Katie Ledecky Named AP Female Athlete of the Year -- Here's a Look at the Past 20 Winners of the Award

Katie Ledecky Named AP Female Athlete of the Year — Here’s a Look at the Past 20 Winners of the Award

Katie Ledecky has established herself as one of the greatest swimmers – male or female – of all-time, consistently performing well on the biggest stages (or pools, in this case). And after an impressive 2022 season, she’s adding to her list of accomplishments as this year’s AP Female Athlete of the Year.

After winning two golds and two silver medals at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Ledecky was poised to keep her momentum going as she entered the 2022 World Championships in Budapest. She went on to win a gold medal in all four of her freestyle events – the 400m, 800m, 1500m, and 4x200m. 

She set championship records in 400m and 4x200m events, and became the first swimmer, male or female, to win an event at the World Championships five years in a row. Four months later, she set world records in the 1500m short course and the 800m short course at the FINA Swimming World Cup. 

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Past 20 Winners of the AP Female Athlete of the Year

For Katie Ledecky, this is her second time winning AP Female Athlete of the Year – she first won the award in 2017 as a freshman at Stanford University. The 2016-17 season saw her set 12 NCAA records and nine American records en route to leading Stanford to their first team title in nearly 20 years. 

She won four golds at the 2016 Olympics, then went haywire at the 2017 World Championships – which, ironically, was held in Budapest (like in 2022) – winning five gold medals and one silver medal. She set a then-championship record in the 400m freestyle and an American record in the 4x100m freestyle. 

Now, Ledecky becomes just the 19th female athlete to win the AP Female Athlete of the Year award multiple times. She’s one of just 61 females to win the award since it was introduced in 1931 – all but 13 of them have been American. Let’s take a look at the 20 past AP Female Athlete of the Year winners. 

20. Candace Parker (2021, 2008)

Candace Parker is one of the greatest and most versatile female basketball players of all-time. She was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 and went on to win Rookie of the Year and MVP that season – the same year she won her first AP Female Athlete of the Year award. 

13 years later, Parker won the award again after helping lead the Chicago Sky to a WNBA title – the second of her career after winning it in 2016 with LA. She’s a two-time MVP, a seven-time All-Star, and an All-Star MVP. Most importantly, she’s a future Hall of Famer whenever she decides to hang them up.

19. Naomi Osaka (2020)

Naomi Osaka is known for both her excellence on the tennis court and her voice as an activist – both of which were on display in 2020. It was a weird season for all sports, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing most of them to a halt. When play resumed for the ATP Tour, Osaka showed what she’s capable of. 

In back-to-back weeks, Osaka played in the Cincinnati Open and US Open – both in New York. Not only did she win both events, including her second US Open at just 22 years old, but she used that stage to raise awareness for the many African Amercans who were killed by police in the US in recent years. 

18. Simone Biles (2019, 2016)

Simone Biles joins Katie Ledecky as one of the select few to win AP Female Athlete of the Year twice. She first won it in 2016 following her incredible run at the 2016 Olympics – where she won five medals, four of which were gold. She set a US record for most golds in women’s gymnastics in a single Olympiad.

Biles won the award a second time in 2019 after a stellar performance at the 2019 Artistic Gymnastics Championships (World Championships) in Stuttgart, Germany. She appeared in five events and won a gold medal in each of them. She also won the Stuttgart World Cup, GK US Classic, and US Nationals.

17. Serena Williams (2018, 2015, 2013, 2009, 2002)

Serena Williams is the only female athlete to come close to Babe Didrikson’s record of six AP Female Athlete of the Year awards. She has won the award a total of five times between 2002 and 2018, proving that age is just a number. She was also named AP Female Athlete of the Decade, the first ever recipient.

In the first four years she won the award (2002, 2009, 2013, and 2015), Serena combined for 10 Grand Slam titles – three of which came in an impressive 2015 season. As for 2018, she overcame adversity in her return to tennis following her pregnancy, eventually being named runner-up at the 2018 US Open. 

16. Mo’ne Davis (2014)

Mo’ne Davis was all the rage at the 2014 Little League World Series, being just one of two girls to play in the tournament. She was a pitcher you didn’t want to bat against and became the first girl to earn a win and throw a shutout in tournament history. Not only that, but she became the sixth girl to record a hit. 

Following the Little League World Series, she became the first Little League player to appear on the front cover of Sports Illustrated. She now plays softball for Hampton University and has a bright future ahead of her – no matter what she decides to do. And while she doesn’t pitch anymore, she’s an effective batter. 

15. Gabby Douglas (2012)

Gabby Douglas started the 2012 calendar year by putting up the highest total all-around score at the AT&T American Cup – despite being an alternate at the competition. She then won two gold medals at the Pacific Rim Championships that same month and three medals (one gold) at Nationals not long after. 

Then came the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where Douglas won a gold medal in the team event and an all-around gold medal – in doing so, she became the first woman of color to win the all-around title. She competed in four events total, but came in eighth in uneven bars and seventh in balance beam.

14. Abby Wambach (2011)

Abby Wambach was spectacular during the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany – her third World Cup appearance. While she didn’t score in the first two group matches, she did score in the third and the US narrowly advanced to the quarterfinal. That’s when things got really interesting for the United States.

Down 2-1 in the quarterfinal, Wambach scored an impressive header goal in stoppage time – 120+2 minutes. It sent the game to PKs, where the US won. They then advanced to the final after a 3-1 win over France, but lost to Japan. Wambach won the Silver Ball, Bronze Boot, and a silver medal for her efforts.

13. Lindsey Vonn (2010)

Lindsey Vonn had a year to remember in 2010. At just 25 years old, she won her third consecutive World Cup and finished in first place in the Super-G, Downhill, and Combined events. She also competed in the Slalom and Giant Slalom, but finished in 14th and 28th place, respectively. Of course, that’s just the start. 

Vonn almost didn’t compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics – her third Olympic appearance – due to an injury, but ended up healing in time. She ended up winning a gold medal in the Downhill event and a bronze medal in the Super-G event – the first two Olympic medals of her long and illustrious career.  

12. Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2006)

Lorena Ochoa was one of the greatest golfers in the world between 2006 and 2009 – winning AP Female Athlete of the Year twice in that span (back-to-back, nonetheless). It all started in 2006, when she shot an incredible 62 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship – tied for the lowest ever score by a male or a female. 

She won six tournaments in 2006 and was named LPGA Tour Player of the Year, Money Winner, and Vare Trophy winner – she won each of those awards in 2007, as well. Speaking of 2007, she was a runner up in the U.S. Women’s Open and won her first major championship at the Women’s British Open.

11. Annika Sörenstam (2005, 2004, 2003)

Annika Sörenstam is a three-time winner of the AP Female Athlete of the Year – one of five women to do so and one of three women to do so in three consecutive years. In 2003, the first year she won the award, Sörenstam became the first female golfer since Babe Zaharias to play in a PGA Tour event (men).

Between 2003 and 2005, Sörenstam won a total of 24 LPGA Tour events and won the Women’s PGA Championship each year. She also won the British Open in 2003 and the Chevron Championship in 2005 – she won five of her 10 major championships during this span. She was nothing short of unstoppable. 

10. Jennifer Capriati (2001)

Heading into the 2001 calendar year, Jennifer Capriati had never won a major title – a difficult thing to do with Martina Hingis, the Williams’ sisters, and Monica Seles constantly getting in her way. But 2001 was bound to be her year and that’s exactly what it was – winning the Australian Open and French Open.

Capriati also reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open, losing to Justine Henin at Wimbledon and losing to Venus Williams at the US Open. By October 15th, Capriati outlasted everyone else on the tour by becoming world No. 1 for the first time and ended the year as the world No. 2. 

9. Marion Jones (2000)

Marion Jones intended on winning five gold medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. While she didn’t achieve that, she did walk away with five medals – three gold and two bronze – which was the most of any female track and field athlete at the time. She was an unstoppable force in Sydney.

Unfortunately, she was only unstoppable due to her use of performance-enhancing drugs – her and her coach/husband both tested positive. It resulted in her forfeiting her five medals, as well as the three medals she won at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton. It was a disgrace to the sport. 

8. U.S. Women’s Soccer Team (1999)

The 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team consisted of a number of all-time football legends – including Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Brianna Scurry, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Shannon MacMillan, and more. The team ended up winning the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

United States started out 3-0-0 in the group stage, outscoring opponents 13-1 with two shutout victories. In the knockout stage, the US beat Germany 3-2, Brazil 2-0, and China 0-0 in penalty kicks. Akers won the Bronze Ball and the team had six players score at least two goals throughout the tournament. 

7. Se Ri Pak (1998)

In 1998, Se Ri Pak was just a rookie on the LPGA Tour. Of course, she didn’t let that stop her from showing the world how much she loved the game of golf. She started the year on fire, winning the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open in May and June, respectively – her first two major titles. 

She went on to record two more wins at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic and Giant Eagle LPGA Classic – both in July. It capped off quite a month for her, winning three of the four tournaments in July 1998. She was Rookie of the Year and became the 11th non-American female to win AP Female Athlete of the Year.

6. Martina Hingis (1997)

Martina Hingis almost achieved what very few tennis players have ever achieved when she took to the court for the 1997 season. She started the year by becoming the youngest player to win a Grand Slam title in the 20th century with her win at the Australian Open – she was just 16 years old at the time. 

While she lost in the final of the French Open, she followed that up with a win at the US Open and Wimbledon – making it to the final at each Grand Slam in 1997 and winning three of them. She also won the doubles title at the 1997 Australian Open and won all four doubles titles the following season (1998). 

5. Amy Van Dyken (1996)

Amy Van Dyken was just 23 years old at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia when she became the first American female to win four golds in one Olympiad. She won the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 4x100m freestyle, and 4x100m medley to go down in history as one of the greatest to ever do it.

As a result of her accomplishments, Van Dyken was not only named AP Female Athlete of the Year, but she won an ESPY in the same category and was inducted into two Hall of Fames – the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the US Olympic Hall of Fame. Of course, she won a lot more awards in 1996. 

4. Rebecca Lobo (1995)

Rebecca Lobo was a senior at UCONN during the 1995 season – she played under head coach Geno Auriemma. That year, she helped lead the Huskies to a perfect 35-0 season and won the 1995 National Championship to top it all off. Of course, that was met with a plethora of Player of the Year honors. 

For example, she was the National Player of the Year, Naismith College Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year, USBWA Player of the Year, and WBCA Player of the Year. She also won the Honda Sports Award, the Wade Trophy, the Honda-Broderick Cup, and was named a First-Team All American.

3. Bonnie Blair (1994)

By the 1994 season, Bonnie Blair had already established herself as one of the best in her field – she won a gold medal at the World Championships 10 years prior and already had three Olympic gold medals to her name from the 1988 and 1992 games. But 1994 was special – it was her last Olympic appearance.

And she went out in the best way. In her fourth Olympics, she walked away with a gold medal in the 500m and 1,000m speed skating events – defending her gold medals from the previous Olympiad. She became the most decorated American female Winter Olympic athlete with five gold medals and one bronze medal.

2. Sheryl Swoopes (1993)

Sheryl Swoopes was a senior basketball player at Texas Tech in 1993 – her second year on campus after spending her freshman and sophomore seasons at South Plains College. She went on to average 28.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.4 steals, and 1.0 blocks in 34 games during that 1993 season.

Not only did she win the NCAA National Championship that year, but she won the Honda Sports Award and was named WBCA Player of the Year – among a slew of other awards. She went on to play in the WNBA for 12 years, including its inaugural season in 1997, and won four WNBA Championships. 

1. Monica Seles (1992, 1991)

Monica Seles is one of the select few female athletes to ever win the AP Female Athlete of the Year award in consecutive years. She first won it in 1991, the same year she won the Australian Open for the first time, the French Open for the second time, and the US Open for the first time. She was on fire. 

Seles won the award again in 1992, which saw her defend each of those Grand Slam titles and came oh-so-close to winning the Wimbledon for a season sweep – she was defeated by Steffi Graf in the final. She also won the Tour Finals in 1991 and 1992, and debuted as the World No. 1 player in March 1991.

Others Who Deserved to Win AP Female Athlete of the Year

Believe it or not, Katie Ledecky wasn’t a lock to win AP Female Athlete of the Year in 2022. In fact, she was tied with Sydney McLaughlin in the voting process – they each received 22 votes, but Ledecky won with 10 first place votes to McLaughlin’s nine. It honestly could’ve gone either way, but I like the outcome.

Others to receive votes are A’ja Wilson (18 votes), Aliyah Boston (14 votes), Iga Swiatek (14 votes), Eileen Gu (9 votes), Alexia Putellas (5 votes), Erin Jackson (4 votes), Sam Kerr (3 votes), and Ons Jabeur (2 votes). All these females had incredible years in 2022, but didn’t quite match that of Ledecky.

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Not only that, but several other female athletes received write-in votes by some of the 40 sports writers and editors who voted – including Jessie Diggins, Brittney Griner, Lindsey Jacobellis, Chloe Kim, Lydia Ko, Nelly Korda, and Weili Zhang. Now we get to look forward to an even better 2023!

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