The 10 Greatest Female Athletes of All-Time

1. In the 1984 Summer Olympics, Mary Lou Retton dominated gymnastics. She won the All Around Gold Medal becoming the first American woman ever to win a gold medal in gymnastics. She also won silver medals for Team and Vault, and bronze medals for Uneven Bars and Floor Exercise. Her five medals were the most won by any athlete at the ’84 Olympics. To this day she remains the only American ever to win the Olympic All Around Title. While she captured the hearts of much of America, nobody was as enthralled with Mary Lou as young girls, who recognized they could do great things, even when all the pressure in the world was bearing down on their narrow shoulders.

2. During her career, Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles in addition to a slew of other awards and accomplishments. She is also known as the woman who won a Battle of the Sexes tennis match against Bobby Riggs – a glorious accomplishment that made every woman cheer; it signaled the dawn of a new in-you-face style of tennis. Billie Jean went on to found of the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Association.

3. Florence Griffith Joyner. She was fast, she was stylish, and she was loved for her take-no-prisoners running style. Her legacy continues: the world records set in 1988 for the 100 meter and 200 meter races still stand.

4. Nadia Comăneci. At the age of 14 during the 1976 Montreal Olympics, she became the first woman to ever be awarded a perfect 10.0. During those Games she garnered six perfect 10s and well as three gold medals, and two more gold medals at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Her performances were technical, beautiful, and flawless.

5. Serena Williams. The Women’s Tennis Association has ranked her the number one singles player on eight occasions, from 2002 to 2017. She’s widely considered to be the greatest female tennis player of all time. Williams has ushered in a new era of power and athleticism in tennis.

6. Missy Copeland is the first African American prima ballerina the American Ballet Theatre’s history to be promoted to Principal Dancer. In addition to changing the complexion of the lilly-white ballet world, she’s also changed its shape. Unlike most ballerinas, Coupland’s body is sharply muscled; her strength is used to give her power, and not just grace. She’s a bold dancer and absolutely stunning on the stage.

7. Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry in 1967. During her run, race official Jock Semple grabbed her and attempted to pull off her bib. However, Switzer’s boyfriend was running with her and he shoved Semple to the ground and Switzer completed her race. She had to wait until 1972 for women to be officially welcomed to the marathon.

8. Allyson Felix. Fast, flashy and fabulous, Felix is sprinter who competes in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 400 meters. She dominates 200 meters, having won both Olympic gold and world championships. She’s taken home an additional five gold medals as a member of the women’s teams: three at 4 x 400 meters and two at 4x 100. She’s the only female track and field athelet to ever win six Olympic gold medals.

9. Natalie Coughlin is a twelve-time Olympic medalist who was the first woman to ever swim the 100 meter backstroke in less than a minute. Though she loves swimming, during her current career on ESPN, she’s made it clear she has other interests as well (including raising backyard chickens!) She’s so well-rounded and so strong, she’s a natural role model for young swimmers.

10. Michelle Kwan is tied with Maribel Vinson Owen for the highest number of U. S. Figure Skating Championships gold medals held. They both hold nine. But with two Olympic medals, she outnumbers Owen. To see Kwan on the ice is to see genuine artistry and grace. She was always calm, cool, and collected – but not remote. You always got the sense her performance was coming from the heart spontaneously.

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