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Share to PinterestThe Greatest Female Athletes of Modern Times

The Greatest Female Athletes of Modern Times

By Jo Marshall
Share to PinterestThe Greatest Female Athletes of Modern Times

Doctors dating back to Aristotle have asserted that because of their delicate reproductive systems, women shouldn’t exert themselves too much, whether it be studying or physical activity. Even bicycling could be too strenuous.

Today, there are still fewer Olympic team spots available overall for females than there are males. Yet, female athletes continue to knock down all the barriers that stand in their way, excelling wildly in sports that, at one time, they weren’t even allowed to participate in.


Allyson Felix, track and field

Share to PinterestAllyson Felix track and field star

This world-renowned sprinter and outspoken advocate for women’s equality in sports broke Usain Bolt’s world championship record in 2019. She’s earned 12 world championship gold medals throughout her career.

Felix's first national championship win was in 2003, at age 17. Felix competed in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games — her fifth Olympic appearance — and won her 11th Olympic medal. Not only is she the oldest woman to ever win a gold medal at the games (at 35), but she is also the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history.


Skylar Diggins-Smith, basketball

Share to PinterestSkylar Diggins-Smith basketball player

A serious knee injury in 2015 and the birth of her son in 2019 complicated this athlete’s road to victory in recent years, but Diggins-Smith still earned a spot on her first Olympic basketball team for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Basketball fans around the world hold her in high esteem for her floor game, defense, and scoring abilities. She earned the landmark combination of 3000 points, 1000 assists, and 200 steals more quickly than any player in WNBA history — in just 206 games.


Caroline Wozniacki, tennis

Share to PinterestCaroline Wozniacki tennis player

Grand Slam champion and 30-time singles winner Wozniacki retired in 2020 following her last professional match at the Australian Open. She was born in Denmark in 1990. Her mother had played on the Polish national volleyball team and her father played professional football in Denmark and Poland.

At age 7, Wozniacki picked up her first tennis racquet and by the age of 15, she'd gone pro. She became a Grand Slam champion in 2018 with a win at the Australian Open, just six years after earning her first No. 1 ranking.


Gabby Douglas, artistic gymnastics

Her small stature and breathtaking routines earned her the nickname, “The Flying Squirrel.” Douglas is the first African American gymnast in Olympic history to become an Individual All-Around Champion.

As if that weren’t enough of a distinction, she’s also the first American gymnast to win a gold medal in both the team and individual all-around competitions at the Olympics. She’s won multiple world championships and competed at two Olympic games.

Share to PinterestGabby Douglas gymnast


Sydney Leroux, soccer

Share to PinterestSydney Leroux soccer player

A Canadian-American professional soccer player and Olympic gold medalist, Leroux made her semi-professional debut at the age of 15, playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps — she was the youngest to ever play for the team.

Though she is also a gifted track and field athlete, it was soccer that won over Leroux. She set her sights on playing for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, a goal that she achieved. In 2012, she set a new record for the team, scoring 12 goals in one year.


Yuliya Levchenko, track and field

Share to PinterestYuliya Levchenko track and field athlete

For Ukrainian-born high jumper Levchenko, 2017 was a landmark year. She earned a gold medal at the European U23 Championships, a silver medal at the world championships, and became the European Athletics Rising Star of the Year.

She continued her winning trek over the next five years, including a silver medal performance at the 2019 European Indoor Championships in Glasgow. The 23-year-old high jumper achieved her goal of competing in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, where she finished eighth.


Simone Biles, artistic gymnastics

Share to PinterestSimone Biles gymnast

Since beginning her athletic career in 2011, Biles has attained a high level of achievement through world championship and Olympic wins in all-around and individual events. Biles is the most decorated U.S. women’s gymnast ever, with 32 medals.

She is in high demand by the media, not only for her athletic accomplishments but also for her aspirational demeanor and bravery. She has publicly shared her story of sexual abuse by the USA gymnastics team doctor and stood up for others in the community who shared the same experience. She also made headlines at the 2021 Olympic Games, where she drew attention to the topic of mental health.


Sally Fitzgibbons, surfing

Share to PinterestSally Fitzgibbons surfer

The Australian surfer, who is famous for her intense training regimen, was born on the southern coast of New South Wales. By the time she was 16, she’d become a World Junior Champion surfer.

Just past her 18th birthday, Fitzgibbons secured a place in surfing history by earning the Qualifying Series championship faster than any other female surfer. She captured a spot on Team Australia for the Tokyo Olympic Games, and though she didn’t bring home a medal, fellow surfers recognize her as one of the best in the world.


The Williams Sisters, tennis

Share to PinterestSerena and Venus Williams, tennis players

For decades, Serena and Venus Williams dominated the tennis circuits. Coached by their parents from an early age, they achieved high international rankings that began in the early 2000s. Both have won four gold medals at the Olympics, one for singles and three in doubles.

Serena Williams has earned 23 Grand Slam titles, while Venus has seven. In 2020, the sisters played their 31st professional match against each other, with the younger Serena coming from behind to beat Venus 3-6, 6-3, and 6-4.


Lindsey Vonn, alpine skiing

Share to PinterestLindsey Vonn alpine skiier

As a four-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist, and four-time World Cup champion, Lindsey Vonn has become a name synonymous with the male-dominated sport of alpine skiing. At the 2006 Olympic games, emergency medical personnel airlifted Vonn to a hospital after she crashed during a training run. Within two days, she was back on the slopes and competing despite the injury.

Though she didn’t medal in the event, she won a U.S. Olympic Spirit Award for her courage. Vonn's final win was a bronze at the 2019 World Championships, after which she announced her retirement.



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