By: Brianne Dempsey
As we closeout the end of Women’s History month, I wanted to take a few minutes to recognize some incredible athletes who have made profound impacts on the sport industries and paved the way for females to be successful where very few had been before.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee – Joyner-Kersee is a 4 time Olympian and 6 time Olympic medalist who twice won gold in the Heptathlon, an event she still holds the world record for from her performance in the 1988 Olympics. Joyner-Kersee’s athleticism is astounding, as many athletes will focus on one or two events, while Joyner-Kersee excelled in many and has maintained she did so without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs. Beyond her athletics, Joyner-Kersee is also recognized for her philanthropy, creating the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation and also co-founding Athletes for Hope.
Mia Hamm – Ask any female who group up playing soccer in the late 90s and early 00s who inspired them to pick up the game. My guess is 95% of them will answer Mia Hamm. Mia Hamm, along with the rest of the 1996 Women’s National Soccer Team, can almost positively be attributed with the boom in girls’ soccer in the US in the late 90s. Hamm is a two time World Cup Champion and two time Olympic goal medalist. She was also named the Women’s FIFA World Player of the Year the first two times the award was issued. Hamm has often been referred to as the Pele of women’s soccer. Hamm was also a co-founder of Athletes for Hope, as well as the founder of the Mia Hamm Foundation.
Martina Navratilova – Navratilova is hands down one of the best tennis players to ever take the court, male or female. She was ranked number 1 in the world for singles for an astonishing total 332 weeks, and a record 237 total weeks in doubles. Because of this Navratilova is the only tennis player to have been number 1 for both singles and doubles for over 200 weeks. Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, a record 31 women’s doubles titles and 10 major mixed doubles titles. As a result, she holds the record for most Grand Slam titles in the open era. Navratilova was the first open era player to have won six major singles titles without the loss of a single set – a feat only duplicated by Serena Williams, another incredible female athlete. Navratilova was also one of the first dominating female athletes to publicly identify herself as LGBTQ, and has since her retirement, gone on to be an activist for the community.
Nadia Comăneci – Comăneci is one of the most famous gymnasts in the entire world. At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, at the age of just 14, she became the first woman to ever score a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event, and the first person (male or female) to ever do it on the un-even bars. Comăneci went on to receive six more perfect tens that Olympics and won three gold medals. Comăneci has a total of nine Olympic medals (five of them gold) and four world championships. She is often credited as popularizing gymnastics globally.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias – Zaharias is the OG of women’s athletes. She won two gold medals in track and field in the 1932 Olympics, before she changed her focus to professional golf. She also played organized baseball and softball and was an accomplished diver, roller-skater, billiards player and bowler. Zaharias broke the accepted models of femininity in her time, including the accepted models of female athleticism. Zaharias was physically strong and socially straightforward about her strength. Although a sports hero to many, she was also derided for her “manliness”. Joyner-Kersee has stated that Zaharias was an inspiration to her to complete in multi-disciplinary track & field events.
Rhonda Glenn – Alright, I know I’ve already picked five, and Glenn was not actually a professional athlete. She was however, an accomplished amateur golfer. Glenn’s recognition on this list is not for her athleticism, it is because she was the first female sportscaster to be full time on a national TV network (ESPN), though she was a golf commentator for ABC prior to her start on ESPN. Having a full time female sportscaster undoubtedly helped females be taken more seriously in the world of sports, and she paved the way for other female journalists to succeed in the male dominated sports industry.