The Greatest Female Athletes of All Time

Female Sports Stars

Pay, facilities, and visibility for female athletes still differ significantly from those of male athletes, even though Title IX guarantees equal chances for both genders. Moreover, the sexist adage “play like a lady” and the realisation that most people in the sports industry somehow demand less of them prevent a lot of female athletes from reaching their prime. That’s why the world watches with fascination when female athletes emerge who not just defy but also shatter notions of what women may achieve. These remarkable ladies are listed below.

In recognition of the outstanding women who have touched the sports world, we’ve compiled a list of the best female athletes of all time in honor of Women’s History Month. Learn about which athlete holds the world records, who won four World Cups and which famous athletes on our list are some of the most successful women in the history of professional s,ports and more!

So, let’s get into the list of the greatest female athletes in the world!

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova is the only Russian player to have won a Grand Slam. Sharapova was the first Russian woman to rank as the world’s number one when she was eighteen years old. 

36 solo championships and five Grand Slam victories were earned by Sharapova. She is regarded as one of the greatest players in history. 

In addition, she has participated in several humanitarian projects. For example, she served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNDP, concentrating on the Chornobyl Recovery and Development Program. In 2018, she also started a program where she mentors female entrepreneurs. 

Simone Biles

Being one of the highest-paid athletes in the field of gymnastics and one of the best female gymnasts of all time is what can be said about Biles. The amazing thing about Simone Biles is that she is only 26 years old. She is without a doubt the female #GOAT of gymnastics and a national US treasure. 

She made history in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when she became the first female gymnast from the US to win four gold medals in one competition. In addition, from 2013 to 2015, she became the first woman gymnast to win three global all-around titles in a row.

She has won 32 medals overall in the Olympics and World Championships, showcasing the unique ability to combine unmatched strength, grace, and unfathomable flexibility to accomplish feats that other gymnasts are just not able to match. 

Biles also made history by being the first and only gymnast from the United States to win a medal in every event at the Olympics. Though Simone Biles is already known for three movements named after her, her impact goes beyond the sports world as a trailblazer for women’s rights and mental health. She encourages people to get therapy and accepts that it’s alright to not feel okay by being upfront about her issues. 

Soaring to become one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time, Biles is a champion both inside and beyond the gym. 

Steffi Graf

Without the one and only Steffi Graf—the female tennis player who became the first to win both an Olympic gold medal and a Grand Slam in the same year—we would be unable to compile a list of the top 20 female athletes. One of the most dominant female tennis players of the 20th century, we cannot stress just how incredible her accomplishments are.

Steffi achieved an incredible achievement in 1988 by using her forehand to demolish the Australian, French, Wimbledon and United States Opens, losing only two sets in the process. Steffi’s reign of absolute dominance is evidenced by the fact that she set a record by being the top-ranked tennis player for 377 weeks since the WTA started keeping track of it.

Florence Griffith Joyner

The fastest woman in the world was an American track and field athlete by the name of Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner, often known as Flo-Jo. In 1988, she broke the 100 and 200-meter world records. Her record-breaking athleticism and unique sense of style helped her become well-known in the late 1980s.

She was eligible to race in the 1980 Olympics in the 100 meters, but the U.S. boycott prevented her from going. She was still in college. Four years later, in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she made her Olympic debut by winning a silver medal in the 200-meter event. Griffith broke the previous world record in the 100-meter sprint at the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials. She went on to compete in the 1988 Olympics and won three gold medals.

Griffith Joyner unexpectedly stopped competing in sports in February 1989. The 38-year-old woman passed away in her sleep in 1998 following an epileptic episode brought on by a congenital anomaly. Griffith Joyner is at the Lake Forest cemetery El Toro Memorial Park.

Wilma Rudolph

The inaugural American female athlete to win three gold medals in one Olympics was sprinter Wilma Rudolph. At the 1960 Olympics, she overcame the lack of strength in her left leg and foot, which was caused by polio when she was five years old. This victory made her the fastest woman in history. Both the 100- and 200-meter records were held by her, with times of 11.2 and 22.9 seconds, respectively.

Rudolph grew to be known internationally and became a symbol for female and black athletes as a result of the Olympics’ extensive worldwide television coverage in 1960. Rudolph blazed a path for the rights of Black women at the height of the civil rights movement. Her legacy endures today because she broke down the barrier of all-male track and field competitions. 

Lisa Leslie

Los Angeles Sparks #GOAT Lisa Leslie has excelled at every level of competitive basketball she played in, carving out a spot for herself on the Mount Rushmore of women’s basketball. 

Leslie would go on to earn best player honors in high school, college, professional leagues, and international basketball. She also made history by being the first female basketball player to record a slam dunk during a WNBA game, even though she was only in her sophomore year of high school. 

Leslie would go on to earn an incredible eight times as an All-WNBA First Team selection, three WNBA MVPs, two DPoY awards, two WNBA crowns, and a WNBA Finals MVP. For her groundbreaking contributions to women’s basketball, Leslie was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Billie Jean King

Throughout her lengthy and remarkable career, Billie Jean King has won an astounding 39 Grand Slam titles. She’s also been a loyal supporter of LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights. She is considered the greatest female golfer of all time. 

The wounds on King attest to that. When she competed in and won the historic “Battle of the Sexes” exhibition match against former tennis champion Bobby Riggs in 1973, she shattered every myth surrounding women in sports. Women were now inducted into the world golf championships thanks to King. It demonstrated that, given the desire, the little King—and any other female athlete—can be as bit as tough as men. 

By setting up a meeting that resulted in the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and threatening to withdraw from the 1973 United States Open if female tennis players were not given equal prize money compared to their male counterparts, King was the first female athlete who proceeded to shatter stereotypes in the sports industry. 

Subsequently, the same year, the U.S. Open organisers decided to give female tennis players the same prize money, making it the first major tennis event of its kind. King continues to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and, in 2014, founded the Billie Jean King Initiative as a way to promote diversity and inclusivity. 

Serena Williams

As the finest female tennis player of the Open Era, Serena Williams is held in the highest respect as one of the greatest athletes in tennis. Her triumphs, alongside her sister Venus Williams’, have made the sisters role models for younger, aspiring tennis athletes.

Tied for third on the record, she has the most Grand Slam victories in combined singles, doubles, and mixed doubles among active players. Within the Open Era, she is ranked second. She’s one victory away from Margaret Court’s all-time record and holds the record for the most event victories in the Open Era with 23 Grand Slam singles championships. 

She is credited as being a trailblazer of the new wave of female tennis players that emphasise power, together with her sister, the equally legendary Venus Williams, both of who are iconic athletes. According to Forbes, she was also frequently one of the few female athletes on the list of the highest-paid athletes worldwide throughout her career. 

In 2022, she said that she was going to change her career path beyond tennis, and her incredible performance at the US Open later that year was mostly seen as her last match.

Venus Williams

One of the greatest women in tennis of all time is Venus Williams, along with her sister Serena, both of whom are world champions. The Women’s Tennis Association recognised her as the number 1 player in the Open Era and second overall, making her the first African American woman to hold that rank. Along with sister Serena, Venus is one of the world’s highest-paid female athletes in Olympic history, professional sports, in women’s sports, and on our list. 

Tied for eighth in the Open Era and ranked 12th overall, she has won seven Grand Slam singles titles. Her record in Grand Slam Women’s Doubles championships is likewise undefeated. 

An Olympic gold medalist during her time, Williams won four Olympic gold medals. In addition, she earned a silver medal in mixed doubles, tying Kathleen McKane Godfree for the most Olympic medals ever won by a man or female tennis player. She is the sole athlete to have four medals from Olympic competitions.

Lindsey Vonn

With 82 World Cup race victories under her belt and being one of just six notable female sports stars to have won World Cup races in all five skiing disciplines, Lindsey Vonn is one of the most accomplished female alpine skiers of all time. Furthermore, out of all skiers, male or female, she holds the third-highest super rating.

Even with severe injuries including two ruptured knee ligaments and a fractured ankle, Vonn went on to become the all-time greatest female alpine skier. At age 32, Vonn became the oldest female athlete to win a medal at the World Championships when she resumed competitive alpine skiing in January 2017. She repeated the record in the 2019 World Championships at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

Soon after, Lindsey Vonn announced the end of her career as the all-time leader in the number of women’s World Cup victories (82), a record that Mikaela Shiffrin broke in 2023. As the face of alpine skiing for a considerable amount of time, Vonn has raised awareness of the sport, particularly during the Winter Olympics. As one of just three winter sports professionals to receive the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Year award, Vonn is among the few real household names in the world of winter sports.

Through her work with the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, Vonn keeps establishing her legacy.

Mildred Ella Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Terms like “prodigy,” “game-changer,” and “innovator” are used so frequently that they eventually start to lose their meaning. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, widely regarded as the best female athlete of the 20th century and one of the top female athletes in the world, is an exceptional athlete who personifies all three words.

At the age of 21, Zaharias broke four world records during the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She also became the first and only athlete to earn medals in at least one running event, one jumping event, and one throwing event at the Olympics—a record that still holds today. Zaharias was among the pioneering female athletes who excelled in many sports. 

She started playing professional golf in 1935 and helped to establish the LPGA circuit. During her career, she won 48 tournaments, 10 major championships, and everything there was to win in both amateur and professional golf. The LPGA Hall of Fame honored her in 1951.

Ronda Rousey

At the pinnacle of Ronda Rousey’s unmatched power and fame in the UFC, when women’s MMA first gained widespread attention, no one attracted as much attention to mixed martial arts as she did.

There’s no denying that she was one of the sport’s biggest draws, proving that women could hold their own in the octagon (or any other fighting venue of their choice). Remember, Rousey won silver at the 2007 World Championships in Judo and placed third in the 2008 Olympics before she even worked in the UFC.

Following her time in the UFC, Rousey made a smooth transition to the squared circle of professional wrestling. True enough, professional wrestlers don’t genuinely enter the arena to injure one another… That being said, there’s no denying that the realm of sports entertainment is home to some of the best athletes in history. 

After being the first fighter among females to be admitted into the UFC Hall of Fame, the first female champion of the UFC, the first woman to win the organisation’s initial women’s bantamweight championship (until 2022), and the first woman to hold the record for most successful UFC title defenses by a woman, Rousey announced the end of her illustrious career in mixed martial arts. 

Since then, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey has been working in the sports entertainment industry and making history. She cemented her position in the industry by being the first woman to win the WWE WrestleMania 39 main event, which took place on the “biggest stage of all time.”

Martina Navratilova

One of the greatest professional athletes in terms of tennis players in history is definitely Martina Navratilova. In both singles (332 weeks) and doubles (237 weeks), she is the only player to hold the top spot for more than 200 weeks. A record 31 major women’s doubles titles, 10 major mixed doubles titles, and 18 Grand Slam singles titles were all won by her.

Reportedly the greatest performance by a player at a major tournament, she won the Wimbledon women’s singles title a record nine times, including six in a row. 

A Career Grand Slam in women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, comprising all senior Grand Slam titles, is only accomplished by three women, including Navratilova. During the 1982–1986 five-season period, she was victorious in 428 of 442 singles matches. She has the greatest winning streak (74 victories in a row) and the best win-loss record (86-1) in the Open Era.

After coming out as bisexual in 1981, Navratilova has been a vocal supporter of animal rights, child welfare, and homosexual rights. She has drawn criticism, meanwhile, for remarks that were deemed “transphobic.” 

Marta Vieira da Silva

Marta Vieira da Silva is more often known as “Marta”. In the world of athletics, you can tell you’ve made it when everyone calls you by that one name. 

In a similar vein to Pelé for men’s football, Marta is regarded as the best female player of all time. With 111 goals in 131 appearances for her club and nation, Marta has essentially won every trophy possible in women’s football. 

In five FIFA Women’s World Cups, Marta became the first player—male or female—to score a goal. The record for the most goals scored by a player in the competition, male or female, was broken with a total of 17.

Being one of the greatest female footballers of all time, Marta was named FIFA Female Player of the Year six times in a row from 2006 to 2010. She took home the Golden Ball and Golden Boot from the 2007 Women’s World Cup in addition to a silver medal from the Olympics in 2004 and 2008. 

Lexi Thompson

Playing on the LPGA Tour is American professional golfer Alexis Thompson. She was the youngest golfer to ever earn a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open, having turned 12 years old. She became a professional in June 2010 at the age of 15.

When Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic on September 18, 2011, she became the youngest LPGA event champion ever, having just been 16 years, 7 months, and 8 days old. Three months later, on December 17, 2011, she won the Dubai Ladies Masters by four strokes, making her the second-youngest winner of an event on the Ladies European Tour.

At 19 years, 1 month, and 27 days, she became the second youngest LPGA player to win a major title when she emerged victorious from the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship (she currently holds a spot in the top 5 youngest LPGA major winners). 

Danica Patrick

In the history of American open-wheel racing, Danica Patrick has achieved the highest level of accomplishment for women. During the 2008 Indy Japan 300, she was the inaugural female driver in the history of the sport, setting several firsts for women. 

In the Indianapolis 500 (third) and Daytona 500 (eighth), Patrick also recorded the best finish for a woman. Her influence on the sport cannot be denied, even if she did not achieve the level of success that many had anticipated.

Patrick is widely recognized for having encouraged more women to participate in auto racing and other motorsports, despite the fact that the business is primarily male.

Michelle Kwan

Michelle Kwan was a competitive figure skater before she retired. Kwan has won five world championships (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003), nine U.S. championships (1996, 1998–2005), and two Olympic medals (1998, Bronze, 2002) in figure skating. Regarding the record for the most National Championships ever, she and Maribel Vinson are tied.

Being the most decorated figure skater in American history and considered one of the most famous figure skaters in the world, Kwan participated in senior competitions for more than ten years. She is regarded as one of the greatest figure skaters of all time because of her consistency and expressive artistic ability on the rink.

She was the best-paid skater in the U.S. Figure Skating Association from 1997 to 2005 in terms of appearance fees and prize money. She was also among the highest-paid Winter Olympic skaters in terms of sponsorships. Regarding the Champions on Ice tours, Kwan was the skater with the highest salary.

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