For many decades, women who found excellence in sports have stood tall as inspirations to the next generation of female athletes hoping to become legends someday.
Through the years, sports have become a global language of unity, so much that renowned athletes of today are fast becoming international idols, irrespective of their color or gender.
Among these 21st-century demi-gods are notable female athletes like Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, Lindsey Vonn, and Alex Morgan to name a few. Through their outstanding prowess in their respective professions, these women have changed the world and its perception of female strength and parity.
Little wonder women in sports have over the years served as pioneers of the remarkable day set aside to honor women all over the world. Notably, International Women’s Day marked annually on March 8, not only celebrates female excellence but also creates awareness about women’s rights, while honoring some legendary females in history.
As the world draws nearer to another day of commemorating the annual event, here is a list of ten outstanding women in sports set to champion International Women’s Day 2021.
1. WILMA RUDOLPH
Legendary sprinter, Wilma Rudolph became the first African-American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. She also snagged the fastest woman in the world record at the 1960 Olympics, completing the 100 meters sprint at 11.2 seconds, and the 200 meters at 22.9 seconds.
Additionally, Rudolph contributed her quota to the civil rights movement, dedicating years to advocating for the rights of African Americans and women.
She achieved these feats despite her history of poliomyelitis at 5 years old, which caused the loss of strength in her left leg.
2. SERENA WILLIAMS
Arguably the best female tennis player in the Open Era, Serena Williams paved her way to worldwide fame with her outstanding prowess. The 23 Grand Slam winner holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles among active players, earning her the record for the most tournament wins in the Open Era.
In 2019, Forbes listed Williams as the only woman among the highest-paid athletes of all time. Although Serena Williams is yet to win a Grand Slam since her win at the 2017 Australian Open, her legacy remains a force to reckon with.
Together with her sister, Venus Williams, this legendary tennis champion launched a new era for women in the world of tennis, focused on strength and power.
3. NASTIA LIUKIN
American gymnast, Nastia Liukin is a four-time all-around US national champion. Before her retirement in 2012, this gymnastic legend commanded such events as balance beam and uneven bars flawlessly, earning her numerous accolades.
As part of the US gymnastic team, she contributed to the countries’ victory in three world championships. She also participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where she snagged the Olympics all-round and won five Olympic medals.
Through her accomplishment, she tied the record of the most medals won by an American gymnast in a single, non-boycotted Olympic game. Following her retirement, she began endeavors to facilitate the growth of gymnastics. Today, as the host of the annual Nastia Liukin Cup, the icon has helped many upcoming gymnasts achieve international fame.
4. DANICA PATRICK
A recap of the history of the American Open Wheel racing never goes without the mention of Danica Patrick, the most accomplished woman in the game. During the 2008 Indy Japan 300, Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race. That feat remains unbroken to date.
Additionally, she holds the record for the highest finish by a woman, in the Indianapolis 500, emerging third place. Patrick also holds the record in the Daytona 500 where she finished at eight-place. Her accomplishments serve as an inspiration to women aspiring to take part in motorsports and auto racing.
5. MARIA SHARAPOVA
Tennis champion, Maria Sharapova remains the only Russian to achieve a professional Grand Slam. She became the world’s No. 1 player at eighteen, making her the first Russian female to achieve that feat.
In the run of her career, Sharapova has won five grand slam titles and 36 singles titles. Her record ranks her as the third most titles holder, behind the Williams sisters.
6. KATIE LEDECKY
Katie Ledecky is an outstanding female swimmer, with a record 14 world championship gold medals and five Olympic gold medals. Her medals are the most won by a female swimmer to date, making her an all-time greatest female swimmer.
Ledecky holds the world record in the female 1,500-meter, 800-meter, and 400-meter freestyle, having made her international swimming debut at fifteen. In 2016, the icon emerged as the most decorated female athlete at the Olympics. Notably, this swimming legend has broken fourteen world records since the onset of her career.
7. MISSY FRANKLIN
At seventeen, Missy Franklin gained the world’s attention by becoming the first American woman to snag four gold medals in a single Olympics. She achieved this during the 2012 Olympic games. Franklin went on to win six gold medals the next year at the World Aquatics Championship.
She remained the record holder in the world Aquatic championships for years, with 11 gold medals, until Ledecky outmatched her in 2017, with a record 14 gold medals.
Franklin retired in 2018, due to chronic shoulder pain, but her legacy lives on.
8. MISTY MAY-TREANOR AND KERRI WALSH JENNINGS
Beach volleyballers, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings go down in history as the greatest volleyball team of all time. Between 2004 and 2012, these two trailblazing athletes won three consecutive Olympic gold medals.
Additionally, May-Treanor and Jennings, who reigned for 11 years as a team, lost only one set during their career. In total, they made 21 consecutive Olympic wins, stamping their names in the book of sports stardom.
Upon May-Treanor’s retirement in 2012, her longtime teammate partnered up with April Ross. Together, the duo has continued to excel in the world of Beach volleyball. Today, Walsh Jennings remains the most decorated beach volleyball player, male or female, in history, following her win at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
9. DIANA TAURASI
Diana Taurasi remains one of the greatest basketball players to walk this earth. She is also an all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball. This renowned athlete began her professional pursuits after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Mercy.
Some of her accomplishments in her 15-year career include winning the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award, four Olympic gold medals, and three WNBA championships among others. Her excellence in female basketball became legendary, so much that late basketball champion, Kobe Bryant, tagged her the “White Mamba.”
10. LARISA LATYNINA
Despite retiring in 1966, Larisa Latynina’s escapades in the world of gymnastics remain unmatched. With nine Olympic gold medals, Latynina holds the record for most Olympic gold medals by a male or female gymnast.
She won a record 18 medals for the Soviet Union in the course of her career, a feat that remained unrivaled for 48 years. To date, many recognize the icon as the propelling force behind the establishment of the Soviet Union’s dominance in gymnastics.
The contributions and achievements of these legendary women have inspired a new era in the world of sports, making them worthy to be at the forefront of the International Women’s Day celebration.