Most lists of the greatest athletes of all time tend to be dominated by male athletes, though there have been many female athletes who have excelled in their sport and had a significant impact on their sport.
There have been several lists of great females athletes, and any reliable list should have Babe Didrickson Zaharias and Lottie Dod at or near the top. These two were once named by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most versatile female competitors. Athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee is also found at the top of these lists, and may be the greatest modern greatest female athlete.
Here are some details of top female athlete lists that have been published.
- CBS list of the top 24 female athletes of all time - top of this list form 2016 is Jackie Joyner-Kersee then Serena Williams.
- Sports Illustrated list of the Top 118 Female Athletes — published in 2000, top of this list is Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
- ESPN list of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years from June 2012 had US Soccer player Mia Hamm leading from Martina Navratilova then Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
- Bleacher Report list of the Top 50 female athletes ever, with Jackie Joyner-Kersee top followed by mulit-sport athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
- The ESPN SportsCentury program in 1999 created a list of the Top-100 Athletes of the 20th Century (which was limited to North American athletes), which included eight females; Babe Zaharias (ranked 10th), Martina Navratilova, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Wilma Rudolph, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Althea Gibson, Bonnie Blair.
- Seven Wonders - our list of the top 7 greatest women athletes of all time.
Some of the Greatest Female Athletes
Here is a list of some of the top 'greatest female athletes' the world has ever seen, sourced from the above lists and others. If you have someone else to suggest, let me know by commenting below.
The available lists of the greatest female athletes are becoming dated. Women's sport is on the rise, and some great athletes have made their mark in recent years, including gymnast Simone Biles, Serena and Venus Williams, skiier Lindsey Vonn, swimmer Katie Ledecky and so many others.
|Babe Didrickson Zaharias (USA)||track & field, golf, basketball.||At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she won gold in both the 80-meter hurdles and javelin throw, and took silver in the high jump. She won the British Ladies' Amateur golf tournament. She was the first (and still the only) woman in history to make the cut in a regular PGA Tour event. She achieved All-American status in basketball|
|Lottie Dod (UK)||tennis, hockey, archery, golf||At age 15, she became the youngest woman ever to win the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Championship, and went on to win it 4 more times. Played field hockey for England national two years after taking up the sport. She won the British Ladies' Amateur golf tournament in 1904. Won the silver medal in archery at the 1908 Olympics in London.|
|Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA)||track & field||4-time Olympian and 6-time Olympic medalist who twice won gold in the Heptathlon. Sports Illustrated voted her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.|
|Fanny Blankers-Koen (The Netherlands)||track & field||sprinter and hurdler who won 4 gold medals in the 1948 London Olympics. In the post-war years she set or equalled 12 world records in events as diverse as the long jump, the high jump, sprint and hurdling events and the Pentathlon. In 1999 the IAAF voted her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.|
|Clara Hughes (Canada)||cycling / speed skating||a 6-time Olympian and the only person (man or woman) to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympics|
|Mia Hamm (USA)||Soccer||She appeared in the first four Women's World Cups (winning two of them). She also won gold in the 1996 and 2004 Summer Olympics. She has 158 career goals in international competition, more than any other man or woman. Was also named Women's FIFA World Player of the Year the first two times the award was issued|
|Larissa Latynina (Soviet Union)||Gymnastics||gymnast who won a total of 18 Olympic Games medals (9 of them gold)|
|Martina Navratilova (Czech / USA)||tennis||player with the best winning record (man or woman) in tennis history.|
|Billie Jean King (USA)||tennis||Won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, with a career Grand Slam. Oldest woman to win a singles tournament at age 39. Famously won a "Battle of the Sexes" match, against Bobby Riggs in straight sets in 1973.|
|Wilma Rudolph (USA)||Track & Field||In the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games.|
Commenting is closed on this page, though you can read some previous comments below which may answer some of your questions.
- Paola Longoria, a Mexican racquetball player. two time reigning International Racquetball Federation World Champion in both Women's Singles and Doubles. Guavass (2016)
- The Babe, and she was a typing and sewing champion as well. Amanda Nemaric (2016)
- What about Serena Williams? StynWoes (2015)
- Read up on Babe Didrickson. No one can even come close to her multi sport athleticism. She might be the greatest athlete ever besides Jim Thorpe. Jeff (2014)
- Kelley-Ann Conroy • 7 months ago
What about Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld??? She excelled at every sport in which she participated...as an individual and as a team member!
- Fuzcapp (2017)
Babe Didrickson for sure. But where is Heather Mackay? Represented Australia in Hockey. Undefeated for 17 years as Women's World Squash Champion. Rarely dropped a set. In the end she got so bored playing women's squash, she took up Racquetball and started beating the men! Won numerous North American Racquetball championships (quasi-world titles) after retiring from squash.
- Seanhingston (2017)
SERENA WILLIAMS perhaps? 86% winning average, 23 singles slams, 14 doubles slams, 2 mixed dubs slams, 5 WTA year-ending Championships, 1 Fed Cup, 2 Hopman Cups and FOUR OLYMPIC GOLD medals over 5 Olympics. She also holds the all-time record for the most women's singles matches won at the Grand Slams with 316 matches.
- PeterF57 seanhingston (2019)
Margaret Court. 23 singles slams, 19 doubles slams, 21 mixed doubles slams. 192 wins, 92 in the open era. 91.74% winning percentage. Court is one of only three players in history (all women) to have won the "Grand Slam Boxed Set", consisting of every Grand Slam title (the singles, doubles and mixed doubles). Court, however, is the only one in tennis history to complete a Multiple Grand Slam set, twice, in all three disciplines: singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles. Uniquely, she won all 12 as an amateur and then after a period of retirement, returned as a professional to win all 12 again. I could go on, but will finish up by saying that Mrs Court was a lady on and off the court, unlike that uncouth behemoth williams, who cheats also, and is definitely suspect when it comes to drugs.
- PeterF57 PeterF57 (Nov 2020)
Actually Mrs Court has 24 slams, as opposed to that second rater williams, with her measly 23.
I have no idea how I missed that, as I am a pedant when it comes to posting, and check and double check, to make sure my facts are correct, and my spelling and grammar.
- PeterF57 seanhingston (2019)
- Seanhingston PeterF57 (Nov 2020)
Yeah mate - I'm Australian grew up admiring Court. I now believe her to be a threat to the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ people. Any mention of her in any forum has to have an asterisk for the hate and vitriol and violence her words can, and are, causing fellow Aussies and vulnerable LGBTQ people all around the world.
- PeterF57 seanhingston (Nov 2020)
I know Sean. Mrs Court sends them apoplectic with confected rage. How about this year's Australian Open, when they 'celebrated', albeit grudgingly, her Grand Slam 50th anniversary. There was Navratilova and that mega-brat McEnroe, blathering on about her hateful words, the president of TA going on about diversity and all the other crap that idiots go on about these days, yet the tournament was sponsored by Emirates, which is run from a country that puts homosexuals to death simply for being homosexual. You really can't make this merde up.
- Jules (2017)
what about cathy freeman - first aboriginal australian to win gold??
- Peter (2020)
Freeman won one gold. So what if she was a first? She won only one gold medal, as good as that may be, unlike our other female sprint champions from yesteryear, with Betty Cuthbert winning 4 gold medals, and Shirley Strickland winning 3 Olympic golds. Marjorie Jackson won 2 golds. One measly gold, and you want her in simply because she is aboriginal. A tad racist don't you think?
- Peter (2020)
- Mac Davis (2016)
Irena Szewinska - held world records in all the sprints 100 m, 200 m, 400m. Only runner to be ranked world #1 at all 3 distances 1974. Won 7 Olympic medals from 4 games (3 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze). Also worlds # 1 Long Jumper 3 times in career. Was ranked in the top 3 - 200m runners for 15 years. 7 times ranked # 1.
- Sandra Wright Sutherland (2016)
Audrey McElmury is the first American - of either sex - to win a World Championship in road cycling. She is little known, but I just published a biography of her life. Her dedication and talent was way beyond others of her time in the U.S.
- StynWoes (2015)
oh...I see. The list is for retired women.
- Noah (2013)
hey wheres Lindsey jacobellis
- Carolthelibrarian (2013)
What about Marie Marvingt?
- Joe T Baggerly (2015)
Ronda Rousey consistently beats top men in MMA in sparring sessions. None of these women even come close to her accomplishments just in Judo starting from age 11 up to age 21, Ronda was an elite Judoka competing at the highest Olympic and world class level. NONE of the top women athletes today or in the past are in the same league. Do your homework people before you start throwing out claims that cannot be backed up with responsible journalism.and study of historical facts.
Granted, it may be difficult to compare some sports against one another...like comparing Apples and Oranges but no single woman has brought female sports into the forefront like Ronda Rousey and she continues to be THE leader of 3rd wave feminism as well as helping young girls feel good about themselves and girls who diet/purge/binge etc. Ronda's book (My fight/Your fight) has helped hundreds if not thousands of young girls with body image issues. Ronda is outspoken about spouse abuse and has been in Floyd Mayweather's face about all his spouse abuse issues and trust me ... Ronda Rousey can absolutely kick his ass in a street fight. One of the reasons Ronda CAN be so outspoken and truthful about sensitive subjects is that she fears no man.
- Scanspeak Joe T Baggerly (2015)
This post looks a bit embarrassing now.
- Mason Joe T Baggerly (2015)
Nobody gives a hoot about mma
- Anonymous Joe T Baggerly (2016)
Haha! Even more embarrassing now! What do you have to say now after she got destroyed by Nunes? You delusional fool.
- Scanspeak Joe T Baggerly (2015)