a name for themselves by shattering records, breaking barriers, and paving the way for a new generation of sportswomen to come. Some are players you grew up idolizing. Some you revere for their contributions off-field. And then there are champions who led by example, making history. They truly embody the spirit of their sport and stop at nothing to let everyone know, “We run the world!”
Serena Williams – Professional tennis
Coached by her father, she entered the world of tennis at a young age and has not looked back since. Her 2017 Australian Open win when she was two months into her pregnancy shows her sheer dedication toward the sport. Serena Williams is, undoubtedly, one of the most successful tennis pros of the Open Era, with 23 Grand Slam wins under her belt.
Chaunté Lowe – Track and field inspiration
Nothing beats an optimistic mind! Chaunté Lowe is a mother of three, was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2019, and has undergone a double mastectomy. But that would never stop her from inspiring women across the world to persevere against all odds. Even amid chemotherapy sessions, the star athlete is training hard to represent her nation at the upcoming Olympics.
Allyson Felix – Track and field athlete
Allyson Felix broke records set by one of the greatest sprinters to walk, or run this planet—Usain Bolt! Previously having tied with him for the most number of World Titles, she shattered the record by earning her twelfth gold. Felix trained and achieved this 10 months after her first child was born via C-section. And she still has the highest gold medal tally among the women of track and field.
Pat Summit – Basketball coach
While players are celebrated for their accolades, there are also many who work behind the scenes and deserve equal recognition for their efforts. One such person is Pat Summit, a highly decorated college basketball coach who holds a record number of victories in Division 1 games. Her aggressive and instinctive gameplay and coaching led her team to win 1,098 matches.
Simone Biles – Most decorated gymnast
Simone Biles trained to scale great heights with grace in the world of gymnastics. She is an accomplished athlete who holds Olympic accolades, World All-around titles, and U.S. National All-around titles in figure skating. She has a total of 19 medals to her name and holds an American record for the most gold wins in gymnastics at a single game (2016 Rio Olympics).
Nancy Lieberman – Basketball firsts
Nicknamed “Lady Magic,” Nancy Lieberman was born to play basketball, period! Not only did she become the first female athlete to try out for a professional NBA league team, but Lieberman was also the first woman to join the Harlem Globetrotters world tour. It was another first when she played for a professional men’s league team and was announced the head coach of a men’s team.
Mia Hamm – Soccer star
With two FIFA World Player of the Year titles to her name, Hamm played for the U.S. National Team for 17 years. Retired now, she is still among the best female soccer players in the country. She won gold for the U.S. Team at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics. And before that, Hamm led her team to victory in the Women’s World Cup in 1991 and 1999.
Lexi Thompson – Youngest pro golfer
Lexi Thompson hails from a family of golfers, with her older brothers Nicholas and Curtis also representing the sport professionally. She showcased the pro genes at the age of 12 when she became the youngest player to qualify and compete in the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open. She set her first record at the LPGA as the youngest pro and won her first major title at the age of 19.
Michelle Kwan – Figure skating
The five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist took the world of figure skating by storm in 1998 with her first silver win. She also worked as a TV correspondent at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Michelle Kwan is currently a public advocacy envoy for the country, traveling the world and inspiring women athletes to take up the graceful sport professionally.
Danica Patrick – Motorsports
After Janet Guthrie paved the way for female motorsports enthusiasts to go pro, Danica Patrick became an inspiration for women in stock car racing. She went on to break Guthrie’s ninth place record at the Indy 500 by placing fourth, becoming the only woman to do so in stock car racing history. She also won the pole position—another first—at the Daytona Speedway.
Maria Sharapova – Tennis star
Maria Sharapova is known for her aggressive gameplay and only recently retired from tennis after a blossoming career that spanned over 17 years. She became the first Russian woman to win on the grass courts at Wimbledon and achieved numerous accolades in the game. Sharapova has won 645 singles and 5 Grand Slams, and she holds 36 WTA titles to her name.
Missy Franklin – Professional swimmer
Missy Franklin won a total of five gold and one bronze medal representing the U.S. at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. She also won 11 gold medals at several World Aquatic Championships meets. However, her budding career was cut short before she could hit her prime due to a shoulder injury in 2018, following which she officially announced her retirement.
Venus Williams – Tennis pro
Venus Williams was the first African-American woman in the Open Era to be ranked number one by the Women’s Tennis Association. The elder of the Williams sisters, she is widely known for her strength and athletic style of gameplay. Off the court, she works with UNESCO to lead the fight against gender inequality in sports and life across the world.
Janet Guthrie – Motorsports
1948 was a year of firsts, and that includes women participating in motorsports events like NASCAR professionally. While Sarah Christian made history as the first female stock car driver ever, Janet Guthrie followed in her footsteps to become the first to compete at the famous Indy 500 and Daytona 500. She finished in the top 10 and placed ninth racing against legends like Tom Sneva, Gordon Johncock, and Al Unser.
Aly Raisman – Gymnastics
Aly Rasiman was part of two of the best United States’ gymnastics teams at the Olympics—the Fierce Five at London 2012 and the Final Five at Rio 2016. Combined, Raisman won six medals at the games. A year later, she opened up about facing abuse and harassment at the hands of the national team doctor. Today, Raisman actively advocates against abuse and harassment in the field of sports.
Ronda Rousey – Professional wrestling and mixed martial arts
Double or nothing is the perfect way to describe Ronda Rousey’s rise to fame in mixed martial arts and professional wrestling. She is the only woman to have won both the WWE and UFC titles in her fighting career. She earned the nickname Rowdy while fighting in the professional bantamweight class circuits and, to this day, remains one of the greatest women fighters.
Nadia Comaneci – Gymnastics icon
Nadia Comaneci became the reigning queen of gymnastics after she was awarded a perfect 10 score for her amazing routine at the 1976 Olympics. Just 14 years old at the time, she created a record as the youngest female athlete to accomplish this feat. What’s even more interesting is that she replicated the perfect result at the next Olympics in 1980. A true ode to perfection!
Babe Didrikson Zaharias – Pro golfer
Scoring five home runs in a childhood game earned her a nickname after baseball legend Babe Ruth. And that was just the beginning of a champion in the making, as Babe Zaharias went on to become a professional track and field athlete, basketball player, and pro golfer. For her accolades, she was awarded the title of “Woman Athlete of the Half Century” by the Associated Press in 1950.
Lindsey Vonn – Professional skiing
Alpine skiing events are a crowd favorite at the Winter Olympics and World Championships. Lindsey Vonn became the first American woman to race and win the Slalom event of the sport at Italy’s Trofeo Topolino in 1999, when she was just 14. Vonn holds four World Cup overall titles and has 82 World Cup race victories to her name—the highest for any female skier.
Nancy Lopez – Celebrated golfer
Nancy Lopez was coached by her father from a young age of 8 and turned pro by her sophomore year. After winning the USGA Junior Girls Championship titles in 1972 and 1974, Lopez finished second at the U.S. Women’s Open and was named 1976 All-American. She mastered the sport in the coming years, and her name becoming synonymous with legends like Babe Zaharias is proof of that.
Gertrude Ederle – Swam the English Channel
Back in 1926, only five male swimmers had crossed the 21 miles of the English Channel. Gertrude Ederle decided to smash these records and became the first female swimmer to achieve this feat of remarkable stamina and athleticism. Dubbed America’s “Queen of the Waves,” the Olympic champion swam the length in a record time of 14 hours and 31 minutes.
Jackie Mitchell – Baseball strikeout legend
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, two legendary names synonymous with the national sport, also have something in common with Jackie Mitchell. To this day, she is remembered for the historic double strikeout dismissing both veterans in a single game. Originally, the game was to be played on April 1—one of the many reasons people felt it was a publicity stunt.
Ann Meyers Drysdale – Basketball champion
Ann Meyers was one of 11 siblings who grew up with their parents actively encouraging sports. Perhaps this was just the motivation she needed to train and play for the WNBA All-American basketball team after her first pick in the first round of 1978. Off the field, she is known for advocating equal rights and opportunities for aspiring female athletes.
Althea Gibson – Tennis pro
Althea Gibson single-handedly broke racial barriers when she became the first African-American woman to compete in the U.S. National Championships in 1950 and later at Wimbledon in 1951. She inspired women across the globe to take up sports professionally. Most recently, her statue was unveiled at the U.S. Open court, honoring her contributions to the world of professional tennis.
Martina Navratilova – Tennis icon
Billie Jean King once said Martina Navratilova is the greatest singles, doubles, and mixed doubles champion. She won 90 out of 93 matches in 1982 and 86 of 87 matches the next year, marking the peak of an impressive career with over 1,000 wins. Between starting her career in 1975 and her final Grand Slam win in 2006, Navratilova lost only 219 matches.
Steffi Graf – Tennis record holder
Steffi Graf knows how to win. From the time she entered the professional tennis scene at the age of 13 to her retirement in 1999, she bagged a Golden Slam victory (all Grand Slam titles and an Olympic win) and won every tournament at least four times. Plus, Graf is the only player in professional tennis to have held the number one spot for 377 weeks (just over 7 years!).
Ibtihaj Muhammad – Professional fencing
Ibtihaj Muhammad took up professional fencing because it was the only sport that allowed her to wear a hijab. The modest dressing style and full body suit did not clash with her religious beliefs, allowing her to train in and pursue the sport from a young age of 13. She bagged a bronze at the saber event representing the U.S. at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Billie Jean King – Tennis legend
Bobby Riggs was once quite vocal about how women did not belong to the sport. Billie Jean King put this notion to rest after her win in an iconic exhibition tennis match against Riggs. She defeated him in straight sets! This penultimate “Battle of the sexes” marked a major cultural turning point in the history of the sport in 1973.
Wilma Rudolph – Track and field legend
After battling scarlet fever, double pneumonia, and polio as a child, Rudolph had to wear a brace to support her left leg. But with grit iron determination and sheer unmatched efforts, the athlete made a stunning recovery and pursued her goals. A legend in track and field history, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to bag three gold medals at a single Olympics in 1960.