10 Most Game-Changing Female Athletes of All TimeWednesday, May 4, 2011 21:37
Top Ten list of the most dominant and/or ground-breaking women athletes in sports history.
Editor’s Note: This is a repost of an article that originally appeared on BestCollegesOnline.net.
10 Most Game-Changing Female Athletes of All Time
When ranking the all time greats in a particular field, we tend to break them down into subcategories. For example, Monica Seles was the best female tennis player in the world during the early 1990s. At the top of her game, perhaps no one was better. But because of the 1993 stabbing incident that disrupted her career, she doesn't have as many accomplishments as, say, Martina Navratilova, and therefore many people don't consider Seles the greatest female tennis player of all time. She would fall under the "among the best ever while in their primes" category. Both Seles and Navratilova, of course, are considered by many as elite female athletes. And while neither at the top of their games would be likely to beat Roger Federer at the top of his game — though Billy Jean King might have something to say about that — their immense talent certainly earns them the distinction as just elite athletes, regardless of their sex. The following game-changing female athletes — admittedly, the list is a little American-centric — are among the greatest to compete in their respective sports and have the resumes to prove it.
- Babe Zaharias: In American sports circles, Babe is almost as legendary as her supposed namesake Babe Ruth. The first great female athlete who became a true national superstar, Babe burst onto the national scene during the 1932 Olympics, winning gold medals in the javelin and 80-meter hurdles and a silver medal in the high jump. Three years later, she entered women's professional golf, where she would go on to tally 41 career LPGA victories, including 10 LPGA major wins. She also competed in three PGA tournaments, becoming the first woman to make the cut at a PGA tour event. Babe dominated the sport well into her 40s, when her life was cut short by cancer. Other sports in which she was proficient: baseball (no surprise) and basketball.
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Publications such as Sports Illustrated regard Joyner-Kersee as the greatest female athlete of the last century, partially because more recent generations were able to witness her domination of the women's heptathlon and women's long jump during multiple Olympic Games. In the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 games, she collected three gold medals, one silver medal and two bronze medals, and she added to her trophy case by winning even more medals in the World Championships and Pan America Games. Joyner-Kersee was also a star basketball player at UCLA, where she's remembered as one of the school's most talented and versatile athletes.
- Martina Navratilova: Perhaps most incredible about Navratilova's career is the duration at which she sustained success. Officially retiring in 2006 at the age of 49, she spent her final years as a pro competing in doubles events, winning mixed doubles titles in the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2003. At the age of 37, she reached the Wimbledon final, and at the age of 33, she won Wimbledon for the final time. Overall, she collected 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam doubles titles and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. Due in part to her aggressive style, she's the open era record holder for the most singles and doubles titles. Navratilova's accomplishments are so extensive that we couldn't possibly list them all here, which makes sense given that her career spanned more than three decades.
- Mia Hamm: Hamm is American women's soccer. She excelled on the international stage in a manner that Americans loved, using both finesse and physicality. Tallying 158 international goals, she scored more than any other player regardless of sex, enabling the U.S. women's team to claim two Olympic gold medals and two FIFA World Cup championships. Hamm was a champion from the beginning — in high school, she led Lake Braddock Secondary School to a state championship, and in college, she led North Carolina to four NCAA women's national championships.
- Steffi Graf: For almost seven years, Graf reigned supreme over the tennis world, sitting atop the rankings for an astounding 377 consecutive weeks. During her best year, 1988, she completed the Calendar Year Golden Slam by winning all four majors and a gold medal in one year — she's the only player in tennis history to accomplish that feat. She won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, the second-most all-time among female and male tennis players, and 107 singles titles overall, the third-most among women. Billy Jean King considers her "definitely the greatest women's tennis player of all time." Graf exhibited no weaknesses, excelling on all surfaces and taking all comers.
- Annika Sorenstam: There's Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam. The most prolific female golfer ever, Sorenstam won 10 major LPGA championships, tallied 72 tour wins and earned more than $22 million during her 15-year Hall of Fame career. Because of her proficiency at the sport, she was invited to play in the PGA's Bank of America Colonial golf tournament in 2003, where she became the first woman to compete in a PGA tour event since Babe Zaharias. Currently, she's enjoying her early retirement by spending time with her family and running her various businesses.
- Billie Jean King: King's most indelible mark was left as an activist. Famously, she defeated male tennis great Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in "The Battle of the Sexes" in the Astrodome in 1973, proving that women could hang with the guys on the court and beyond. Although it was just an exhibition and somewhat of a publicity stunt by the long-retired Riggs, King was under enormous pressure to perform given the match occurred during an era when equality among the sexes still wasn't completely guaranteed. She certainly knew how to win when it counted — she collected 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam doubles titles and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles during her illustrious career.
- Bonnie Blair: Ten years after she secured her final two gold medals at the Lillehammer Games, her most successful Olympic effort, Blair was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame as the most decorated U.S. winter Olympian of all time. It contrasted with her Olympic debut in 1984, when she placed eighth in the 500 meters, an event in which she would win five gold medals during the next three Olympics. Before Apolo Ohno won eight medals in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 games, Blair was the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian.
- Florence Griffith-Joyner: To this day, no woman has eclipsed the late Flo-Jo's world records in the 100 meters (10.49 seconds) and 200 meters (21.34 seconds), which she set in 1988, the year she retired. First recognized for her abnormally long finger nails during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in which she took home the silver medal in the meters, she put it all together four years later in Seoul, winning three gold medals while simultaneously becoming one of the coolest, most stylish athletes in the world — thanks, in part, to those one-legged unitards. Flo-Jo was a member of a family of elite Olympians, as she was married to triple jumper Al Joyner, the brother of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
- Nadia Comaneci: Perfection is a standard that's nearly impossible to achieve if you're a gymnast. Comaneci did it at the age of 14 during the 1976 Montreal Olympics, scoring a 10 after her masterful performance on the uneven bars, and six more in the all-around, beam and bars. She secured five medals, three of which were gold, and instantly became a hero to teenagers around the world — her star was already shining brightly in her home country of Romania. In 1980, as a veteran 18 year old, she won four more medals, successfully defending her gold medal on the balance beam and winning her first on the floor.
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