Prowess, athleticism, dedication and sheer determination and drive. This is what it takes to reach the top in any sort of sporting field and what all the best athletes have to get where they are today. Sometimes, however, female athletes are all too often, sadly overlooked for their male counterparts or treated little more as eye-candy rather than respected for the obstacles they have had to overcome. Even this year, after winning a gold medal, world tennis sensation Andy Murray had to point out to a reporter that, although his feats were impressive, he was not the first to achieve them. John Inverdale, of the BBC, spoke to Murray post his gold-winning match saying:
“You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?”
To which the British tennis star responded:
“Well, to defend the singles title ... I think Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each but hadn’t defended a singles title before.”
Here, we present some of the best and most inspiring female athletes around and talk about their triumphs and what they have had to overcome in order to achieve their dreams.
1. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
A Jamaican track and field competitor, this 29-year sprinter has been dubbed by many as 'the pocket rocket' and has managed to wrestle some of the attention away from her fellow countryman Usain Bolt by becoming only female to be crowned world champion over 100 m three times (2009, 2013, 2015).
Her achievements don't end there though as she also is the first female sprinter to win gold medals in the 100 m, 200 m and 4 × 100 m in a single world championship which she managed to do in 2013. Many consider her the greatest female sprinter of all time but outside of the sport she also has her own hair salon called Chic Hair Ja and has somehow found the time to study as in November 2012, she graduated from the University of Technology with her Bachelor of Science Degree in Child and Adolescent Development. In 2016, she announced that she would be pursuing a Master of Science Degree in Applied Psychology at the University of West Indies.
2. The US Women's Soccer Team
Winning the FIFA women's world cup in Canada last year, the US team are battling for equal pay in their sport back home. Arguably the best soccer team in the women's game, they have been far more successful than their male counterparts and really want to hammer home that they deserve what they're fighting for.
Winning three Women's World Cup titles (including the first-ever Women's World Cup in 1991), four Olympic women's gold medals, seven CONCACAF Gold Cup wins, and ten Algarve Cups, the team are, without a doubt, the most successful in Women's international soccer ever and were ranked world No. 1 continuously from March 2008 to December 2014 in the FIFA world rankings.
3. Yusra Mardini
Fleeing a war-torn Syria that is currently caught up in a bloody conflict between its president and rebel forces, whilst part of the country is controlled by terrorist organization Isis. At just 17 years old Yusra has seen many great tragedies and managed to flee to neighboring Turkey. In an attempt to get to mainland Greece via boat, the motor cut out and she had to swim the rest of the distance in perilous seas. Once there she made it to Germany where her swimming ability impressed and she was selected to compete in the 200m freestyle swimming as part of Team Refugees in Rio.
Yusra has also spoken at the Leader Summit on Refugees at the United Nations, detailing her experiences and trying to encourage world leaders to accept more responsibility and pursue solutions to the global refugee crisis by using her story as an example of how relocation can work and how more can be done to help those fleeing war.
4. Alex Scott
An English soccer player who has won over 100 caps playing for her nation in the sport, she also plays for Arsenal Ladies Football Club, the most successful club in English women's football with her being a key part of their historic "Quadruple" season in which they won all of their trophy competitions, including the 2006–07 UEFA Women's Cup, making them the first English team to win the competition when she scored the only goal in the two-legged final.
Having also played for the Birmingham City Ladies Football Club, Scott also had a stint in America playing for the Boston Breakers in the NWSL but outside of the sport she has also 'The Alex Scott Academy' in partnership with Kingston College and Puma, for female footballers aged 16–19 years and was the first of such academies in England and represented a growth in the game in Britain. She also writes a weekly women's soccer column for the Morning Star and is currently studying and doing media training in order to further a career in sports broadcasting as she already presents Premier League highlights for the Premier League Fanzone.
5. Serena and Venus Williams
Both of these tennis superstars deserve posts of their own but the Williams name is so synonymous with tennis success that, for ease, we have rolled the two into one. Both sisters have been ranked world No. 1 during their careers and both have finalled at every major grand slam tournament at least once with Serena winning all of them at least once and, during one period, held all four at the same time. Serena holds the most major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles combined amongst active players, male or female and has an incredible 38 major titles to her name in singles tennis alone. Venus has 7 major singles titles and became the World No. 1 for the first time on February 25, 2002, becoming the first black American woman to achieve this feat during the Open Era.
The sisters play doubles tennis together and have won 14 major grand slams together and the pair is unbeaten in Grand Slam doubles finals. Serena was the highest paid female athlete in 2016 and the pair are considered a global power in world sport and are amongst the greatest tennis players ever, male or female.
6. Oksana Chusovitina
It is highly telling of the competition and vitality of youth in a sport when a 22-year old is affectionately called 'Grandma' when competing as is the case with American gymnast Aly Raisman. Imagine how incredible this vaulter from Uzbekistan is then when you find out she is 41 and was still competing at the highest level in 2016.
Having competed for the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, and Germany, Chusovitina holds the record for the most individual world championships medals on a single event (nine, on the vault) and is one of only two women to return to international competition after giving birth and has an Asian Games, European Championship, World Championship, World Cup and Olympic title to her name for one event or another.
7. Nicola Adams
The Olympic, European and Commonwealth champion in Women's boxing, Nicola became the first Women to win an Olympic boxing title as well as the first British boxer to win a gold in London, and then went on to repeat the feat at Rio. In a sport so often considered a male profession, Nicola became the face of women's boxing in the UK and was awarded an MBE for her success.
Outside of being a sporting influence, Nicola is openly bisexual and champions LGBT causes, considered one of the most prominent and influential LGBT in the country thanks to her high-profile and sporting success.
8. Mildred Didrikson Zaharias
Mildred Didrikson Zaharias was nicknamed 'Babe' after the successful baseball star Babe Ruth and is arguably one of the most phenomenal athletes you will ever hear about. Playing organized baseball and softball she was also an expert diver, roller-skater, and bowler and had an incredibly successful track and field career where she won two gold medals and one silver medal for track and field at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
After her other sporting triumphs, she turned her hand to golf and becam the first woman to win both the British and U.S. Amateur, but in 1939, she was the only woman who qualified for the Los Angeles Open (a men's golf tournament) and then went on to win 10 LPGA major championships.
9. Maria Sharapova
Before being embroiled in an illegal substance scandal, Maria Sharapova has been ranked world No. 1 in singles by the WTA on five separate occasions, for a total of 21 weeks winning the French Open twice along with the Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon.
The youngest grand-slam champion in history, Sharapova has won all of the major grand slam tournaments at least once making her one of only 10 women to do so. She also began the Maria Sharapova Foundation which is aimed at helping children achieve their dreams and she has also donated $100,000 to Chernobyl-related projects.
10. Chelsea Jaensch
Starting out as a long jumper, the Australian's career was hampered by injuries and she eventually packed it all in at 19 to focus on her university studies. However, when she started to suffer from anxiety and lack of confidence, she found comfort in athletics and took up track and field once again as a release, winning the Australian nation championship in 2015.
Although failing to make the final, at the age of 31, Jaensch made her major international tournament debut in 2016 in Rio, Brazil and showed that the power of perseverance can take you all the way to the top. Still competing, Chelsea is also a full-time radiographer and has worked to help save lives in several institutions across Australia.
11. Mary Lou Retton
An American gymnast, Mary Lou Retton became the first outside of the Eastern Bloc countries to win the all-around title in the sport and won four other medals in gymnastics at the time thus becoming one of the most popular athletes at the tie and inspiring the current generation of gymnasts.
So dominant was her form in gymnastics that her move on the uneven bars, where she transitioned from low- to high-bar, resulting in sitting on top of the high bar, named after her and it became known as the Retton flip, although this move is now not permitted in competition, her legacy remains.
12. Lisa Leslie
Three-time WNBA MVP and four-time Olympic gold medalist, Leslie really pushed the popularity of women's basketball and is considered a pioneer in the sport. The first player to dunk in a WNBA game, Lisa had a stunning career that saw her eight WNBA All-Star selections and two WNBA championships over the course of eleven seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Outside of the sport she is a model and aspiring actress with many magazine spreads and television appearances to her name. She also earned a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Phoenix in 2009.
13. Natalie Cook
Since beach volleyball was included in the Olympic games in 1996, Natalie Cook has appeared in every single one thus becoming the first Australian woman to appear in five and winning gold at her home games in 2000. Having been playing competitively for 17 years, she has won the Australian National Championships five times.
Natalie started her own volleyball business when she retired and now also tours the country as a motivational speaker as well as writing two books.
14. Missy Franklin
At just 17, Missy Franklin qualified to compete in more Olympic events than any other American woman and went on to win five medals, four of which were gold. Her eleven gold medals at the World Aquatics Championships is a record in women's swimming and she went on to win more medals in further events.
Still swimming, Franklin remains a top competitor and is still only 21.
15. Ronda Rousey
Until recently she was the undefeated star of UFC and a mixed martial arts champion for three straight years. Her domination of the sport has led to unwavering popularity and she has become one of the most celebrated mixed martial artists of all time and used the popularity from that to launch a career in film and television.
Starting out as a judo fighter, and at just 19 became the first female U.S. judoka in nearly 10 years to win an A-Level tournament and the first U.S. athlete ever to win two Junior World medals after winning bronze at the Junior World Championships. In 2008 she qualified for Beijing and went on to become the first American to win an Olympic medal in women's judo since its inception as an Olympic sport in 1992.
16. Natalie Coughlin
Natalie Coughlin's swimming career is nothing short of sensational. Starting out in high school she broke two individual national high school records in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke. Ten days before she turned 20, she became the first woman ever to swim the 100-meter backstroke (long course) in less than one minute.
Her career has seen her win an astonishing 60 medals in major international competition comprising of twenty-five gold, twenty-two silver, and thirteen bronze and she has gone on to write a book about her experiences called Golden Girl.
17. Wilma Rudolph
Considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and nicknamed 'The Tornado', Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games and is largely credited with popularizing track and field in the USA. Born prematurely she contracted infantile paralysis(caused by the polio virus) at age four and then had to wear a brace on her leg for 5 years.
Discovered whilst playing basketball, she was convinced to switch her discipline to track and field. After her athletic success, she received a bachelor's in elementary education and went on to teach before then hosting a local television show.
18. Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Despite retiring from athletics in 2000, Jackie Joyner-Kersee remains the world record holder in the heptathlon and is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. Her feats are made even more spectacular considering she overcame asthma as a child and then went on to win three gold medals, two silver, and two bronze Olympic medals in the heptathlon and women's long jump events.
Post-athletics, Jackie has been involved in many philanthropic organizations and founded the Joyner-Kersee Foundation, which provides youth, adults, and families with athletic lessons and the resources to improve their quality of life, as well as Athletes for Hope, a charitable organization, which helps professional athletes get involved in charitable causes and inspires millions of non-athletes to volunteer and support the community.
19. Nadia Comaneci
Considered one of the greatest ever gymnasts to grace the sport, at just 14 Nadia went to her first Olympics and became the became the first gymnast in Olympic history to be awarded the perfect score of 10.0. on her way to 4 gold medals before adding another two to her collection at the next games.
Nadia received six perfect 10.0s in her first Olympic games and gained 30 medals in major international tournaments with a whopping 21 of them being gold. Outside of the sport she is involved with many charitable organizations and has personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comăneci Children's Clinic, a clinic in Bucharest that provides low-cost and free medical and social support to Romanian children.
20. Bonnie Blair
A speed skater who competed for the United States in four Olympics, winning five gold medals and one bronze medal, Blair is one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history winning her first gold medal in Calgary with a world record time in the 500 meters. Blair also won the World Cup points championship 11 times.
Also trying track cycle racing, Bonnie was not as successful in this field but was inducted into the Untied States Olympic hall of fame for her previous sporting success that also included her domination of short-track speed skating where she dominated the Overall Short-track World Champion in 1986.