Game-Changing Women in Sports
The face of sports continues to change every day, thanks to successful and strong women dominating everything from tennis to soccer. Legends like Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe and Maya Moore have crushed records and made history in what remains a male-dominated industry.
These influential and victorious women have redefined what it means to be an athlete. Check out the stories of 30 game-changing women in sports who have inspired the world.
American professional wrestler Ronda Rousey is a trailblazer for women's mixed martial arts (MMA). All eyes were on Rousey when she debuted in the male-dominated sport in 2011. She became an unstoppable force, even gaining the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) attention.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Track and field, basketball, golf? Babe Didrikson Zaharias competed and excelled in all three. The multi-sport athlete won two gold medals in track and field and 10 Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) major championships. Speaking of the LPGA, Zaharias was one of the founders of the organization.
Ever wonder what it’s like to beat your childhood idol? For tennis player Naomi Osaka, it wasn't exactly what she was expecting. Osaka defeated Serena Williams in the 2018 Grand Slam final, but at the trophy ceremony, the crowd booed her for winning.
Mia Hamm is one of the most influential women in the history of soccer. She led the U.S. soccer team to victory at the Women’s World Cup in 1999, and that win became a huge moment in history that paved the way for more women to participate in the sport.
Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad made history as the first American athlete to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics. The strong, fast fencer finished with a medal, becoming the first Muslim-American woman to do so at the Olympics.
Ester Ledecká was told she had to choose between skiing and snowboarding. Apparently, her coaches assumed she couldn't succeed in both sports. Regardless of their advice, Ledecká stunned the world by winning two gold medals in alpine skiing and snowboarding at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Chloe Kim became the youngest female snowboarder to win an Olympic gold medal. At the young age of 17, she tore past the competition and won the women's snowboard halfpipe in 2018. Hitting back-to-back 1080s and three-revolution spins, Kim executes tricks that are hard for her competitors to match.
There's no doubt Simone Biles is one of the greatest gymnasts of all time — and she knows it. Every year, she keeps on winning. In 2019, she received her 25th World Championship gold medal, breaking records and making gymnastics history.
Both instructors and dancers told Misty Copeland that she didn't belong in ballet. Many people in the industry believe black women don't have the right physique to be ballet dancers. Despite all the hate and doubt, Copeland shattered stereotypes and changed the future of ballet.
In 2019, Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix took the track and field world by storm. The Olympian broke Usain Bolt's record just 10 months after having an emergency C-section. Bolt, the fastest man on the planet, held the world medal-count record until Felix beat him with 12 world titles.
World Cup champion Megan Anna Rapinoe is a U.S. professional soccer player and the captain of Reign FC in the National Women's Soccer League. In 2019, she earned the honor of Best FIFA Women’s Player and delivered a thought-provoking speech on dreaming big.
Billie Jean King
In the late 1960s, Billie Jean King helped women's professional tennis explode. The retired U.S. tennis player is a former World No. 1 ranked player, winning 39 major titles in her career. She competed in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
One of the greatest winners in women's basketball history is Maya April Moore, who played for the Minnesota Lynx in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) from 2011 to 2018. Throughout her career, Moore earned many titles and won plenty of awards, including four WNBA championships.
Danica Sue Patrick began racing at age 10 and never looked back. The retired professional racing driver is the most influential and successful woman in the sports history. After crushing the 2008 Indy Japan 300, she became the only woman to win an IndyCar Series race.
Sports Illustrated crowns Jackie Joyner-Kersee as the "Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century." The highly decorated female athlete is a six-time Olympic medalist with three golds, one silver and two bronzes. She dominated heptathlon and long-jump competitions.
Golfing sensation and social media star Paige Spiranac will never forget the pain she felt after other players mocked her appearance at Dubai’s Ladies European Tour event. She also received a flood of insults online. The event was supposed to be her pro debut, but no one took her seriously.
Saina Nehwal is a badminton champ from India. A knee injury at the 2016 Rio Olympics almost ended her career, but she refused to quit. Following multiple surgeries, Nehwal returned with a vengeance and won a medal at the 2017 World Championship.
U.S. soccer co-captain Alex Morgan is an Olympic gold medalist and World Cup winner. Not only is she a champion, but she's also an influencer. Every time Morgan steps on the field, young girls watch her and get excited to play soccer and other sports as well.
Getting to the top isn't easy in any career. Tennis champion Serena Williams has certainly experienced plenty of hate throughout her career. On the court, crowds have booed and yelled racial slurs at her, but despite the negative reactions at times, Williams slammed her way to the top with multiple Grand Slam tournament wins.
Racecar driver Leona Chin is burning rubber and smoking the competition. Also known as the "Queen of Drift, " she was voted the "Most Inspiring Female Motorsports Athlete" by the Motorsports Association of Malaysia.
Jennifer Welter is the NFL's first female coach, but she doesn't intend to be the last. This isn't the first time she paved the way for more women in a male-dominated sport. In fact, she previously played in professional football leagues for both women's and men's teams.
Chinese professional swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke the internet during the 2016 Rio Olympics. The mega-viral swimmer won third place in the finals of the 100-meter backstroke, but her real prize was winning something even better: the world's heart.
Retired Swedish professional golfer Annika Sörenstam is widely considered one of the greatest female golfers in history. Throughout her career, she has won 90 international tournaments — the most wins for any female golfer. She's also a nine-time LPGA Player of the Year.
As the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, Michelle Kwan has won five world championships and nine U.S. championships. She's also a two-time Olympic medalist. With so many accomplishments, it's no surprise that she ranks as one of the nation's most popular athletes.
American swimmer Katie Ledecky keeps making history. The swimming sensation has already won 15 world championship gold medals, the most for any female swimmer in the world. She's also a five-time Olympic gold medalist and is on her way to dominating freestyle swimming.
In 1993, Julie Krone rode her way into history on the back of a horse. She became the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown Race — the Belmont Stakes — and she's still the only one to do so. She's also the first woman inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Dubbed the Knuckle Princess, Eri Yoshida is a Japanese professional baseball player. After watching Major League Baseball pitcher Tim Wakefield on television, she was inspired to learn how to throw a knuckleball. At age 14, she perfected the pitch by teaching herself.
Cammi Granato is a retired American ice hockey player, who fiercely brought girl power to the sport. As the captain of the gold medal-winning team in 1998, Granato is a legendary and influential athlete. Leading the U.S. women's hockey team to the top of the Olympics inspired a whole new generation of girls to sign up for the sport.
Nancy Marie Lopez has an impressive resume as a retired professional golfer. In 1977, she became a member of the LPGA Tour, and she proceeded to set the golfing world on fire from that point on. Her confidence, strength and drive to win it all mesmerized fans.
One of the most famous surfers in the world, Bethany Hamilton is widely known for her impressive comeback story. At the age of eight, Hamilton entered surfing competitions, but her rise to the top almost ended after a shark attack in 2003.
American retired speed skater Bonnie Kathleen Blair is a legend. As one of the top skaters of her era, Blair captivated everyone with her extraordinary skills and her smooth strides. She's also one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history, winning five gold medals and one bronze.