Female Athletes Who Dominate in Their Game
Over the past century, women have been breaking ground as athletes. No longer just boys’ games, sports now cater to everyone thanks to the inclusion of female players. This itself fills many women with delight, especially when they didn’t think they’d see someone like them taking the field, court, track, ring — you name it. Take a look at the female athletes who are influencing new generations of sports stars.
At four years old, Maria Sharapova had her first taste of tennis thanks to her father Yuri. To aid her dream, Yuri moved the family to the United States. Yuri took a plethora of small jobs to fund his daughter's training at the IMG Academy.
Thankfully, the training paid off. In 2005, Sharapova became the first female Russian player to rank number one. During her career, the tennis player earned an impressive 36 singles titles. Financially, Sharapova earned $285 million throughout her career, including $38 million in prize money before retiring from professional tennis.
At eight years old, Simone Biles began her gymnastics training with coach Aimee Boorman. In 2011, she started her gymnastics career at the American Classic, where she took first place. Two years later, she debuted at the World Championships, earning two gold medals.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Simone Biles dominated with four gold medals. Along with her 19 World Championship wins, Biles has the most gold medals of any gymnast, male or female. Mary Lou Retton is one of her biggest fans. "I say it over and over. She is the greatest gymnast ever," Retton told People.
After watching her sister Karen on the ice, Michelle Kwan decided to dive into the world of figure skating. Training took a financial toll on Kwan's family. Fortunately, a Los Angeles Figure Skating Club member assisted them with more coaching.
During Kwan's career, the figure skater gained five World Championship gold medals along with silver and bronze Olympic medals. Kwan is best known for her mesmerizing programs on the ice. Since 2011, she's been a treasurer for the Special Olympics. Kwan is also a member of the Committee of 100, which bridges the gap between Chinese and American cultures.
Having a father as a tennis coach brought Steffi Graf closer to the sport. At only five years old, Graf took part in her first tournament. At 15, Graf won a tennis demo at the 1984 Olympic Games. At this point, Graf's father knew his daughter was destined for greatness.
Graf's professional tennis career is filled with untouchable achievements. She's the only player to win each Grand Slam tournament on four occasions. Graf is also the only player to gain the Golden Slam. This is achieved by winning four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same year.
While living in Italy, Mia Hamm became hooked on soccer. Hamm's father Bill took notice and became her soccer coach. Hamm's skill landed her on the U.S. Women's National Team at only 15 years old, making her the youngest player to represent the country.
Hamm helped the national soccer team win gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics. Hamm's popularity even landed her her own Nintendo 64 video game. This game was the first to exclusively have female athletes. In 2013, Hamm became the first woman inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.
Billie Jean King
While she was a softball player as a kid, Billie Jean King switched to tennis at 11 years old. Her tennis matches gained buzz around town, with many locals coming to check her out. At 15 years old, King made her Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Open. King used that momentum to win a slew of minor titles.
In 1973, King faced off against Bobby Riggs in the highly publicized Battle of the Sexes match. With 90 million people watching worldwide, King took the win in three sets. With the win, women's tennis gained the world's respect.
Nastia Liukin has gymnastics in her blood. Born to Olympic medalist Valeri Liukin and world champion Anna Kotchneva, Liukin wanted to continue the legacy. At the 2003 Pan American Games, she won gold medals for the team and balance beam events. Liukin continued the gold medal wins at the Pacific Rim Championships and World Championships.
In 2008, she competed in her only Olympics in Beijing. The Russian earned a gold medal in artistic all-around. In the end, Liukin accumulated an additional three silver medals and one bronze medal at the Olympics. Since 2010, she's held the Nastia Liukin Cup.
Sheryl Swoopes began playing basketball with her brothers before deciding to make it her career choice. In 1993, Swoopes' performance helped the Texas Tech Lady Raiders win their first NCAA Championship. She still holds numerous school records today, including most points in a season with 955.
Swoopes joined the WNBA in 1997 and helped showcase women's basketball to a wider audience. With the Houston Comets, she became a four-time WNBA Champion. Swoopes is one of a few players with WNBA Championship, Olympic gold medal and NCAA Championship wins. She was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
Hannah Teter grew up in a family of snowboarders. With so much knowledge available, Teter decided to join the fun. When she was 15, Teter won the World Junior Halfpipe Championship. In the same year, she made history by being the first woman to complete a 900 in competition.
Teter's professional snowboarding career earned her Olympic gold in the women's halfpipe at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Four years later, she returned to retrieve a silver medal in Vancouver. At the 2003 X Games, she won gold at the superpipe. Outside of sports, Teter donates to countless organizations.
Fabiola da Silva
Back in the day, vert skating was separated into men's and women's competitions. Brazilian athlete Fabiola da Silva changed the game with her dominant style. After taking over in women's vert skating, she was allowed to participate in men's competitions in 2001.
She earned the silver medal in men's vert at the 2002 Latin X Games. Since being integrated into male competitions, the athlete has appeared in top-10 rankings on numerous occasions. Da Silva became the inspiration for the character Gabriella in Brink and appeared in the film as Gabriella's stunt double.
Ski racer Picabo Street joined a handful of local teams before joining the U.S. Ski Team at 17. In 1993, Street earned the silver medal in the combined event at the World Championships. The following year, she had the same result at the Winter Olympics.
Street became the first American woman to earn back-to-back Downhill World Cup wins in 1995 and 1996. In 1998, she returned to the Winter Olympics to win gold. Following the 2002 Winter Olympics, Street retired from ski racing. Two years later, she was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame.
Growing up, Althea Gibson dealt with ample racial inequality while playing tennis. Because of her skin color, Gibson was banned from competing in the United States National Championships. After some harsh criticism, Gibson became the first African-American tennis player to compete in the coveted tournament. As expected, her performance earned her critical acclaim.
Gibson continued to break racial barriers throughout her illustrious career. In 1956, she became the first African-American person to win a Grand Slam title. The following year, she was ranked number one in the world. Her contributions landed her in numerous halls of fame.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Babe Didrikson Zaharias wowed everyone with her talents as a kid. When it came to sports, playing just one wasn't enough for the Texan. As an adult, Zaharias earned Olympic gold in track and field in 1932. Three years later, she retired from the sport to play professional golf, which found her winning 10 championships.
Zaharias wasn't just dominating everyone in track and field and golf, either — she holds the world record for the longest baseball throw by a woman. The U.S. Postal Service commemorated Zaharias' achievements with a stamp in 1981.
While most 10 year olds were busy in class, Michelle Wie was busy qualifying for the USGA Amateur Championship. She didn't win, but the Hawaiian didn't slow down her momentum. The following year, she won the Jennie K. Wilson Invitational, which is Hawaii's most prestigious golf tournament.
The golfer joins a small group of women who've competed in men's tournaments. In 2008, she competed in the Reno-Tahoe Open. In 2014, Wie won her first major tournament at the U.S. Women's Open. Her last LPGA Tour win was 2018's HSBC Women's World Championship.
At the age of 14, Katarina Witt made her figure skating competition debut at the 1979 European Championships. While she finished in 14th place, Witt used what she learned to better herself on the ice. In 1984, Witt earned gold medals at the Winter Olympics and World Championships.
While training for the 1988 Winter Olympics, Witt earned four consecutive gold medals at the European Championships. Her second Olympics appearance ended with her successfully defending her gold medal. Overall, Witt won 10 gold medals from 11 competitions. Witt was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1995.
During her time at Diamond Bar High School, soccer player Alex Morgan became an All-American player. At 22, she was the youngest player on the 2011 United States women's national soccer team. The California native showcased her immense skill with two goals and one assist at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.
2012 was a major year for Morgan with a gold medal win at the Summer Olympics. She also became the youngest player to score 20 goals in a season. Her achievements led to a 2018 movie titled Alex & Me, which saw her playing herself.
The Fabulous Moolah
While women's wrestling is more respected today, that wasn't always the case back in the day. At 15 years old, Mary Lillian Ellison embarked on her own wrestling career. Ellison had to dodge numerous pitfalls before winning the NWA World Women's Championship in 1956.
With the new ring name The Fabulous Moolah, Ellison held the championship for a decade. No other wrestler in history has held a championship longer than seven years. Ellison's work ethic was praised by both male and female wrestlers. In 1995, she became the first female to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
When your father is Muhammad Ali, boxing is practically in your genes. At first, Muhammad Ali wasn't proud of his daughter Laila for jumping into the business. On October 8, 1999, Laila had her first match against April Fowler. With a packed crowd watching, Laila impressively took the victory.
During her career, Ali won the WIBA, WBC, IWBF and IBA Super Middleweight titles. In 2007, Ali retired from boxing with an undefeated record of 24–0. Only three of those victories came from judges’ decisions. Her final match was a first-round TKO victory against Gwendolyn O'Neil on February 2, 2007.
Abby Wambach spent her youth playing soccer for Our Lady of Mercy High School and Rochester Spirit. After her time with the University of Florida Gators, Wambach joined the U.S. women's national soccer team in 2001. She helped bring the team to four FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments with a win in 2015.
Wambach also earned Olympic gold in 2004 and 2012. In 2015, she announced her retirement from soccer. The following year, Wambach earned the coveted Icon Award at the ESPY Awards. She still holds the record for most international goals made.
Venus Williams has been at the forefront of women's tennis for years now. While many know about her doubles victories with her sister, Venus' solo career has its own achievements. In 2002, she became the first African-American since Althea Gibson to be the number-one player in the world. Venus became the number-one player on two other occasions.
In 2006, Williams wrote an essay shaming Wimbledon for not equally paying male and female athletes. The following year, members of Wimbledon agreed to pay athletes equally. Williams' fight for equality in tennis was praised by critics and sports fans alike.
Aly Raisman became infatuated with gymnastics after watching performances from the Magnificent Seven. After a string of smaller competitions, Raisman made her major competition debut at the 2010 Pacific Rim Championships. With a gold medal win, the Massachusetts native upgraded to the World Championships the next year.
In 2012, Raisman earned two Olympic gold medals in team all-around and floor exercise events. Four years later, she gained another Olympic gold in team all-around. She's one of two Americans to win back-to-back gold medals in team events. Overall, she earned three gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze medal.
Following her brother Brian, Megan Rapinoe dove into soccer at the age of three. After years of training, Rapinoe joined the United States women's national soccer team in 2006. Five years later, she helped the team earn the silver medal against Germany at the FIFA Women's World Cup.
In 2012, Rapinoe helped her team earn Olympic gold again. This game found Rapinoe as the first soccer player to score a goal from the corner. The California native gained international fame after two consecutive victories at the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015 and 2019.
As a kid, Wilma Rudolph lost strength in her left leg following numerous illnesses. It didn't stop her from having dreams of becoming an outstanding track star. In high school, Rudolph became the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic track and field team. She gained her first Olympic medal with a bronze in the 4x100 relay at the 1956 Olympics.
Four years later, Rudolph earned four gold medals at the 1960 Olympics. With this Olympics being the first one televised, Rudolph was seen by millions as an American hero. Rudolph's performance helped bring women's track and field to the mainstream.
At two years old, Tara Lipinski pretended to win a gold medal while watching the 1984 Summer Olympics. Fourteen years later, the figure skater found herself winning the Olympic gold medal in ladies' singles. Before the Olympics, Lipinski became the youngest figure skater to win a World Figure Skating title.
Lipinski attempted to turn pro several times, but injuries prevented that from happening. Before retiring in 2002, Lipinski was a key player on the touring figure skating show Stars on Ice. With fellow Olympic skater Johnny Weir, Lipinski became an analyst for NBC.
Ronda Rousey became a dynamite force in MMA upon her debut in 2010. After success in Strikeforce, Rousey found herself as one of the UFC's biggest names. She held the Women's Bantamweight Championship for almost three years before losing it to Holly Holm.
In 2017, Rousey made the jump to professional wrestling by signing with the WWE. Her first match in the company was praised by wrestling critics. Months after her debut, she won the Raw Women's Championship, which she held for 232 days. At WrestleMania 35, Rousey became the first woman to headline both UFC and WWE events.
As a child, Lindsay Vonn met beloved ski racer Picabo Street, which increased her interest in the sport. Years later, Street would become Vonn's mentor as the Minnesotan turned pro. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, she became the first American woman to win the gold medal in downhill.
At the World Cup, Vonn became one of two women to win four championships. In 2019, Vonn left the sport because of her constant injuries. Before leaving, she became the oldest woman to win a World Championship medal at age 34. Her farewell was documented in HBO's Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season.
As one of the top basketball players at Morningside High School, Lisa Leslie was destined to be a basketball icon. Fortunately, she got the chance after being drafted into the WNBA in 1997. With the Los Angeles Sparks, Leslie earned two WNBA Championships. In 2002, she was the first WNBA player to dunk the basketball.
After 12 seasons in the WNBA, Leslie retired in 2009. From 2011 to 2014, Leslie was a co-owner of the Sparks. Recently, she became the coach of the BIG3 expansion team the Triplets. Leslie also works as a basketball commentator on various cable networks.
Serena Williams has been one of the most dominant female tennis players in the new millennium. The Michigan native became the number-one player in the world on eight different occasions. When it comes to her gameplay, Williams is mostly known for her explosive comeback victories.
With $92 million earned, Williams takes the title of highest-earning female tennis star. Williams' 23 major titles are the most for any woman or man in the Open Era of tennis. Williams' last singles major win was 2017's Australian Open, which found her defeating her sister Venus.
Danica Patrick’s success is a big reason why women became more involved with car racing. The Wisconsin native spent three years racing in England before returning to the States as a professional. In 2008, she became the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race. The next year, she finished in third place at the Indianapolis 500.
Following 2018's Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, Patrick retired from racing. During her career, Patrick gained seven top-10 placements during the NASCAR Cup Series. Although she's done with racing, Patrick offers her knowledge as an analyst for TV shows.
Margaret Court made her home country proud by becoming the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam and Wimbledon. After her Wimbledon win in 1966, Court retired from the game. Two years later, she returned to tennis for additional Grand Slam victories at the U.S. Open and French Open.
In 1977, Court officially retired from tennis, but not before leaving behind a huge legacy. She still has the most Grand Slam titles won and most major tournaments won in a decade. Court landed in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979.