As of all you probably know, women didn’t get to participate in the world’s biggest sporting event until the 20th century. And although the first modern games were held in Athens back in 1896, the ancient Games took place from 776 BC through 393 AD. That’s an awful lot of time for women to be excluded from the Olympic narrative! I know, it’s outrageous.
Luckily, after centuries of gender inequality, in 1900 Paris saw the first 22 female athletes participate in the Summer Olympics. They competed in tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism, and golf. After the Title IX law and the creation of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the seed for a more diverse and equal Games was planted. Today, female Olympians are 100% killing it! They are fiercely dominating in multiple sports and surpassing all expectations while doing so.
It’s important to take a look back at both the men AND women that truly paved the way for athletes in the past, and present. However, it’s important to recognize that women in athletics have set standards, broken boundaries,and used their voices to push for a much more inclusive global athletics environment. And we’re here for it. So today, we’re diving deep and sharing some of our absolute favorite female Olympic athletes that paved the way for future Olympians. In this post, we’re honoring their efforts, accomplishments, and legacies. Keep reading to know their names!
Trailblazing Olympians Who Paved the Way for Female Athletes Today:
The Magnificent Seven:
Let us start by saying that all of these women are incredible and absolute game-changers. However, we have to mention them together due to their athletic significance as both individuals and as a group. We mentioned these seven women in our post about the Summer of 96 Olympic games, which you can read more about HERE. Truly, we can’t talk about trailblazing Olympians without mentioning these seven women: Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden, and Jaycie Phelps. In fact, this team of seven trailblazers paved the way earning America’s first-ever Olympic Gold in Women’s team competition.
This victory is especially important. Here’s why: These women are considered Title IV athletes. So they are the first generation of athletes to be positively impacted by the Title IX law. Their debut at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, and their ultimate domination, showcased the importance of crushing gender stereotypes in the United States and paved the way for female athletes in the USA and all over the world.
It’s safe to say every young girl in the United States knows Simone Biles. After surprising everyone at Rio back in 2016, she is now a legendary four-time Olympic gold medalist and America’s most decorated gymnast of all time. She’s also a deeply inspiring young woman who advocates for mental health and gender equality in sports. At only 24 years old, she is a four-time World all-around champion and a five-time US National all-around champion!
As a black woman dominating a historically white-lead sport, she is constantly defying the norm and speaking out against any systemic injustices. Simone also calls out the deficiencies of the US foster care system, since she spent time there as a toddler. At the moment she holds the most world championship gold medals of any woman in the world. Overall, she’s an incredibly talented athlete and civically-involved Olympian!
Serena is an absolute world-class tennis celebrity. Honestly, it’s tough to keep count of all her records, medals, and international recognition. The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) actually ranked her the No.1 tennis player in the world for singles on eight different occasions. She even held the rank for 186 consecutive weeks! Serena is the only female and male tennis player to do a Career Golden Slam in doubles as well as singles.
To this day, she holds the world record in most women’s singles matches won at majors with 365 impressive matches and most matches after turning 30, with 10 singles. As a black woman in sports, she has been vocal about her struggles with racism and discrimination. She also won four Olympic gold medals, three in doubles and one in women’s singles. This world record is shared with her sister Venus, who’s another notable tennis player. She even won the first scheduled night session in French Open history this year!
Wilma is yet another black woman who paved the way for female athletes today! The African-American sprinter became the first American woman to snatch three Olympic gold medals in the same Summer Games. During the 1960 Olympics, she became the fastest woman in the world. And that’s after overcoming the side effects of suffering from polio at age five. She still holds the world record for 100 meters at 11.2 seconds and 200 meters at 22.9 seconds! As a female athlete who challenged male domination in all track and field competitions, she was very outspoken about gender equality and African-American rights. Her accomplishments will live on forever.
The former No.1 female tennis player in the world is still one of the greatest Olympians out there. Los Angeles-born Billie Jean King is both a killer tennis player and a passionate advocate for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. Besides winning 39 Grand Slam titles and serving as captain of the US team at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympic Games, Billie was also awarded with the International Olympic Committee Women in Sport World Trophy in 2003. Even more, she founded the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation to help fight for equal prizes and opportunities for women in sports. What an icon!
1948 was a game-changing year for every black woman in sports. Before, no black female athlete had won an Olympic gold medal. But Alice Coachman made history at the London Summer Olympics! She skyrocketed to first place in the women’s high jump and won a whole lot more than gold that day. Alice marked a turning point for all black women in terms of representation and visibility in Olympic sports.
We had to include the most successful female skier of all time, our very own American GOAT, Lindsey Vonn. Though she retired in 2019 at age 34, her world records will be tough to beat. Lindsey battled multiple injuries throughout her skiing career, but that didn’t stop her from dominating the winter sports scene. She amassed three Olympic medals! After her retirement, the athlete threw herself into a different aspect of female sports. She founded the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, to provide scholarships and programming for education and sports. Now that’s an impressive way to end a stellar career!
This female Olympian is a Colombian cyclist who’s killed it both at the Olympics and the BMX Championship. More importantly, she made history in her home country! Mariana was the first woman to win two Olympic Gold Medals for Colombia. It’s amazing to see her love for her country and how she strives to improve the image and reputation of her nation through sports. The “queen of BMX” has two gold Olympic medals and her most recent silver one from the Tokyo 2020 summer games.
Megan is part of the women’s national soccer team and a true political activist. On and off the field, she has spoken out about issues that are relevant to our entire society. She’s a three-time Olympian and a two-time Olympic medalist. The athlete is engaged to another fierce female Olympian, Sue Bird! Sue won four Olympic gold medalists playing for the US Women’s basketball team. The two of them are activists for the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, Human Rights Campaign, and other humanitarian, LGBTQ+, and feminist causes. Megan was noted as one of 2020´s 100 influential people by Time Magazine!
Gabriela is an Argentinian former professional tennis player. Between 1980 and 1990, she was one of the most prominent players in her category and amassed a total of 41 titles. Born in Buenos Aires, Gabriela won her first tennis tournament at age eight! She grew up to win a silver medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics, win the 1990 US Open, and win the WTA Finals in 1988 and 1994. Gabriela suffered from extreme shyness and has been vocal about these issues. S even lost matches on purpose to avoid interviews. Despite these struggles, she became one of the youngest-ever players to reach the semifinals of the French Open at just 15 years old. In 2006, Gabriela was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Finally, in 2018 she was ranked by Tennis Magazine as the 20th greatest player of the preceding 50 years
Victoria was the first-ever Asian American Olympic champion back in 1948! A complete icon, the diving athlete was the child of an interracial marriage, which wasn’t approved of at the time. She struggled with her identity as an Asian-American in a predominately white sports environment. During those London Summer Games, she won gold in both springboard and platform diving! Victoria was also an advocate for the Filipino Education Center. Her Olympic achievements and humanitarian work make her one of the women who paved the way for female athletes to this day. In 1969, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Who is your favorite trailblazing Olympian who paved the way for female athletes?
So those are just a few of the trailblazing Olympians that inspired thousands of female athletes to keep dominating the field today! It’s honestly a privilege to see female Olympians push the boundaries of sports and turn the event into a true celebration of their talents. Let’s keep it this way and help more women empower other women. Enjoy the Olympic fever and remember these game-changing females! Also, if any Olympic athletes have inspired you, we would love to hear in the comments below. Share any Olympic athletes that have a story that inspired you and we’ll add them to our list!
Plus don’t forget to listen to Summer Of Gold presented by Dear Media & TOGETHER! with Alex Morgan and Sue Bird as executive producers. Summer Of Gold will give you an unprecedented look into our favorite Olympics in the history of the Summer Games. So tune in to learn more about the 1996 Olympics!