As a husband of the best wife of all time, a son of a single mother, a brother of little sisters, I have much respect for female athletics and the work it takes to be great at a certain sport.
These athletes put in the work, the hours you didn’t see in the gym, at practice, in training, and were able to do great at their sport throughout their career. Whether they’ve since retired or are still in the game, the athletes on this list are considered one of the best athletes in their sport.
And when it comes to a list of the greatest female athletes of all time, I know this is an important list when it comes to breaking barriers, shattering glass ceilings, and paving the way for the next generation of female athletes in their respective sport.
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It’s also a difficult list because there’s been so many female athletes who’ve done incredibly in their sport, on and off the court, the pitch, the field, the ice. Helping their team to victory and helping in society to push the envelope, challenge notions of what a level playing field really is when it comes to equality.
And when you’re talking about a list with the 30 greatest female athletes of all time? We could spend hours and hours at a barber shop or your favorite local coffee shop debating back-and-forth who could be on this list, who should be in the top 10, even the top 30 in a certain sport! So, all that to be said, this list is going to be subjective and up for a (healthy) debate.
Tried my best to compile at least some of the best in different sports, so therefore there’s bound to be names that you’re like, ‘Oh, man, they’re not on the list?!’ It’s because I tried to level the playing field and make sure different best athletes from a range of sports could get on this list ’cause we’re not talking just one sport. We’re talking multiple sports throughout history.
So, let’s do this together, shall we?
Ladies (ladies first) and gentlemen, without further ado, here are the:
30 Greatest Female Athletes Of All Time
30 – Layne Beachley
Riding into this top 30 list, we’ll do so on some gnarley waves.
One of the best surfers in the sport, whether you’re talking men’s or women’s surfing, is Layne Beachley as she’s “regarded as the most successful female surfer in history” per her website.
Winning championship after championship back-to-back-to-back six times in a row gets you on this list: “Layne’s dedication to success saw her as the only surfer, male or female, to claim six consecutive world titles between 1998 and 2003. Layne went on to win a 7th world title in 2006” per her site.
29 – Zhang Yining
When you’re a world champion a double-digit amount of times and when you win four Olympic gold medals, you’re going to be on this list. Especially in a sport as competitive and intense as table tennis. Get this: Zhang Yining “was ranked first on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Ranking from January 2003 through November 2009, only dropping to second during two months in 2008” per Olympics.com.
That’s what you call being dominant in your sport.
Olympics.com describes in-depth Yining’s accomplishments: “Yining was the most dominant female table tennis player of the first decade of the 21st century. Not only did she earn 10 world titles – singles (2005, 2009), doubles (2003, 2005, 2007) and team (2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008) – she also won four Olympic titles, winning the singles and doubles in Athens 2004, and the singles and team competitions in front of a home crowd at Beijing 2008.”
28 – Cathryn Fitzpatrick
Cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports, so you already know if I’m going to try and compile a list of the greatest female athletes, cricket players are going to be on here. Representing the international sport involving bowling and wickets is Cathryn Fitzpatrick. You wouldn’t want to face her when she was bowling.
“Fitzpatrick (was) one of the fastest, most fearsome fast bowlers the game will ever see…She collected 180 wickets from 109 one-day internationals, a world record at the time and a feat that has kept her name in second position on the all-time ODI wickets tally behind on India’s Jhulan Goswami…(she clocked) speeds up to 125km/h…she was integral in both the 1997 and 2005 World Cup triumphs” according to cricket.com.au’s Emily Collin.
And on top of it, she did all this “at a time when female cricketers went without significant financial reward or widespread recognition” per Collin. That’s dedication. That’s what you call helping blaze trails for future female cricket players. That’s one of the greatest athletes of all time status right there.
27 – Claressa Shields
Flint, Michigan, stand up! Representing Flint is Claressa Shields. Team USA states “(s)he has inspired her hometown of Flint and women across the world with her story of overcoming a difficult childhood and intense adversity to become the greatest female boxer in the world”.
Shields was, per Team USA, “the first American woman to win gold in boxing and become the first American boxer (male or female) ever to win gold in back-to-back Olympic Games”.
There’s something to be said about overcoming adversity then after putting in the work becoming one of the best in your sport, setting historic records and not letting circumstances dictate your life. But instead fighting through them and knocking adversity in its face with a big K.O.
26 – Lindsay Vonn
From the boxing ring to the slopes, I’m telling you, we’re going from sport-to-sport in this one, so buckle your seatbelts and enjoy this trip. Oh, and bring a jacket, too because you’re going to be at a winter sports setting now with this next athlete.
If you’ve seen skiing at the Winter Olympics as a USA fan, you may have heard of Lindsay Vonn (or from the competitive dog and dog owner team show my wife and I watch: ‘The Pack’). Either way, whether it’s on the slopes or advocating for dogs, she knows what it takes to win.
“During the 15 years she competed at the highest level, she established herself as one of Alpine skiing’s all-time greats,” Olympics.com states. “At Vancouver 2010 she became the USA’s first ever women’s downhill Olympic champion. She set a number of new records for women, including an unmatched 82 World Cup victories, as well as several for men and women, including a record 18 victories on the same course (Lake Louise), 20 crystal globes and 43 downhill victories.”
25 – Jennifer Jones
I told you you’d need your jacket. Staying with winter sports, we’ll now head over to curling.
For those who don’t know, curling is “a game in which two teams of four players each slide curling stones over a stretch of ice toward a target circle” per the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
And someone who’s one of the best to ever play the sport? Jennifer Jones.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “(s)he is tied for the record with six gold medals. Her championship-clinching shot in the 2005 tournament — known simply as ‘The Shot’ — is considered one of the most iconic curling plays of all-time. Jones is one of only two women to reach 100 wins at the Canadian championships. She also skipped Canada to its second gold medal in Olympic women’s curling, at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Her rink was ranked No. 1 in Canada between 2005 and 2018. In 2019, a TSN panel named Jones the greatest Canadian women’s curler of all time.”
It’s also the six gold medals that solidify her spot in the top 25.
24 – Krisztina Egerszegi
From the ice to water that’s not frozen, it’s time to go for a swim.
Krisztina Egerszegi, per Brittanica.com, (is a) Hungarian swimmer…(and was) the youngest athlete ever to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. She won the 200-metre backstroke at the 1988, 1992, and 1996 Olympic Games, becoming only the second swimmer (after Dawn Fraser) to win an individual event at three Olympiads.”
Egerszegi is one of the most decorated Olympians with five golds, a silver, and a bronze. That’s a lot of medals.
23 – Janica Kostelić
She’s a “Croatian skier who, at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, became the first female skier to win four Olympic medals” per Brittanica.com.
And what can be inspiring to other girls out there, wanting to chase their dreams, listen to this:
“Janica Kostelic travelled with her family as she competed on the junior ski circuit in Europe,” Olympics.com stated. “Not having enough money to stay in hotels, they slept in tents and in their car.”
If you have a dream and want it, go get it. No matter the circumstance.
22 – Lisa Fernandez
The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum states: “One of the greatest female athletes of all time, Lisa Fernandez won a dominant pitcher and hitter, leading the United States to three consecutive Olympic gold medals in softball.”
Fernandez was simply one of the best pitchers to ever throw the ball.
She had “(a)s an Olympian…a 7-1 record with a 0.36 earned run average as a pitcher, and batted .302 with 15 runs batted in. Fernandez set Olympic records for most strikeouts by a pitcher in a single game (25, at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games) and highest batting average for an Olympic Games (.545 at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games)” per The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum.
UCLA, where she coaches and played college ball, notes that “Fernandez became the first softball player to win the prestigious Honda-Broderick Cup in 1993, given to the most outstanding collegiate female athlete in all sports. A four-time, First Team All-American, Fernandez led the Bruins to two national championships (1990 & 1992) and two runner-up finishes (1991 & 1993).”
21 – Hayley Wickenheiser
Back to the ice but now this time with some hockey and one of the best hockey players to ever pick up a hockey stick.
“Hayley Wickenheiser, (is a) Canadian ice hockey player who is widely considered the greatest female hockey player of all time,” Brittanica.com states. “A four-time Olympic gold medalist, Wickenheiser is Canada’s all-time leader in international goals (168), assists (211), and points (379). She was also the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league.”
Not only did she shatter the puck, she’s shattering glass ceilings as the Toronto Maple Leafs “promoted Wickenheiser to senior director of player development” in May of this year per Sportsnet.
20 – Marianne Vos
Now we’re hitting the roads with some cycling.
Cycling Weekly states: “World and Olympic champion across a variety of cycling disciplines, Marianne Vos is widely regarded as one of the greatest cyclists of all time. She won her first World cyclo-cross and road championships at the age of 19.”
Vos has two Olympic gold medals to her name. Olympics.com states “(i)n 2008 she added a third world title on the track (points race), making her the only world champion to win titles in these three disciplines.” She’s won race after race after race. But it hasn’t been easy.
On her website, she mentions how in 2015 she “took a break from pro cycling to recover from an injury and fatigue”. Then, in 2018, she won more and in 2019, she said she had “19 more victories”.
19 – Karine Ruby
Now back to winter sports and snowboarding, in particular. Olympedia.org states “Karine Ruby was the first woman to win a gold medal in snowboarding at the Winter Olympics, winning the giant slalom in 1998. She became one of the great racing snowboarders ever, winning six World Championships – giant slalom in 1996 and 2001, parallel giant slalom in 2001, and boardercross in 1997, 2001, and 2003 – and dominated the sport for almost a decade.”
Dominating for a decade? Go ahead and pencil her in as an automatic one of the top 30 greatest female athletes of all time.
And while she was one of the best to ever snowboard, recognizing her accomplishments and legacy in the sport, it’s also important to take a moment and recognize the tragedy her family and friends are going through, to honor and pray for them.
Olympics.com stated that she decided “to call time on her competitive career (and became) a mountain guide with a leading tour company…On 29 May 2009, while descending the Glacier du Géant at an altitude of 3,300 metres, Ruby fell 20 metres into a crevasse and was killed. She was 31. The whole of French sport, and particularly its mountain sports community, mourned the loss of one of their great champions.”
May God be with her family and friends continually through the years.
18 – Nadia Comăneci
Nadia Comăneci has five Olympic golds, three Olympic silvers, and an Olympic bronze medal to her name. Count ’em. That’s nine total!
Olympcs.com notes that “at the age of 14…(t)he Romanian gymnast scored a “…10” on the uneven bars in the team part of the gymnastics at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games…Comaneci got six more (10’s)…as she swept to three gold medals (all around, uneven bars and balance beam)…Blessed with exceptional skill, balance and a clean technique, she added two more gold medals to her Montreal one at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow (balance beam and floor), and won two World Championship golds (1978 in the balance beam and 1979 in the Team) and numerous European titles.”
17 – Simone Biles
With four Olympic gold medals and an Olympic bronze to her name, she’ll be back at it aiming for more in Tokyo.
Biles “(o)wns the most world medals in U.S. history (14) and the most world championships gold medals of any female gymnast (10)” per Team USA. That is one of the greatest female athletes of all time status right there!
Biles also “(b)ecame the first woman to win four straight U.S. all-around titles in 42 years at the 2016 P&G Championships” according to Team USA.
You can see her journey leading up to this year’s Olympics on Facebook Watch’s “Simone vs Herself”.
16 – Valerie Adams
Valerie Adams and shotput success go hand-in-hand. She’s got two Olympic golds and an Olympic silver, along with three Commonwealth golds and two Commonwealth silvers to her name.
Adams is the “daughter of a Tongan mother and English father…(and) was born in Rotorua, New Zealand” per 100% Pure New Zealand.
Overcoming adversity throughout her life, “Adams would go on to become the reigning Olympic, World and Commonwealth shot-put champions, and New Zealand’s foremost sportsperson – winning gold at the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games, 2008 Beijing Olympics (the country’s second gold in track and field since 1976), scoring an unbeaten 25 consecutive victories at the IAAF World Championships and breaking a slew of world records” according to 100% Pure New Zealand.
“Adams has famously credited her success to two moments in her life. The first was while watching the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games by her dying mother’s bedside, and thinking she would like to have a crack at it one day. The other was when she was still a teen, at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens where, much to her disappointment, she finished eighth while still recovering from an appendectomy only weeks earlier. It was those two moments that prepared her mentally for the challenges and wins that lay ahead.”100% Pure New Zealand: ‘New Zealand sports star: Valerie Adams’
15 – Zhang Ning
Ladies and gentlemen, you have now entered the top 15. Congrats! We’re moving from track and field now to badminton.
And Badmitton World Federation (BWF) Hall of Famer, Zhang Ning, serves up the start of the top 15 best female athletes list.
Zhang, according to BWF’s Dev Sukumar, “is renowned for winning back-to-back Olympic singles gold medals, but the significance of her achievements goes far beyond that. In a…long career for a top Chinese women’s singles player, Zhang straddled different generations, and indeed became better in the later years of her career, with her finest moment – the second Olympic gold on home turf in Beijing – coming when she was 33. The contest…was a showcase of supreme athleticism and skill, and will rank as one of the best women’s singles finals at the Olympics.
14 – Hazel McCallion
McCallion, according to Toronto Star’s Jillian Vieira, the “legendary former mayor of Mississauga is responsible for a lot of firsts in Canadian politics. Hazel McCallion’s secret? Confidence. ‘You have to feel like you can do anything a man can do,’ she says.”
Before politics, she was a trailblazer in her sport, hockey.
According to Mississauga News’ Iain Colpitts, “before McCallion…began her 36-year tenure as mayor of Mississauga in 1978, she was a professional women’s hockey player in Quebec, making $5 a game while playing for a team sponsored by Kik Cola.”
That is epic.
The Ontario Women’s Hokey Association stated she is a “(l)ong-time leader and advocate of girls and women’s hockey…Hazel is a highly respected leader who inspires girls, women and people of all cultures to have confidence in themselves and to pursue their dreams in order to create a stronger society.”
That is definitely greatest women athlete of all time-type status right there! Helping blaze, or in this case, skate trails for future females, whether that’s on the ice or off the ice in society.
13 – Diana Taurasi
From the rink to the court, Diana Taurasi is one of the best hoopers the WNBA has seen. She leads the league in its history in points and by a landslide with 9,040. And she’s still going at it in the league. She’s also fifth all-time in assists with 1,981. So not only does she score, she distributes, playing team basketball. It’s helped her win championship after championship.
Here’s just a few of her multiple accolades listed on WNBA.com:
- Three-time WNBA Champion (2014, 2009, 2007)
- Four-time Olympic gold medalist (2016, 2012, 2008, 2004)…One of only five athletes in history with four Olympic gold medals in basketball…no basketball athlete has five gold medals
- Six-time Euroleague Champion (2016, 2013, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007)
- 2009 WNBA MVP
12 – Ann Trason
“For years, Trason raced, and often beat, the best males in the sport”The Guadrian’s Jill Homer: ‘Pushing through the pain: ultrarunner Ann Trason makes a quiet comeback’
When you’re one of the best ultra runners in the sport, you make this list.
Just last year, Trason was inducted into the sports Hall of Fame per Ultra Running History as they state “Trason’s induction into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame signifies the very watershed for the sport that her achievements heralded: The first female inductee who was as celebrated for her running on mountain trails, as she was on roads and tracks…She was also named ‘Ultrarunner of the Year’ 12 times by Ultrarunning Magazine“.
“In 2013, at age 53, she surprised many when she returned to ultrarunning and ran a few 100s. It was no longer about racing and winning, it was about enjoying running in the mountains. She loved motivating and helping others. She said, “Don’t let anyone else say you can’t do something. The worst thing in life is not to try. I’d rather have failure than to not have tried at all.” Once she could no longer truly run because of her knees, she walked and finished many loop road events with determination. A new generation of ultrarunners, were able to share the ultra experience with a trailblazing pioneer and modern-day legend.”Ultra Running History: ‘Ann Trason – 2020 Hall of Fame Member’
Helping blaze the trails for future female ultra runners in this female sports race for equality gets you towards the top of this list as she is one of the greatest female athletes of all time.
11 – Bethany Hamilton
Unstoppable. It’s what this surfer lives out and encourages people around the the world to do, to be unstoppable.
Her story is one of true unstoppability, resilience, overcoming adversity, inspiration, and faith.
“Known most notably as one of the biggest comeback stories of our era, Bethany Hamilton has become synonymous with inspiration. Her story of determination, faith, and hope has resounded in encouragement worldwide. At the age of 13 as a rising surf star, Bethany lost her left arm to a 14-foot tiger shark, which seemed to end her dream career. However, one month after the attack, Bethany returned to surfing and within two years had won her first national surfing title. Bethany’s foundation of faith has been her backbone; her source of truth, hope, and strength. At 17 years old, she realized her dream of surfing professionally and she is still an active surf competitor to this day.”Bethany Hamilton’s website: ‘Biography’
To win multiple competitive events after losing an arm to a shark, that takes an incredible amount of faith, determination, hope, persistence, and athleticism. It’s what Hamilton’s about. It’s why she’s considered one of the greatest female athletes of all time.
10 – Mithali Raj
Starting off the top 10 is an athlete who just a few days ago, in July of this year (2021), broke a record as ESPN Cric Info’s Annesha Ghosh reports “Mithali Raj, the India Test and ODI captain, has surpassed former England captain Charlotte Edwards as the leading run-scorer in women’s international cricket”.
And she could be on her way to more as Ghosh reports that “Raj, who completed 22 years as an India cricketer last month, is one win away from becoming the most successful captain in women’s ODIs”.
Ghosh also describes her as “India’s greatest female batter…(and) (i)n October 2019, Raj, at 36, became the first woman to complete two decades in ODI cricket.”
9 – Ryoko Tani
From……to a combat sport: judo.
For those who don’t know, judo is “a sport developed from jujitsu that emphasizes the use of quick movement and leverage to throw an opponent” per the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Ryoko Tani dominated this sport.
“A medal winner in each of the five Olympic Games she took part in…(s)tanding only 1.46m tall (4.8 feet), Tamura went on to make her name in the 48kg (105.8 pounds) category, the lightest of all, eventually becoming the undisputed world No1 at that weight” per Olympics.com.
Get this: Tani, per Olympics.com, had “a whole 12 years unbeaten at international level. In the process, she maintained her dominance of the world championships, recording five more consecutive triumphs between 1997 and 2007 to take her haul of titles to seven, which was then an outright record for both men and women. Tamura’s first Olympic gold medal finally came at Sydney 2000, where she needed only 36 seconds to beat Russia’s Lyubov Bruletova by ippon in the final.”
8 – Tamika Catchings
Defense wins championships. Tamika Catchings embodied this as a basketball player, helping her team win. And win. And win some more.
“Tamika Catchings was one of the most tenacious defenders to ever play the game, and was a winner at every level. She is one of 11 women who have captured championships in college and the WNBA, as well as gold medals at the Olympics and FIBA World Cup.”USA Basketball: ‘Tamika Catchings‘
If you want to be the WNBA’s all-time steals leader, you have to catch up with Tamika Catchings.
“A four-time Olympic gold medalist, Catchings wrapped up her playing career at the end of the 2016 WNBA season and left the league as its all-time steals leader,” USA Basketball states. “The three-time Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award winner was a five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and 10-times named to the WNBA All-Defensive Team.”
Catchings also is still in the game in the front office.
“Catchings did not step away from the game at the end of the 2016 season, she currently serves as Vice President of basketball operations and general manager for the Indiana Fever,” USA Basketball states.
And not only that, she also, according to Sports Spectrum’s Kevin Mercer, was a part of the “Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020”.
“I am incredibly honored to be included in this year’s Naismith Hall of Fame, and God only knows the dreams I had as a little girl to be able to follow in my father’s footsteps,” Catchings ‘told the WNBA, referring to her father Harvey, an 11-year NBA player’ according to Sports Spectrum. “I am so thankful to stand alongside so many amazing men and women that have come before me.”
7 – Mia Hamm
The US Women’s National Team and Mia Hamm go hand-in-hand. A part of that dynamic USWNT World Cup and Olympic gold medal run, she has to be one of the greatest female athletes in history.
Hamm, according to the MAC Hermann Trophy site, finished her career with “275 International Caps, 158 goals, and 144 assists…Other accolades for Mia include being elected U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year five years in a row from 1994 to 1998, and winning three ESPY awards including Soccer Player of the Year and Female Athlete of the Year.”
According to Biography.com, “Mia Hamm is largely considered the best female soccer player in history. She played with the U.S. women’s national soccer team for 17 years, building one of the biggest fan bases of any American athlete. She won the Women’s World Cup in 1991 and 1999, and took Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004.”
6 – Babe Zaharias
Alright, ladies and gentlemen, the top 5. And starting off this top five is someone who excelled at pretty much every sport it seemed like: Babe Zaharias.
When you have a greatest athletes list, it’s only right to include in the top-10 an athlete who played so many sports and were great at them. Just see what how the LPGA described her accomplishments: “Zaharias was an Olympian who was often called the ‘greatest female athlete in history.’ She starred in track and field, winning gold medals and setting or tying world records in the 80-meter hurdles and the javelin, and winning the silver medal in the high jump at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She also was an All-American basketball player, earned her nickname after hitting five home runs in a single baseball game in the style of…Babe Ruth, and was said to have been equally adept in tennis, bowling, billiards, diving and roller skating.”
“But it was golf, and specifically, the LPGA, where Zaharias made her final mark. She began focusing on golf in 1934, and won her second tournament a year later at the 1935 Texas Women’s Invitational. Two weeks later, the USGA ruled that she was a professional athlete because of her earnings in baseball and basketball…”LPGA
5 – Marta
Going back to chasing your dreams, another great example of overcoming any challenges and finding a way to pursue your passions, listen to some of this soccer player’s journey.
“Prevented from playing football with her male peers because of her gender, Marta began honing her skills as a young girl by kicking abandoned deflated footballs and improvised balls made up of wadded grocery bags through the streets of her small town” according to Brittanica.
Talk about overcoming! And helping blaze a trail for future women footballers.
Marta “holds the record for the most goals scored at FIFA World Cup tournaments” per Google Arts & Culture.
“Marta, byname of Marta Vieira da Silva, (is a) Brazilian athlete who is widely considered the greatest female football (soccer) player of all time,” Brittanica states. “Marta was a six-time winner of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Player of the Year award (2006–10 and 2018).”
4 – Michelle Akers
Michelle Akers is one of the best female athletes of all time. Period. Her resilience, leadership, faith, and determination helped pave the way for what you now know today as a successful, historic USWNT (US Women’s National Team).
“Akers is described by former USA coach Tony DiCicco as ‘the best woman that has ever played the game…'” per Akers’ website.
“Akers, an athlete ahead of her time, joined the national team upon its inception in 1985 and dominated the women’s game with her skill, size, strength, and savvy, scoring the first official USWNT goal, and was the first to sign a shoe-endorsement. She was the leading scorer in the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup™ with 10 goals in 6 matches, including the winner in the Final against Norway in Guangzhou, China to make the US the first ever Women’s World Cup Champions. She also set a World Cup record by scoring 5 goals in a 7-0 victory over Taiwan and earned both the Silver Ball Award and the Golden Boot, as she led the Americans to their first world championship. “MichelleAkers.org: ‘Soccer Career’
Per the Chicago Tribune’s Bonnie DeSimone when she was playing on the USWNT, “Akers is often quiet by nature, a devout Christian who takes pains not to appear holier-than-thou. But when she is feeling strong, there is no one more vibrant. She loves to laugh, to horseback ride and to backpack…”According to Encyclopedia.com, “Michelle Akers led the United States to an Olympic gold medal and two World Cup championships in women’s soccer, and has drawn acclaim for her successful battle against chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome.”
Overcoming adversity is what Akers did best. And now she’s helping horses overcome adversity as “she provides sanctuary and healing to abused and unwanted animals and developing community outreach programs to support local animal shelters across the nation” per her site.
3 – Allyson Felix
A mother still competing at an international level, a decorated Olympic champion, one of the fastest women in history. Yeah, that’s who you consider one of the greatest female athletes of all time.
As The Guardian’s Andy Bull describes her, “Felix claims another victory for mothers by winning (a) Tokyo Olympics spot…Felix is 35, and has already won six Olympic gold medals, as well as three silver, which makes her the most successful female athlete in history…Win one more in Tokyo and she’ll equal Carl Lewis’s all-time record for an athlete from the US.”
What makes Felix great is beyond the racing, though:
“My goal is to be more Christ-like each and every day and that is not an easy task,” Felix said according to Beyond the Ultimate. “I know that I’m trying to be something different from [other Olympic runners] and after I run I hope that people can distinguish [Christ-like] character in the way I present myself.”
2 – Serena Williams
Another mother who’s dominated her sport, setting records is someone who wins set after set, game after game, match after match. And it’s not just with any matches. She’s showed up in the Grand Slam matches and won 23 times.
That’s the most in tennis singles history, even more than the men’s singles players, including Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic (per Statista).
You already know, Serena Williams has shattered tennis balls and glass ceilings, breaking barriers in her sport and is widely considered one of the best female athletes of all time. Hands down.
1 –Joan Joyce
A pioneer in the game, for multiple games. Joan Joyce, per the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, “is an extraordinary athlete, leading multiple teams to national and international championships. She played competitive basketball and volleyball and qualified for the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in 1977. However, softball was the sport in which she made her biggest mark, and Joyce is considered one of the best softball players ever to play the game.”
You heard that right.
MLB.com’s Matt Monagan, who stated “(Ted) Williams…famously said Joyce was the greatest pitcher he’d ever faced“, listed Joyce’s athletic accomplishments:
- “She was also one of the best golfers — competing on the LPGA tour for 19 years…(she) holds the Guinness record for fewest putts in a PGA or LPGA round with a minuscule 17.”
- “She’s (was) named to the Women’s Basketball Association All-America team four times and Amateur Athletic Union All-America team three. She played for the USA Women’s National team in 1964-65 and holds the record for the most points in an AAU tournament game with 67.”
- “She was a player-coach and all-east regional player in the United States Volleyball Association. She took her team to four National Tournament appearances.”
- “She was hired to be a professional bowler…”.
But wait, there’s more. While her playing career spanning multiple sports was incredible, you have to see her coaching career. Guess what sport she chose to coach.
Florida Atlantic University describes her coaching career: “After concluding an illustrious playing career that spanned parts of four decades in numerous sports, Joyce was named head coach at FAU in 1994. As Joyce enters her 27th season with the Owls, she is the only FAU softball head coach in program history, racking up eight Conference Coach of Year titles in three different conferences along the way. Under Joyce, the program’s accomplishments are unparalleled: eight-consecutive Conference Championships (1997-2004) – 12 in all (2006, 2007, 2016, 2018) – and eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances (1997-2004) – 11 in all (2006, 2015, 2016).”
This list was a toss up. I had Serena in at the top spot actually for a while. Then, while researching more about Joyce, I couldn’t not place her first on this list. It could’ve gone either way, just with the topic of this list, the greatest athletes, with all the success Joyce has ad in multiple sports and in coaching, she just got the slight edge over the rest of the top 10 because it could’ve really been anyone in this top 10 or anyone on this list who could be considered the greatest female athlete of all time. Especially within their own respective sport.
You made it! Congrats!
I know. If you’ve made it this far, there may be some names you may have not recognized at first or even may be surprised that athletes from certain sports that aren’t mentioned a lot in the ‘mainstream’ made this list. Good, that’ll get you to think. That there were women who were trailblazers in their sport or who may be in a sport that’s super popular in the world outside of of the US.
Sports is appreciated and played by people around the world. Gotta’ give female athletes around the world respect in their sports!
Hope you enjoyed this list. Let me know in the comments who your top 30 greatest athletes of all time list is. And have a great trail-blazing, glass shattering-type of day!
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 30 Greatest Female Athletes Of All Time
- 2 30 – Layne Beachley
- 3 29 – Zhang Yining
- 4 28 – Cathryn Fitzpatrick
- 5 27 – Claressa Shields
- 6 26 – Lindsay Vonn
- 7 25 – Jennifer Jones
- 8 24 – Krisztina Egerszegi
- 9 23 – Janica Kostelić
- 10 22 – Lisa Fernandez
- 11 21 – Hayley Wickenheiser
- 12 20 – Marianne Vos
- 13 19 – Karine Ruby
- 14 18 – Nadia Comăneci
- 15 17 – Simone Biles
- 16 16 – Valerie Adams
- 17 15 – Zhang Ning
- 18 14 – Hazel McCallion
- 19 13 – Diana Taurasi
- 20 12 – Ann Trason
- 21 11 – Bethany Hamilton
- 22 10 – Mithali Raj
- 23 9 – Ryoko Tani
- 24 8 – Tamika Catchings
- 25 7 – Mia Hamm
- 26 6 – Babe Zaharias
- 27 5 – Marta
- 28 4 – Michelle Akers
- 29 3 – Allyson Felix
- 30 2 – Serena Williams
- 31 1 –Joan Joyce
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