Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know that Tuesday March 8th was international women’s day, and in retrospect, I will look at the ten most influential and important women who changed the way the world looks at female athletes and sports forever. This list includes female athletes from a variety of sports, in no specific order.
Simone Biles - Gymnastics
Simone Biles is known as the greatest gymnast of all time, and boasts a whopping 25 gold, 4 silver, and 5 bronze medals over the olympics, world championships and other competitions. But that is not the only reason as to why she is an incredibly important figure to the world of sports. Simone is the third of four siblings, and her mother was unable to care for her and her siblings, so she was ultimately in and out of foster care for some time. When her grandparents learned about this, they legally adopted her in 2003, after taking care of her temporarily for three years. She discovered gymnastics on a field trip to a gymnastics center, where she was imitating the gymnasts, and a coach took notice of her. The coach sent a letter home, and from there, she was enrolled into the world of gymnastics. She started training with coach Aimee Boorman at age 8, and from then on she was inseparable from the sport. Her elite career started in 2011, when she was only 14 years old, and one year later, she decided to make the change from public school to homeschool, where she could increase training hours approximately 20-32 hours per week. Biles continued to verbally commit to UCLA in 2014, and not even one year later, she announced that she would take up the job as a professional. And as we all know, the rest is history.
Serena Williams - Tennis
Serena is another GOAT of sports, and just like Simone Biles, is considered to be one of, if not the best, female tennis player in the history of the sport. Serena started playing tennis with her father in the public courts of L.A, training together with her sister, Venus Williams. She revolutionized tennis with her powerful style of play, which had never been seen before. it is fair to say that it was an incredible style of play. She has won 23 grand slam titles, which is the most of the open era, while also accomplishing a mighty 14 grand slam doubles titles alongside her sister Venus. Serena says that she experienced racism in her career, and that she would hear the crowd cheering whenever her sister lost a point, and then being quiet whenever she scored. Williams is the perfect example of a hero, and she demonstrated this in 2006, when she teamed up with UNICEF and took a trip to Ghana in support of the country's biggest health campaign. In 2011, she was appointed as a Goodwill ambassador, and championed the Schools for Africa initiative, which provided education to the more vulnerable children in Africa. She is still in support of these causes, and is certainly a woman to look up to.
Mary Shane/Jessica Mendoza - Broadcasting
More often than not, broadcasters end up being males, but Mary Shane was a pioneer who opened new doors for women in the world of broadcasting. Although she was not the first female broadcaster in the history of sports(Who is Elizabeth Cowell), she was the first female broadcaster for an MLB team, which was usually dominated by male broadcasters. While working in a press box for the Chicago White Sox, she was invited by lead broadcaster Harry Caray to do some play-by-play, and did so well that she was invited for a second try. From there, she was recognised as the first female MLB reporter, and unfortunately passed away at the young age of 42. Jessica Mendoza is the broadcaster in charge of continuing Mary’s legacy. After a very successful career in softball, winning both a gold and silver medal in the olympics, she went on to become an ESPN baseball analyst from 2016-2019, and now also works as a reporter on the same sport. in 2019, for the first time ever, a MLB game was broadcasted by an entire team composed of only females.
Billie Jean King - Tennis
Billie Jean King is the former No. 1 female tennis player in the world, and over her career she has won a colossal 39 grand slam titles, cementing her into the history of sports. What was Billie’s importance you may be asking? Well, she was one of the participants of the battle of the sexes, and the winner of this same battle. After former no.1 male player Bobby Riggs beat Margaret Court(No.1 at the time) in what was known as the “Mothers Day Massacre”, he challenged King, with a 100,000 dollar prize. Billie accepted, and ended up winning that match, which blazed the trail for female tennis players. The event was so important that they made a movie out of it, starring Emma Stone as Billie. The movie is available to everyone with a subscription on Star+, and is definitely worth a watch.
Marta - Football
You may not watch women's football, or football at any level, but you have possibly heard of Marta. Regarded as the best woman to ever play the game, I was genuinely surprised when I saw a list of all the records and achievements she accomplished throughout her career. It is also fairly easy to say that she has proven to many that sports aren't always male dominated. She is the record holder for two categories where men are also included, and it is not some easy accomplishment to hold these records. She is the player to have scored most goals (male or female) in World Cups, at a brilliant total of 17, while also being the first player of any gender to score a goal in 5 consecutive World Cups, although this record was equalized by Canadian Christine Sinclair in 2019. Not only has she claimed many other achievements, she has been appointed by the UN secretary general to be a Sustainable Development Goal Advocate, a cause which she campaigns forto this day. Marta is definitely one of the fiercest trailblazers for women's sports over the last decades.
Kathrine Switzer - Running
In 1967, a woman by the name of Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially enter the boston marathon, a competition which had been exclusively for only males for the past 70 years. Switzer embarked on this journey with her trainer, Arnie, and her boyfriend Tom, who was an American football player. When signing up, she only put her initials, and by puting K.V Switzer, no one would imagine that she was indeed a woman. As soon as the race started, people started noticing that there was a woman among them, and they were happy to see something different in the marathon which had been the same way for 70 years. Jock Semple, who was one of the race directors, was riding a truck to accompany the race, and suddenly, took notice of Kathrine. He maniacally jumped off of the truck, and started running after Kathrine, demanding her to give him the numbers she was wearing, saying that she did not belong there, and could not finish the race. That was when her boyfriend tackled Jock, and sent the old man flying. Switzer noticed that she needed to finish the race at that point, because everyone believed that a woman could not finish the race, and she needed to prove them otherwise. She went on to finish the race, and 5 years later, the Boston marathon officially started accepting women to race. She also successfully campaigned for women's marathon to be an olympic sport, which was first introduced in 1984.
Rafaela Silva - Judo
Rafaela Silva is perseverance in person. If you have never heard of her story, prepare yourself, because it is really something incredible, and she has overcome many obstacles to get to the pinnacle of her career. Well, firstly, Rafaela has accomplished important feats in her career. She was the first Brazilian to win a judo world championship, which she did in 2013. And in her home olympics, in Rio, she won gold for the category of 57 kg and below. But Rafaela's story starts in Cidade De Deus, one of Brazil's most famous slums, located in Rio De Janeiro. Like any other Brazilian, she started playing football, but since CDD is a dangerous place, Rafaela's parents signed her up for judo classes, which she took together with her sister, to learn how to protect herself. According to Silva, she took judo seriously, and it opened many doors for her. She won her first major award in Paris 2011, where she got the silver medal for the world championship. Being black, Rafaela was constantly a victim of racism, but she stood up to it, and didn't let it affect her. She also came out as gay in an interview with Globo Esportes, which shows how brave she really is. Her story is very inspiring, and if you search her up quickly on google, you can find many more things on her, which will definitely be worth your while.
Lella Lombardi - Racing
Lella Lombardi was an italian race car driver, who drove in Formula 1 for a single season, from 1974-76. Although she didn't always start, Lella Lombardi is remembered for two reasons. The first reason being that Lella is the first ever woman to score points in an F1 season, with 0.5 points to her name. After an accident in the Spanish GP, the race was stopped, and since only half the distance of the race was traveled, only half of the normal points were awarded, and since Lombardi placed 6th, she received half a point(instead of the regular one point). The second reason, is that Lella is the only driver to have a career total of 0.5 points, which is a very queer statistic. Lella Lombardi proved to the world that women are also built for dangerous sports like motorsports, and the racing world was forever changed after Lella Lombardi.
Yusra Mardini - Swimming
Yusra Mardini has one of the most important stories, and is definitely a woman that you should be inspired by. Yusra was born in 1999, in Damascus, Syria, and started training with the Syrian Olympic Committee, which she represented in 2012 in the FINA World Swimming Championships. In 2015, after her house was destroyed by the Syrian civil war, Yusra and her sister Sara decided to flee Syria, with Greece being the final destination. Both of them and 16 other immigrants were to be smuggled into Greece in a boat that only fit about 6-7 people. At some point during the trip, the motor was broken, and the sisters and two other people who knew how to swim got in the water and pushed the boat for three hours, until they got to Lesbos, an island which is on the eastern side of Greece In the Aegean Sea. They went on to cross europe on foot, where they live until today, in Hamburg. Yusra participated in the Refugee Olympic Committee in both the 2016, and 2020 editions of the Olympic games. In the 2020 Tokyo summer Olympics, Mardini was responsible for carrying out the IOC Refugee Olympic Team flag, and was also added to the Under Armour team, after the managing director in Europe was inspired by her story, as others around the world have also certainly been.
Lisa Leslie - Basketball
Lisa Leslie is arguably one of the best players the WNBA has ever seen play. Born in Compton, California, Lisa’s father left her when her mother was only 4 months pregnant with her. In elementary school, Lisa was the only left handed player, so she decided to become right handed so that she did not need to be alone on layup lines. This came into her advantages, since she was ambidextrous, something that helps basketball skills to an extreme level. Leslie’s middle school did not have a women's basketball team, so she joined the male team, which helped her confidence in relation to her basketball skills. After graduating from USC, she went on to play for the L.A Sparks and the American national team. And she has so many achievements and awards, that I will need to copy and paste all the awards she got.
WNBA MVP (2001, 2004, 2006)
WNBA Championship (2001, 2002)
WNBA Finals MVP (2001, 2002)
All-WNBA First Team (1997, 2000 – 2004, 2006, 2008)
All-WNBA Second Team (1998, 1999, 2005, 2009)
WNBA All-Star (1999-2003, 2005, 2006, 2009)
All-Star Game MVP (1999, 2001, 2002)
WNBA All-Decade Team (1997-2006)
WNBA Defensive Player of the Year (2004, 2008)
All-Defensive First Team (2006, 2008)
All-Defensive Second Team (2005, 2009)
15-time WNBA Player of the Week
Four-time gold medal winner in the Summer Olympics (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008)
If you know the stories of these women, you may see that I have not included every single statistic and fact about them. This is because they're so incredible, that I could probably make a whole article on each and every one of them! Hopefully you have learnt about something or someone in this article, and most importantly, shoutout to every single woman around the world.