With March being Women’s History Month, here is a list of some major contributors to women’s sports that we think need to be highlighted.
Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner, also known as FloJo, is one of the greatest athletes (irregardless of gender) to run the track. In the 80s she was constantly breaking records in 100m and 200m sprints.
Currently, she holds the longest standing sprinting record in track and field history. Her 200m Olympic record is 21.34 and her 100m personal best (PB) record is 10.49. For context, Flo Jo’s PB was so impressive that if she had raced in the first heat of the men’s 100m qualification at the 2022 world athletics championships, she would have placed first.
Her best performances came at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where she not only won a gold in all 3 of her competitions (100m, 200m and 100m relay), but also set a world record twice, first in the 200m semi-final and then at the 200m final.
Flo Jo is also remembered as a sports fashion Icon, and many female athletes have emulated her style over the years. British Vogue described American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson as the Flo Jo of our time due to her comparative style.
Today, she is remembered as one of the greats in Olympic history. She was inducted in the USA Track & Field hall of fame in 1995, and in 2022, the times named her ‘woman of the year’ for 1998.
Surya is the first and only Olympic figure skater to land a backflip on one blade.
She was known for her risk taking and her creativity on the ice rink. Surya is the first to try many skills that other skaters wouldn’t even dream of. She was the first female figure skater to attempt the following: triple-triple, two triple-triple, toe loop-half loop- triple salchow, the lutz-triple toe loop and many others.
Like many black athletes, especially those in sports with minimal representation of black athletes, Surya often faced racism.
But that did not deter her from showing up at major events and putting on a show. Surya always made it clear that the racism she experienced encouraged her to promote ice-skating to other black people in order to increase representation. Today we have seen many more black professional ice-skaters such as former European pair skater champion Vanessa James, former French champion Mae-Berenice Meite, Starr Andrews and more.
Often, you see athletes putting all their focus on their performance with a goal to win, but Surya truly stoodout because winning wasn’t the only goal for her. She also wanted her audience to enjoy watching her while she won. This is why she was always trying new tricks and even did the prohibited backflip during competitions.
Still, her spectacular performances did not seem to take away her ability to go for gold. Surya was the European champion for 5 consecutive years from 1991 and she took the silver at the world championship for 3 consecutive years from 1993.
Tulu laid the first stone for African women in athletics. She was the first African woman to become an Olympic gold medalist, which she won at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the women’s 10,000m. 1992 was a successful year for the Ethiopian runner – she also won the African championships and the IAAF World Cup in both 3000m and 10,000m.
Later in her career, she also competed in marathons and was successful, winning the gold at the 2001 Tokyo international Women’s Marathon and at the 2009 New York Marathon.
Tulu, alongside white South African runner Elana Meyer made a bold political statement at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics 10,000m final when they both held hands and celebrated together at the end of the race. At the time, South Africa was under apartheid, and black South Africans faced oppression in the country. The Unity of Tulu and Meyer inspired people by symbolising a unified Africa.
Prior to being an Olympic champion, Tulu came from humble beginnings. She grew up in Bekoji, a village known for producing many great Ethiopian athletes. She comes from a sporting family, and is related to the Dibaba siblings who are also Olympic champions in long distance running.
After retiring, Tulu became the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) in 2018. The EAF has been instrumental for Ethiopian athletes throughout the years, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the EAF gave funds and training materials to athletes and coaches affected by the pandemic.
To think that Serena Williams is no longer playing tennis sounds weird for many. Her longevity of success on the court was truly inspirational, having become professional in 1995 at the age of 14, and retiring in 2022 at the age of 40. She holds a record for the longest gap (18 years) between a first and last Grand Slam, her first being 1999 US Open and her last being the Australian Open in 2017.
Based on Grand Slam wins, it is difficult to not argue that Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all-time. She has won more Grand Slams (23) than any man or woman during the Open era. She was known for her formidable force on the court, her strength, agility and powerful serves.
Her last Grand Slam win was against her sister Venus Williams in 2017 at the Australian Open, winning while pregnant.
When it comes to major titles, Serena Williams has collected them all – the US Open, Australian Open, Wimbledon and the French Open. Between 1999 and 2003, Serena and Venus were seemingly untouchable, playing each other at 6 grand slam finals, with Serena winning 5 of them.
Serena finished her career with 33 Grand Slam finals matches, winning 23 and only losing 10 times. Another impressive feat is that she has won every single grand slam doubles finals match ever played alongside her Venus (14 titles).
Almost every black professional female tennis player has cited Serena Williams as their inspiration to aim as high as possible. When speaking to reporters ahead of the 2022 US open, Coco Gauff said, “Growing up I never thought that I was different because the No.1 player in the world was somebody who looked like me…I think that’s the biggest thing that I can take from what I’ve learned from Serena.”
Outside of tennis, Serena runs her fashion line, is a part owner of NFL team Miami Dolphins, and is involved in various other businesses.
Considered one of the trailblazers in women’s basketball, Luisa Harris is the only woman to be officially drafted by the men’s professional National Basketball Association (NBA). Harris was selected by the New Orleans Jazz in the 7th round of the 1977 NBA draft. However, Harris was unable to train with the Jazz because she was pregnant.
She then played in the women’s professional basketball league for 1 year with the Houston Angels in 1978.
Though her professional league career wasn’t extensive, Harris did well in her national team career. In 1975, she was chosen to represent The United States (US) at the FIBA World Championships and at the Pan-American games. Team USA won the gold at the Pan-American games.
Harris also represented the US at the 1976 Montreal Olympic games in women’s basketball. This was the first ever women’s basketball competition at the Olympics. Haris scored the first ever point in the tournament, and the US finished second to the Soviet Union.
Prior to becoming professional, Harris played really well at college level for Delta State University, and was the only African American woman in her team. For her contributions to Delta State university, Harris was inducted into Delta State’s hall of fame in 1983. From then, she was inducted in many halls of fame, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Harris isn’t necessarily remembered for being one of the best female professional basketball players, but more so for being a pioneer in women’s basketball. She Broke through colour and gender barriers to achieve more than what was expected.
Women’s basketball has come a long way since Harris’ era. The women’s national basketball league has 12 fully professional teams, the standard of play has improved significantly, and women are now able to make a good living from playing professional basketball.
Vonetta Flowers was the first black athlete to win a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. Alongside her teammate Jill Baken, they won gold in the two-woman bobsledding event at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Her second and final Winter Olympic’s appearance was in 2006 where she finished in 6th place at the two-woman bobsledding event.
After winning the gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics, Flowers took a break from Bobsledding to focus on her family. Shortly after her return to competing in 2003, she won bronze at the 2004 FIBT World Championships.
Flowers went on to inspire black athletes to pursue Winter Sports. Bobsledding World champion and Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor said “There’s a lot of people that came before me. Vonetta Flowers is the reason I’m here…”
Way before the Williams sisters, there was Althea Gibson, the first black player ever to win Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open championships.
Gibson was dominating tennis at a time where it was extremely difficult for a black person to play any sport, especially tennis. She was also playing at a time where there was little to no money to be made in the sport, and being black made it difficult for Gibson to make a living from tennis.
In her Memoir, ‘I always wanted to be somebody’, Gibson wrote “When I looked around me, I saw that white tennis players, some of whom I had thrashed on the court, were picking up offers and invitations.”
Gibson literally ran so that the likes of Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens, Naomi Osaka and others could walk. In an interview with WTA, Serena Williams said “For me, she was the most important pioneer for tennis. She was Black, she looked like me and she opened up so many doors.”
Widely considered the greatest gymnast of all-time, Simone Biles was the first American female to win 4 Olympic gold medals at one single Olympic games, and she was the first gymnast to win the world all-around titles for 3 consecutive years from 2013.
In 2019, she officially became the most decorated gymnast of all time with a record of 25 world championship medals, bypassing Russian Gymnast Vitaly Scherbo.
The 25 year old American is truly an unstoppable force in gymnastics when she’s at her best. Similar to figure skater Bonaly, Biles continuously proves her GOAT status when she nails the most difficult moves. She is the first female to successfully complete the triple double. Biles has some signature Gymnastic moves named after her, ‘Biles on the floor’,‘Biles on the balance beam’ and ‘Biles on the vault’. The ‘Biles on the Vault’ beam has a difficulty score of 6.4, making it one of the most difficult vault moves in women’s artistic gymnastics.
For many who watch Biles perform, there is no denying that she has natural talent. However, when you watch how she floats in the air and is able to generate so much power on a jump, that is when genetics starts to enter the conversation. Her 4’8 inch frame means it’s easier for Biles to stay up longer and perform more flips and spins in the air. Her short stature combined with her muscular build makes her more powerful than her competitors.
Across all major competitions, Biles has 25 gold medals, 4 silvers and one bronze.
Like many athletes, Biles has faced some adversities in her career. In 2018 she confirmed that she was one of the many gymnasts assaulted by the former team USA physician Larry Nasssar, and expressed her support to her fellow gymnasts that faced the same ordeal as her. She is also an advocate of mental health.“I say put mental health first because if you don’t then you are not going to enjoy your sport” she said.
The self professed GWOAT (greatest woman of all time).
Claressa Shields is the world number one female boxer. She is the undisputed female light heavyweight champion of the world, the undisputed female middleweight champion, and the Unified WBC and IBF female super middleweight champion.
It is no secret that women’s boxing is nowhere near as competitive as men’s however, it is safe to say that Shields is the best female boxer, possibly of all time.
She has won every single one of her professional boxing fights. Her most recent fight was against Savannah Marshal in October 2022. Prior to fighting Shields, Marshal had a 100% win record in her professional boxing career, and many were leaning towards Marshal winning.
But Shields showed her strength, technique and how fast and comfortable she can be in the pocket. Marshal gave Shields a good fight, but ultimately Shields backed up her claim of being the greatest woman of all time. The match was a significant game changer in women’s sport because it was the most watched women’s professional boxing event in history with more than 2 million viewers.
Shields has a total of 5 medals, 2 in Olympics, 2 world championship medals and one Pan-American Games medal.
In 2016 she became an ambassador for Up2Us, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to train, support and engage with sport coaches to get more youth involved in sport. She also advocates for women’s boxing and focuses on ways to improve the standard and increase the level of competition in the sport with the hopes of increasing the pay in women’s professional boxing.
It is not yet confirmed who Shields will fight next, but it could be a savannah Marshal rematch or potentially a fight against Natasha Jonas, the current WBO female junior-middleweight title holder.
Tobi Amusan is the world record holder in women’s 100m sprint hurdles. She set the record last year at the 2022 World Championships.
The Nigerian Track and field athlete is the world, African and CommonWealth champion. Amusan has a combined 11 gold medals in the World Championships, CommonWealth games, African Games and African Championships. She has made it clear that she will be gunning for gold at the 2024 Olympics, and is going to give it her all to defend her African games title this year in August.
Often, track and field events are dominated by the Americans and Jamaicans, but Amusan has taken centre stage with her recent performances, making Africa proud.
Amusan is currently ranked number 1 by the world athletics. Many are looking forward to watching Amusan race against the world number 2 Kendra Harrison at the 2024 Olympics. At the 2022 world championship, Harrison finished second to Amusan in the 100m hurdle Finals by 0.16 seconds.
Widely regarded as one of the best female footballers in the world, Asisat Oshoala has a lot of records and honours under her belt to suggest that she is one of the best in the world.
She has played professionally in her native Nigeria, and in some of the best women football clubs in the world, including Liverpool, Arsenal, and now is playing for Barcelona in the Primera Division. Oshoala, as of the time of writing, is the top scorer in the league, and also finished as the top scorer in the league last season.
Oshoala has also had much success playing for Nigeria in international competitions. She won the African Women’s Championship 3 times and finished as the competition’s top scorer twice.
While she has many achievements at club and international level, she also has an impressive individual track record of winning awards. She was crowned as the ‘African woman footballer of the year’ 5 times and was named as the ‘BBC women’s footballer of the year’ ahead of Marta Da Silva, Kim Little and Veronica Boquete.
In 2015 Oshoala launched the ‘Asisat Oshoala’ foundation in partnership with Nike and Women Win. The foundation is a football academy focused on providing sports and access to education for girls in Nigeria. Participants will achieve free education, up to three football training sessions weekly, as well as mentorship and guidance in using the skills they have learnt to better their local communities.
Currently Barcelona are 5 points ahead of Real madrid in the Primera Division with 11 games remaining, and Asisat is joint top scorer. They are set to play their first leg of the Women’s Champions League against Roma on the 21st of March.
Shelly-Ann is already one of the greatest athletes to race the track, and judging from her track record, she is going to go down in history as one of the best sprinters of all-time. She has Olympic medals, World Championship medals, World Indoor Championship medals, World Athletics medals, Pan-American games medals, Commonwealth Games medals, NCAC Championship medals and Athletic world cup medals – you name it and Pryce has it. All-in-all, she has 19 gold medals across all major competitions.
While there are many other great female sprinters, such as Veronica Campbell-Brown, Carmelita Jeters, Elaine Thompson-Herah and many more, Shelly-Ann’s records and triumphant story really sets her apart from her competitors.
Not only does shelly-Ann have the third fastest sprinting record of all time (in the women’s category), she also has more 100m titles than any other sprinter in world history. Additionally, she has been a dominant force in women’s sprinting for more than a decade, and to top this, she went on to win a World Championship gold medal less than a year after giving birth in 2017.
This makes her the first ever mother to win a 100m world title, and the oldest woman to ever win the 100m world title (aged 32).
Her latest medals were at the 2022 World Championships where she took the gold in 100m, and silver in both 200m and 4 x 100m relay.
She is now focused on the 2024 olympics. Now 36 years old, Shelly-Ann vows to never let age stop her from racing. She is still ranked as the world number one sprinter by ’world athletics’ world rankings.
In 2016, Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold in individual swimming at the Rio Olympics. In addition, she has also set a few world records and American records in swimming. At the World Aquatic Championships in 2019, she was the first American female to win at both 50m and 100m freestyle events.
The acclaimed swimmer has 2 gold Olympic medals, 2 silver olympic medals, 6 gold world championship medals, and 1 bronze World Championship medals.
With the 2024 Olympics around the corner, Simone will use that opportunity to continue pushing boundaries by trying to break her own records.
In a recent interview with Actress Danai Gurira, Simone shared the joy she felt when she saw black people being portrayed as competent swimmers in the Wakanda Forever Movie. She also spoke about her upcoming launch of the Simone Manuel Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to provide resources and education to people of colour or people from deprived backgrounds to create swim readiness experiences and increase water safety awareness.
Simone has partnered up with multiple organisations including Lebron James’ ‘Promise school’ and the ‘make a splash foundation’. Through these organisations, Simone has led projects aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity in swimming in the US.
Coco Gauff’s first grand slam match was at the US Open in 2018 aged just 14 years old. Last year she became the youngest player ever to qualify for a WTA finals in singles and doubles at the Guadalajara Open.
The tournament that really put her on the tennis map was Wimbledon 2019 where at age 15 she became the youngest player ever to reach the main draw at Wimbledon by qualification. Her main draw was against 5 time Wimbledon Champion Venus Williams whom Gauff beat in straight sets.
The 18 year old is currently ranked 6th in single rankings and third in double ranking by the WTA tour. Her highest single ranking is 4th (2022), and her highest doubles ranking is 1 (2022).
2021 and 2022 were good seasons for Gauff, she reached 3 major tennis tournament finals. The more you watch Gauff, it appears that she seems more natural on clay compared to other surfaces, and her recent performance on the clay court at the French open in 2022 seemingly confirmed her proficiency on this surface – she made it into the finals in both singles and doubles.
With the Grand Slam tennis tours already underway, Coco Gauff will look to take on one tournament at a time, starting with the French Open in May, Wimbledon in June, and the US open in August.
In less than 3 months, Gauff has the chance to win her first Grand Slam title at the French Open. She has had recent good runs at the French Open, so hopefully she will start on a strong note.
Gauff also has her eyes set on the 2024 Olympics in Paris especially since she had to miss out on the 2021 Tokyo Olympics due to Covid-19.