SWOST: 40 Most Powerful Female Athletes of All Time III

Alice Coachman

Before the summer of 1948, a black woman had never won Olympic gold. Alice Coachman broke that barrier by launching herself to first place in women’s high jump at the 1948 London Games, a victory that marked one of “the most important turning points in terms of visible black womanhood and black women becoming symbols of American heroism,” says Bonnie J. Morris, a lecturer in the department of history at U.C. Berkeley and professor emeritus of women's studies at George Washington University.

The historic win also opened doors for other black women in sports. “At a time when there were few high-profile black athletes beyond Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis, Coachman became a pioneer,” wrote the New York Times in Coachman’s 2014 obituary. “She led the way for female African American Olympic track stars like Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.” Though the 1948 Olympics marked the end of Coachman’s track-and-field career, she continued to make an impact on the lives of others, becoming an elementary school teacher and founding the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to help young athletes and former competitors, per the Times.

Diana Nyad

In 2013, Diana Nyad did what no human in history had ever done before. The then 64-year-old swam unaided more than 100 miles from Florida to Cuba, spending over two full days in the water—without the safety and assistance of a shark tank. Soon after finishing the history-making swim, which Nyad had attempted five times before, she stood on the beach and spoke to the crowd that had gathered. "I have three messages: One is, we should never, ever give up,” she said, per NPR. “Two is, you are never too old to chase your dream. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team.”

“She’s my heroine,” says Morris of Nyad, noting not only the record-breaking swim but also Nyad’s outspokenness about the sexual abuse of swimmers. In November 2017, at the start of the #MeToo movement, Nyad penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which she discussed how, as a young athlete, she and her teammates had been repeatedly molested by their male swim coach. “Tell your story,” Nyad wrote, urging other victims to speak out. “Let us never again be silenced.”

Lynn Hill

Considered to be one of the best rock climbers in the world, Lynn Hill made history in 1993 when she became the first person in the world—man or woman—to free climb The Nose, a steep, exposed route on Yosemite’s legendary El Capitan. The next year she repeated the feat in less than 24 hours (previously, it’d taken her four days). “It had been an objective for so many people for so long, and it hadn’t been done, and I was really proud to be a woman,” Hill said in a TV segment with Inside Edition. The barrier-busting feat, which wasn’t repeated for 12 years, had a profound and long-lasting impact on the sport. Hill’s ascent of The Nose “was thrilling for both men and women to hear, though especially so for the latter,” Alison Osius wrote for Outside in 2016. “Almost no women at the time could climb as hard as the top men of the day. It brought renewed national and international interest toward what new realms of climbing were possible on the big walls of Yosemite, and it helped inspire the top technical climbers to broaden their skill sets in ways still being manifested today.”

Bethany Hamilton

Competitive surfer Bethany Hamilton was just 13 years old when she lost her arm in a shark attack in Kauai, Hawaii. The 2003 incident, which made international news, transformed the young teen into a symbol of resilience and inspiration, especially when Hamilton hopped back onto her board for competition less than one month after the incident. Two years later Hamilton became a national champion. Her story inspired a 2011 Hollywood film (Soul Surfer) and a 2019 documentary (Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable).

Now 30, Hamilton is a pro surfer, motivational speaker, author, member of the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, and mother of two. “Ultimately I'm driven by my passion and love for riding waves,” Hamilton told NPR last year. “You know, so many people are like, ‘Why would you get back into the ocean with sharks?’ and I'm like, ‘Well, I just have more fear of losing this love that I have for riding waves.’"

Lisa Leslie

In 2002, Lisa Leslie demolished a gender barrier in basketball when she became the first woman to slam-dunk in a WNBA game. That moment (which you can witness here) is just one of the Leslie’s many awe-inspiring accomplishments. The seriously talented athlete is also a four-time Olympic gold medalist, three-time MVP of the WNBA, two-time FIBA World Cup gold medalist, and 2002 World Cup MVP. By the time Leslie retired in 2009, she was the league’s career leader in scoring and rebounding, according to the New York Times.

“I don’t think there’s an athlete on the court today or in this league or in youth leagues all around this country who don’t owe a debt of gratitude to Lisa Leslie, or don’t look up to her as an iconic figure in women’s basketball,” Donna Orender, former president of the WNBA, said in 2009, per the Times. “She has been one of the great competitors, the most fierce competitor.”

Kathrine Switzer

The Boston Marathon is arguably the most prestigious road marathon race in the world. But for more than seven decades after its inception in 1897, the field was open only to men. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer challenged those assumptions by running—and finishing—the iconic race, which at that time was still a men-only competition (another woman, Roberta Gibb, ran the race the year before but didn’t have a bib). Less than two miles into the race, which Switzer had registered for under the gender ambiguous name “K.V. Switzer,” an official tried to tear off her bib, but Switzer’s boyfriend body-blocked the aggressor. The moment was captured in iconic photos and shared in the media, and change soon followed.

Five years after Switzer’s historic finish, the Boston Marathon expanded entry to women, a crucial step in the fight toward equality in running. As more women started running marathons, Switzer continued to race (she won the New York Marathon in 1974, among other accomplishments) and also launched the Avon International Running Circuit, which hosts women-only races in 27 countries. In 2017, Switzer ran the Boston Marathon again—50 years after her historic first finish. That year she had more female company: Nearly half of all finishers were women.

Annika Sörenstam

Swedish American Annika Sörenstam is one of the best golfers in history, winning a standing-ovation-worthy 72 Ladies Professional Golf Association events during her career. Perhaps one of her best-known moments, however, came when she broke the gender barrier by playing in what is typically a men-only competition. At the PGA Tour’s 2003 Bank of America Colonial event, Sörenstam teed up alongside the best male golfers in the world, becoming the first woman to do so since Babe Zaharias Didrickson in 1945.

Though Sorenstam missed the cut in that competition, her mere presence signified something greater. “Colonial was my mission,” Sorenstam said after announcing retirement. “It was my path, my journey, and I felt like people accepted that, ‘Hey, she’s an athlete, and she wants to get better.’ I’ve always let my clubs do the talking. And I felt like people accepted me for that.”

Allyson Felix

In 2019, the six-time Olympic gold medalist won her 12th gold medal at a track-and-field World Championship—breaking a record set by Usain Bolt in the process just 10 months after giving birth via C-section.

Through her dominance in track and field and advocacy for women—particularly mothers—in sports, Felix is helping spread an important message: Women can be mothers and world-class athletes. Previously in 2019, Felix took another step forward for athletes-slash-mothers when she followed the lead of fellow Olympians Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher and called out Nike’s lack of support for pregnant women and mothers. “What I’m not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity. I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth,” she wrote in a New York Times op-ed in May. “I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?” This time the athletic apparel behemoth listened. In August the company announced a new maternity policy for all sponsored athletes that guarantees pay and bonuses for 18 months surrounding pregnancy.

 Mikaela Shiffrin

With two Olympic gold medals, three World Championships, and 66 World Cup wins (and counting), Mikaela Shiffrin is one of the best Alpine skiers in history. After a record-shattering 2018–2019 season, Shiffrin put herself on pace to win as many as 125 World Cup races, which would eclipse the current career record by 39 (!), per the New York Times.

“I want to get to this coming season [the 2019–2020 season] and still be one of the top racers, but also be pushing my own limits, pushing the limits of the sport, and pushing the other girls to push themselves,” Shiffrin told Glamour in 2019. In other words, she’s here to not only better herself, but to inspire others and elevate the entire sport in the process. Now that’s a living legend in the making.

 Katie Ledecky

When we typed “Katie Ledecky swimmer” into Google, the search platform informed us that people also ask, “How do you swim like Katie Ledecky?” And that inquiry makes perfect sense. Because when you wow the world by winning your first gold medal at age 15 (800-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics), and then defend the title four years later in Rio, finishing an astonishing 11 seconds ahead of the silver medalist and setting a new world record in the process, of course people will want to emulate your greatness. And in that way, the 23-year-old freestyle phenom is bigger than just blazingly fast swims—she’s an icon and idol for the next generation of young swimmers. “In the next Olympics, the newest, fastest swimmer will be the next Katie Ledecky instead of the female Michael Phelps,” Lea Davison, two-time Olympic mountain biker, told Glamour in 2016.

SWOST: Local Meeting in Latvia 01.11.2021

On the 1st November, Latvia held the seventh local meeting in total, including three local meetings (March 4, March 5, and March 26) of the project team only. The meeting was managed by the project team member and member of the LSIIDP board Kaspars Saknins (also the director of Talsi Regional Sport School). Thirteen out of fifteen LSIIDP's board members participated in this meeting. The meeting was related to the new sports financing model (Sporta finansēšanas modeļa pilnveide, Eng. 'Development of Sports Financing Model'), which strongly concerns gender issues like gender equality in sports and combating violence. Kaspars was presenting the Work Package 2 (WP2) and 3 (WP3) of the SWOST project as a possibility to link the tool of the SWOST project to the sports financing model of Latvia. Task of LSIIDP shall be presentation of the tool further to the ministry representatives (Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia, Sports Department). After the presentation of Kaspars on the work done so far regarding the development of the SWOST tool (WP2 and WP3 out of 6 work packages in total) LSIIDP board admitted that SWOST tool could be a positive attachment to the new model of financing sports that could help sport facilities to evaluate the ambience in their organizations.

SWOST: TWOST conference, Prato, Italy

On October 2, Kaspars Saknins and Sandija Zalupe represented Latvia in another Erasmus+ project Training without Stereotypes (TWOST), where several SWOST - Sport without Stereotypes, project participants also participated as speakers at the conference. The main topics of the conference covered an insight into gender equality education, as well as tools to promote a culture of gender equality, inclusion, and the prevention of discrimination and abuse.

The event is memorized HERE.

SWOST: 40 Most Powerful Female Athletes of All Time II

 Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee broke multiple barriers in track and field during her decorated career. She became the first athlete to score over 7,000 points in the heptathlon (a seven-event contest testing a wide range of skills) and the first athlete to win the heptathlon in consecutive Olympic Games (1988 and 1992). Oh, and her heptathlon world record set during the 1988 Seoul Games? It still stands today. After the 1996 Olympics, Joyner-Kersee had a short stint playing professional basketball with the Richmond Rage.

Joyner-Kersee is big on giving back. In 1988, she founded her eponymous foundation, which seeks to help at-risk children; in 2007, she cofounded Athletes for Hope, which encourages pro athletes to become involved in charitable causes; and in 2016, she joined a Comcast initiative to provide internet access to low-income families. A true champ, both on—and off—the field.

Misty Copeland

As the first African American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland is a pioneer in the world of professional dance—and beyond. Among her many impressive titles: author, Broadway actor, movie star, big-name brand ambassador, diversity advocate, pop icon, Prince collaborator, internet troll fighter, and real-life hero to young dancers (just look at the fierceness she’s inspired).

Copeland, who didn’t take up ballet until the late age of 13, is big on elevating the next generation of dancers. She’s served on the advisory committee for the ABT’s Project Plié, which provides training and mentorship to dance teachers in racially diverse communities around the country and in Boys & Girls Clubs. “I was the only African American woman at ABT for a decade, and so much of what I do now is mentoring young minority dancers and trying to be a support system for them,” Copeland told Variety in 2016. It feeds me as an artist and as a person, and I learn more and more about myself and what’s lacking and what needs to be done in the professional ballet world.”

Mia Hamm

Before the likes of Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and the rest of the kick-ass USWNT, there was Mia Hamm, the international star of women’s soccer. Hamm, a goal-scoring powerhouse on Team USA, played on the 1991 and 1999 World Cup winning teams as well as the gold-medal-clinching teams at the 1996 and 2004 Olympic Games. During her legendary career, Hamm netted a gobsmacking 158 goals in international competition, a record for any player—man or woman—that stood until 2013, when American Abby Wambach eclipsed it.

Hamm’s dominance on the field ushered in an unprecedented level of media attention for a women’s sports team, especially during the 1999 World Cup. And her popularity, which continued after she officially hung up her cleats in 2004, was akin to the renown of top male athletes. Hamm went on to start her namesake foundation, which aims to increase opportunities for young women in sports and also raises funds and awareness for bone marrow and cord blood transplants. She also cofounded Athletes for Hope with Joyner-Kersee and other athletes.

Gertrude Ederle

On August 6, 1926, 21-year-old Getrude Ederle battled the cold, choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean to become the first woman to ever swim across the English Channel. Even more impressive, Ederle recorded the fastest time in history by more than two hours, besting all five men who had previously gone the distance. It gets even more spectacular: Because of the especially rough ocean conditions at the time, Ederle tackled at least 14 more miles than she would have had she been able to chart a straight line (35 versus 21 miles), per the New York Times.

But Ederle’s truly mind-boggling accomplishment was bigger than one single swim. It “made a memorable contribution in an age when many found it difficult to take female athletes seriously,” the Times wrote in Ederle’s 2003 obituary. Among Ederle’s other accomplishments in the sport? Dozens of amateur national and world records, plus three Olympic medals in swimming. After her hearing was permanently impaired during the record-breaking swim, she also went on to teach the sport to deaf children.

Martina Navratilova

As one of the best tennis players in history (Billie Jean King once called her “the greatest singles, doubles, and mixed doubles player who ever lived”), legend Martina Navratilova made an outsize impact on the sport. The Czech-born International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, who defected to the U.S. in 1976, finished her career with an astounding number of wins: 167 singles tournaments, 177 doubles events, and 2,189 matches. That’s the most any player, male or female, has earned since the Open Era in tennis began in 1968.

Beyond her prowess on the court, Navratilova has also made important contributions to the LBGTQ+ community. As one of the first openly gay athletes, the tennis champ has advocated for equal rights and supported numerous charities that back the cause. Those efforts, in turn, have helped foster acceptance for today’s gay athletes.

Simone Biles

Last October, Simone Biles officially secured her status as the GOAT of gymnastics. With 25 world championship medals to her name (and counting), the 23-year-old American now owns more hardware from the global competition series than any gymnast, male or female, in history. Her talent is so insane—and unprecedented—that she’s already had three different moves named after her.

Beyond Biles’s mesmerizing, gravity-defying performances, she’s also a fierce believer in women confidently celebrating their accomplishments—without apology. “I’ve won five world titles, and if I say, ‘I’m the best gymnast there is,’ [the reaction is] ‘Oh, she’s cocky. Look at her now,’” the five-time Olympic medalist told USA Today last fall. “No, the facts are literally on the paper. I think it’s important to teach [young girls] that.” Louder for the people in the back, please.

 Wilma Rudolph

At the 1960 Rome Olympics, sprinter Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics, sweeping the field and breaking records in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4x100-meter relay. “She was very popular in Rome and credited with stimulating the popularity of track and field among girls and women,” Welch tells Glamour.

As her New York Times obituary noted, Rudolph “became America's greatest female sports hero since Babe Didrikson Zaharias a generation earlier.” Rudolph’s success is even more notable when you consider the fact that the decorated athlete almost died as a four-year-old after contracting double pneumonia and scarlet fever. The illness paralyzed her left leg, and she didn’t walk again on her own for years, per the Times. After overcoming physical challenges early in life and soaring to her illustrious athletic career, Rudolph established her eponymous foundation to support young folks in underserved communities through sports and academics. "If I have anything to leave," she said, according to the Times, "the foundation is my legacy."

 Althea Gibson

As the first black tennis player to win the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open singles championships, American Althea Gibson paved the way for more diversity in a sport with a history of white elitism. “This is not just a player who won a ton of titles—this is someone who transcended our sport and opened a pathway for people of color,” Katrina Adams, the first African American USTA president, told the New York Times. “If there was no Althea, there’d be no me, because tennis would not have been so open to me.”

In 1957, the Associated Press named the New York City native the Female Athlete of the Year, marking the first time an African American had received the designation (the AP awarded Gibson the honor again in 1958). Gibson also made her mark in another sport: In 1964, she turned her focus to professional golf, becoming the first African American member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

Lindsey Vonn

With 82 World Cup victories to her name, Lindsay Vonn is the winningest female skier of all time. Period. The American GOAT retired in 2019 at age 34 after racking up a mic-dropping amount of hardware, including three Olympic medals, seven World Championship medals, and of course, all of those World Cup wins.

With the accolades came hardship—Vonn battled serious injuries throughout her career, including a torn knee ligament (which ruptured twice), a broken ankle, and critical nerve damage in her arm. Yet when other skiers might have thrown in the towel, Vonn refused to give up, forging ahead with unflappable resolve. “I’ve never been afraid,” she told Glamour shortly after announcing her retirement in February 2019. “No, even when the injuries and the crashes seemed to endlessly pile up, I never changed. I never was afraid.” Today, Vonn invests in the next generation through her work with the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which provides scholarships and programming for education, sports, and enrichment programs.

Hilary Knight

As a three-time Olympic medalist and nine-time world championship medalist, American Hilary Knight is one of today’s top stars in women’s ice hockey. A goal-scoring forward, Knight helped lead Team USA to gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Games—their first Olympic victory in 20 years.

Since then, she’s turned her focus to a different goal: creating one unified, sustainable professional women’s ice hockey league in North America. After the Canadian Women’s Hockey League collapsed last year, Knight and other professional players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which aims to establish a pro league that provides players with livable salaries. (According to the New York Times, the highest announced salary for the National Women’s Hockey League, currently the only women’s professional league in North America after the CWHL collapsed, is just $15,000.)

"I hope I'm obviously remembered for my on-ice legacy," Knight said in an ESPN article last year before the PWHPA was launched. "But equally, too, for what I've done off the ice. Sparking change, not just in hockey, but sport and other industries. Whether it's fighting for equal pay or changing the game in how gender or body image is being reflected, my work is just beginning in many ways."

SWOST: Transnational Meeting #1, Montecatini, Italy

Today - October 1, Kaspars Saknins, Director of Talsi Regional Sports School and also LSIIDP Board Member, and Sandija Zalupe, LSIIDP Project Manager, participate in the first transnational meeting of the Erasmus+ Sports project Sport without Stereotypes in Montecatini, Italy, where issues regarding development of an application that will allow a possibility to assess gender equality in sports organizations.

The event is memorized HERE.