35 Of The Greatest Female Athletes Of All Time

OMG June 7, 2019 By Hugo

In today's sporting era of supposed equality and fairness, female athletes are often overlooked in favor of their male counterparts. To highlight this, you only have to YouTube an interview with world tennis sensation Andy Murray and the British journalist John Inverdale who spoke to Murray after his gold-winning match at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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“You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” Inverdale exclaimed. But the British tennis star wasn't having any of it. "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," he said.

With that said and in the leadup to the Women's World Cup, we've decided to present some of the best and most inspiring female athletes around and talk about their triumphs and what they have had to overcome to achieve their dreams.

1. Billie Jean King


Billie Jean King was a major pioneer in women's sport ever since the 39-time Grand Slam winner set up and won the infamous 1973 'battle of the sexes' match against the notoriously pugnacious tennis player, Bobby Riggs. Watched by a global television audience of over 100m people, King went on to beat Riggs in straight sets, and many have since viewed the match as a watershed in not only the game of tennis but the whole of women's sport.

By 2007, for instance, grand slam prize money in tennis was the same for both men and women while other sports where female participation is prevalent have strived for similar equality, with many governing boards asking for King's advice on how best they can further the careers of their female stars.

2. Anna Rawson

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Australian, Anna Rawson is not only a golf pro but also an extremely in-demand model. In 1999 as an amateur golfer in Australia, Rawson was the South Australian and Victoria Junior Champion plus the winner of the Jack Newton International Junior Classic. Turning professional in 2004, she was invited to join the LPGA tour in 2007.

At 16, Rawson was a finalist in the Australian "Dolly" Magazine cover contest which launched her modeling career in print ads, magazines, and on television.

3. Natalie Gulbis

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An American golfer with Latvian ancestry, Gulbis first took an interest in the sport of golf at age four and seven, she had won her first tournament, and at age ten, she reports she was breaking par, competing in her first LPGA Tour event at just 14. Turning pro at 18, she has recorded wins at the Evian Masters on the LPGA and the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge three times as an unofficial event.

Appearing in many magazine spreads and even releasing her own calendar, Natalie has a notable media presence appearing on any TV shows and even in video games.

4. Margaret Court

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Margaret Court is a retired Australian tennis player who holds the most women's' singles titles in grand slam history with 24 slam victories spread over an illustrious.17-year career. In 42 years since her retirement, few have come close to replicating or surpassing Court's achievement, though active player Serena Williams is just 1 behind, holding 23 slams in the Open era.

Unfortunately, Court's comments on homosexuality have come under criticism for her strict stance on same-sex marriage following her refusal to fly on the Australian airline Qantas owing to their public support of gay marriage. Court is currently a Christian minister in her home state of Perth, Western Australia.

5. Suzann Pettersen

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A Norwegian pro who has a stunning 15 LPGA wins under her belt and has twice been ranked the second best female golfer in the world.  On the US-based LPGA Tour, she is also a member of the Ladies European Tour. A five-time Norwegian Amateur Champion, she turned professional at 19 in 2000.

With wins on both the LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour, Pettersen is a trans-Atlantic phenomenon.

6. Sandra Gal

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A German pro on the LPGA tour, Gal started playing golf at five, and by 17 she had joined the German National Team and at 18 won the German National Girls Championship. In 2007, she won the Ladies European Amateur tournament and then turned professional a year later and won her first event at the Kia Classic in 2011.

Gal was a member of the winning European Solheim Cup Team in 2011 and also played on the European Solheim Cup Team in 2015 and also competed for her nation at Rio De Janeiro in 2016.

7. Nicola Adams


The Olympic, European and Commonwealth champion in Women's boxing, Nicola became the first Woman 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. Kathleen Ekey

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An American golfer from Ohio, Ekey is on the LPGA Tour. Kathleen turned pro and joined the tour in 2009 and by 2011 she had finished at the top of the Futures Tour official money list and was named the Tour's Player of the Year after her wins at the Alliance Bank Golf Classic and the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge.

Not just a talented sports personality, Kathleen also has a bachelor's degree in Communications Studies from the University of Alabama.

9. Serena and Venus Williams

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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 finalists 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.  

10. Danica Patrick

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If you've heard of any female drivers on our list, the first name that sprung to mind is most likely Danica Patrick, undoubtedly the most famous female racing driver of all time. She's been winning for fun over the years and has made serious inroads in the competitive world of men's racing too- one of the few women to do so.

She is the only woman to win an IndyCar series race following her triumph at the 2008 Indy Japan 300. Then there was her incredible third-place finish at the Indianapolis 500 in 2009- the highest finish ever recorded by a female.

Now competing in the Sprint Cup Series, Patrick has also had the pleasure of driving for many other noted racing teams such as Rahal Letterman and Andretti Autosport.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. Missy Franklin

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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.

17. Ronda Rousey

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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.

18. Natalie Coughlin

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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.

19. 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 poliovirus) 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.

20. 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.

21. Simone Biles

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Simone Arianne Biles is an American artistic gymnast and a sporting phenomenon who won a series of gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. An individual all-around, vault and floor gold medalist, Biles also took bronze at the balance beam.

As well as her awe-inspiring solo performances, Biles is perhaps most known for her being part of the "Final Five" at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

22. 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 United 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.

23Michelle Wie

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A Korean-American prodigy who became the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship at the tender age of just 10. Not stopping there, Wie went on to become the youngest winner of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links and the youngest to qualify for an LPGA Tour event before turning professional in 2005, just a few days shy of her 16th birthday.

Now on the LPGA tour, Michelle won her first major at the 2014 U.S. Women's Open.

24. Marta

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Marta Vieira Da Silva is a Brazilian-born soccer player who is widely considered the best female player ever, having won FIFA World Player of the year five consecutive times between 2006 and 2010. She holds the record for most goals scored at FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments with 15 to her name and has won the Pan American Games and Sudamericano Femenino with Brazil.

Also an Olympic and World Cup runner-up with her national team she has won club leagues all across the globe as well as the UEFA Women's Cup. 

25. Beatriz Recari Eransus


A Spanish professional golfer on the U.S.-based LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour, Recari took up golf at 11 and had a hugely successful amateur career that saw her win the 2004 Spanish Amateur Championship, the 2005 French Amateur Championship,  the European Team Championship as a member of Team Spain in 2004 and become a member of Team Europe in the 2005 Junior Solheim Cup.

Turning professional at 18 in 2006, she stopped studying Economics order to focus on her sporting career.

26. Charley Hull

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An English pro who is undoubtedly one to watch, Charley won Rookie of the Year, became the youngest competitor to participate in the international Solheim Cup matches and   a champion on the circuit in 2014 all before the age of 18, which is perhaps no surprise when you hear she was introduced to golf at just 2-years-old.

Having turned pro just a year earlier, Hull won her first professional title at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco. 

27. Paula Creamer

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With 12 tournament wins to her name, including 10 LPGA Tour events, Creamer is one of the best female golfers around and the Californian often receives lucrative endorsement and sponsorship deals because of this that comfortably pushes her earnings into the millions when combined with her career winnings.

In fact, Paula is regularly ranked as one of the 10 highest-earning female athletes in the world.

28. Mia Hamm


Mariel Margaret Hamm-Garciaparra was a soccer superstar and helped the USA women's team to gold in 1996 and 2004 as well as the FIFA women's world cup title in 1999.  She was also a founding member of the Washington Freedom in the first professional women's soccer league in the United States This is all the more impressive given that she was born with a club foot and had to wear corrective shoes when she was young.

Retiring at 32, she started a family and is now a global ambassador for FC Barcelona and wrote two books Go For the Goal: A Champion’s Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life, as well as the fiction book, Winners Never Quit.

29. Abby Wambach

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A two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women's World Cup champion, six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award, Wambach had an incredible career that saw her become a regular on the U.S. women's national soccer team from 2003 to 2015 after earning her first cap in 2001.

Currently, she stands as the highest all-time goal scorer for the USA national team and holds the world record for international goals for both female and male soccer players with 184 goals. Such is her success and popularity that, in 2016, a Barbie doll was made in her likeness.

30Homare Sawa


Captain of the Japan women's national football team that won gold at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup and silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Homare Sawa is one of only two players of either sex to appear in six World Cup final tournaments and led to a surge in popularity of the women's sport in her home nation.

Long considered Japan's finest female footballer, Sawa made her debut in L. League, Japan's highest domestic league, at the young age of 12 going on to make her International debut at just 15 and continuing to be dominant in the sport until her retirement in 2015, being named the 2011 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year in the process.

31. Hope Solo

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Goalkeeper for the two-time Olympic and World Cup winning USA women's soccer team and currently, holds the U.S. record for most career clean sheets after appearing for the national team between 2000 and 2016.

Receiving the Golden Glove award for Best Goalkeeper at the 2011 FIFA Women's world cup, Solo also holds several U.S. goalkeeper records including appearances, starts, wins, clean sheets, wins in a season, consecutive minutes played, and longest undefeated streak.

32. Lotta Schelin

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One of the most successful club players of all-time, Lotta Schelin is a Swedish player who is her nation's highest scorer as well as being the record goalscorer for French club Lyon with 225 goals in 224 appearances.

She has been awarded Diamantbollen (the Diamond Ball), given to the Swedish player of the year, a record five times, including four consecutive times from 2011 to 2014. Winning the Division 1 Feminine, with Lyon a breath-taking 8 times, she has also won the UEFA Women's Champions League and the International Women's Club Championship.

33. Sun Wen

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A retired Chinese player, Sun Wen is held in such high regard that in 2000, she won the FIFA Female Player of the Century along with American Michelle Akers. Captaining China's national team for many years, in the 1999 FIFA world cup, she took them to the final, which they eventually lost to Aker's USA on penalties, where she won both the Golden Ball (top player) and Golden Boot (top scorer) for her performance.

Off the back of her world cup run, Sun became the first woman to be nominated for the Asian Football Confederation player of the year award and then went on to win the AFC Women's Asian Cup in 2006.

34. Kim Little


The leading scorer on the Scotland women's national football team, Little plays for Arsenal Ladies alongside Alex Scott and won four league titles, three WSL Continental Cups, three FA Cups and one Premier League Cup with them to go with her SWPL championship title, Scottish Cup, and the Premier League Cup that she won with Hibernian L.F.C.

Named as the FA Women's Player of The Year in 2010, Little has represented Scotland at the senior international level since age 16 and was one of only two Scots selected for the Great Britain squad that reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Olympics. 

35. Nadine Angerer


Recognized as one of the best goalkeeper's to ever have played in the women's game, Angerer took over as first choice keeper for her nation, after Silke Rottenberg was injured, and kept a clean sheet in every round as Germany won the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Germany won the UEFA Women's Championship on each of the five occasions Angerer was involved and won the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003 and 2007. Making a name for herself as a penalty stopping specialist, she stopped Marta's penalty in 2007's final to help Germany to the win.

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