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Women in sports you should know about

A list of female athletes who are changing sports history internationally.



Competitive sport finds its roots in Ancient Greece when there was a high appreciation for the bodies and physical prowess of athletes -mens sana in corpore sano, as they would say. Since then, sports have been an eminently male environment; from rugby and football to tennis, athleticism, swimming, and gymnastics. However, little by little, women broke down the barriers and achieved milestones like being allowed to play a sport and compete at professional levels.


To give one example, the name of Kathrine Switzer is inscribed in gold lettering in sports history precisely for that reason: in 1967, she fought to overcome the prohibition that prevented women from competing in the Boston Marathon. She not only ran it, but she finished it in 4 hours and 20 minutes despite the organizers’ boycott.


The presence of female athletes has only grown since then, and the gap between men and women in terms of interest in sport has narrowed significantly over the last 50 years. 


Let's delve into the stories of eight remarkable sportswomen who excelled in their respective careers and blazed trails as pioneers, shattering barriers and inspiring generations to come, thus laying the groundwork for others to emulate their achievements.




Serena Williams 

Serena Williams is an American tennis player with an incredible style and tenacity who paced a brilliant career for over two decades. She has won four Olympic golds and 39 Grand Slam titles: 23 in singles, 14 in women's doubles (with her sister Venus), and 2 in mixed doubles. Serena holds an Open Era record of wins for both women and men. The two Williams sisters started playing tennis early in childhood, encouraged and trained by their father. They turned professional at similar times -Venus in 1994 and Serena in 1995. Serena became the first of the siblings to win a Grand Slam singles title in 1999. With powerful serves, ground strokes, and superb athleticism, the sisters soon attracted attention. The Williams' first Olympic appearance came in 2000; the rest is history. They made an immediate impact in the predominately white tennis world. Strength, tenacity, and competitiveness became Serena Williams’s trademark. She brought her interest in fashion to the tennis courts and became noted for bold and colorful outfits that highlighted her strength and challenged traditional and typically conservative dress codes. 




Nadia Comaneci 

The word “perfection” will always accompany Nadia Comaneci. At 14, the Romanian gymnast scored a perfect 10 in her uneven bars exercise in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. It was the first in history. Nobody, not even the Olympic Committee, considered that possible, so with no Olympic precedent, the scoreboard could not display 10.00. With her exceptional balance, clean technique, innovation, and creativity at the bars, she won nine Olympic medals, two golds in World Championships, and a long list of European titles. Comaneci retired from competition in 1981, at only 20 years of age.




Simone Biles 

At the young age of 24, Simone Biles is considered one of the greatest gymnasts in History. 

Biles skyrocketed to fame in 2013 when, at just 16, she clinched two gold medals at the Antwerp Championship, including the coveted all-around title. Here, she introduced the first of many groundbreaking exercises now her trademark -she currently holds five exercises under her name. By Rio 2016, her first Olympic Games, she was already a superstar and the main favorite for the title. She did not disappoint: she secured gold in the all-around, team, vault, and floor exercises and claimed bronze on the balance beam. As she entered the 2020 Tokyo Games, expectations reached a peak. She withdrew from many events, citing mental health concerns. Her decision to prioritize her mental health sparked vital conversations about the pressure and challenges that athletes face. Since then, she has become an advocate for mental health. While Biles keeps competing and preparing for the awaited Paris 2024 Olympics, her perspective on success has evolved. With boundless energy, strength, and fierce determination, she is paving her path and doing it her way.




Edurne Pasabán 

Her curiosity, interest, and talent for mountain climbing made her look for challenges beyond the Vasque Country (Spain) peaks. The Spanish girl climbed Mont Blanc at 16, and at 28, she had already conquered Everest, her first eight-thousander. In 2010, Pasabán reached the summit of Shisha Pangma (8,027 meters above sea level) and became the first woman to complete the feat of climbing the 14 eight-thousanders. She did it in the span of 20 expeditions in 9 years, an impressive efficiency in the Himalayas. Today, although Pasabán says that she is and will always be a professional mountaineer, she continues to explore and grow many other paths in her professional life. She advocates for better life conditions and children 's education in villages in the Himalayas through her foundation, Fundación Edurne Pasabán.




Marta Vieira da Silva

Like many other little girls, she was told that football was a boy’s sport. Nowadays, Marta Vieira da Silva is just known as Marta in her native Brazil. In the same way, as Edson Arantes does, Nascimento is simply called Pelé, or Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is called Ronaldo. 

The Vasco de Gama female club in Rio de Janeiro offered Marta a contract when she was 14 after they saw her playing on the field. After several ups and downs and team changes, in 2003, she was called up to play for the Brazilian national team in the World Cup. The tournament was her springboard to international soccer -Umeå IK, Los Angeles Sol, Western New York Flash, to name a few- until reaching her current team, the Orlando Pride. Marta has a career of 18 years as a professional soccer player, and she has won 3 American Cups, 2 Olympic medals, and 1 UEFA Champions League. She is also the only footballer to win the FIFA prize for the best female player in the world five times running, to which she added a sixth eight years later. Marta is considered the greatest female soccer player of all time. 




Jutta Kleinschmidt

Jutta Kleinschmidt revolutionized motor racing as the first and only woman to have won the world's toughest and longest rally, the Dakar Rally. Adventures, challenges, and extreme sports have been part of her life since she was very young. She quit her job as a development engineer at BMW to devote herself to motorsport, first on a motorcycle and later on four wheels. Slowly but steadily, she made her way up to podiums and scored stage victories. Her knowledge as an engineer was in high demand in her teams as well, and she was involved in the development of rally cars, such as the most successful Dakar rally car at the time, the Mitsubishi Pajero Evo. In 2001, she made history by becoming the first and only woman in history to win the Dakar Rally in the car category. She became an example of effort and dedication in a largely male-dominated sport. After 17 Dakar participations with six places in the top 5 in the overall ranking, Kleinschmidt is now passing on her experience in lectures and other activities.




Ellen MacArthur 

She made history by completing the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe by any sailor -- and on her first attempt! Without technical assistance, in only 71 days and 14 hours, she managed to travel 27,354 nautical miles (50,660 kilometers), facing waves of up to 20 meters and hurricane-force winds. She did it 1 day and 8 hours and a half faster than the Frenchman Francis Joyon, who held the record at the time. However, the most important thing for her was not the feat but what she learned while she was alone at sea. The former sailor recalls that the experience gave her a better understanding of the definition of the word ‘finite’ as during those days, she had to manage her resources in a hostile scenario. In 2010, she created the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to fight for a sustainable economy, responsible consumption, and to make the circular economy a reality. Today, major companies are part of her Foundation, which aims to "inspire a new generation to rethink, redesign, and build a positive future through the framework of a circular economy."


While the presence and interest of women in sports has grown throughout history, women are still sometimes treated differently. They continue to achieve milestones to achieve equal treatment and opportunities for girls and women. Many female athletes are often behind initiatives that contribute to highlighting and solving challenges such as unequal pay, discrimination and sexism in the media, or violation of women’s rights related to menstrual health and maternity.


For example, BMX freestyle rider Angie Marino and BMX racing cyclist Beatrice Trang created 2019 The Bloom BMX, a website that exclusively highlights the achievements of women in the BMX scene in all types of disciplines. Cléopâtre Darleux, the goalkeeper for the French handball team that won gold at Tokyo 2020, played a vital role in the creation of a collective agreement in French handball that promotes women's rights, such as maternity.

Allyson Felix, in partnership with its sponsor Athleta and the NGO &Mother, created a fund to provide free childcare for female athletes, coaches, and coaching staff members at the 2022 World Athletics Championships.


Sources

About | Simone Biles. Simone Biles. https://simonebiles.com/about/ 

Bregman, S. (2023, September 23). Simone Biles on letting go, twisting again and having no

Developed with webControl CMS by Intermark IT. (2022). Ellen MacArthur - Laureates

Princess of Asturias Awards. The Princess of Asturias Foundation. 

Edurne Pasaban, Primera Mujer en subir Los 14 ochomiles. Edurne Pasaban, primera mujer

en subir los 14 ochomiles. (n.d.). https://www.edurnepasaban.com/ 

Marta. Olympics. (n.d.-a). https://olympics.com/en/athletes/marta 

Nadia Comaneci biography, olympic medals, records and age. Olympics. (n.d.-b).

Serena Williams. Olympics. (n.d.-c). https://olympics.com/en/athletes/serena-williams 

Success is, to achieve your goals!. Jutta Kleinschmidt. (n.d.).

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