Five most influential female athletes of the past century

(Sports news) Female participation in sports has evolved tremendously over the past century. Rewinding to 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and was attacked by race director Jock Semple because she was a woman. Considering that the incident occurred just 55 years ago, it’s fair to say that public perception has evolved and participation of women at the biggest sporting events is not just tolerated but celebrated in the world we live in. However, we have many influential female athletes to thank for as without their valuable contributions to the sporting landscape, the situation may have been very different.

Here are five female athletes that will continue to influence generations to come.

1) Wilma Rudolph

The first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics, Wilma Rudolph’s story is inspirational because she overcame the loss of her left leg and foot due to Polio at the age of five and became the fastest woman in the world in the 1960 Olympic Games. She continues to hold the record for the fastest time over 100 metres at 11.2 seconds and 200-metre at 22.9 seconds. If that wasn’t all, Rudolph fought for the rights of African Americans and women during the civil rights movement and was responsible for breaking the barrier of all-male events in track and field.

2) Billie Jean King

Widely regarded as one of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time, King had an illustrious career in which she won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 in singles, 16 in women's doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. She also is an advocate for gender equality and campaigned for equal pay at the beginning of the Open Era in 1968. Despite the gender inequality, King continued to earn upwards of $100,000 and remains an advocate for women and LGBTQ equality.

3) Serena Williams

Considered as one of the all time greats of the Open Era, Serena Williams holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles amongst active players and is third in the all-time list. She has the most tournament wins in the Open Era and 23 Grand Slam wins, becoming the only woman to be listed on the world's highest-paid athletes, according to Forbes. Along with her sister Venus WIlliams, the pair have been an inspiration to African American women and paved the way for future generations to make their mark in the sport.

4) Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee is believed to be one of the greatest American track and field athletes of all time. Known for the heptathlon (in which athletes compete in seven different track and field events in two days) and long jump, she won a total of three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in the two events. Apart from her impressive achievements, Joyner-Kersee also founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in 1988, providing athletic lessons to youth, adults, and families as well as resources to improve the quality of life. She is also one of the 11 athletes who founded Athletes for Hope which helps professional athletes take part in charity events and volunteering. Apart from that, Joyner-Kersee is an activist for racial equality, children’s education and women’s rights.

5) Marta Vieira da Silva

Commonly known as Marta, the Brazilian footballer was the first one to score at five FIFA Women's World Cups and her 17 goals record remains the highest number of goals scored at the prestigious tournament. Regarded as the best female footballer of all time, Marta has been named FIFA World Player of the Year six times and received the award five consecutive times from 2006 to 2010. She has also won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the 2007 Women’s World Cup and has two Olympic silver medals due to her participation at the 2004 and 2007 Olympic Games. 

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