Top five women in sports you probably never heard of

Celebrating National Women’s History in the Sports World

Wilma Rudolph / photo courtesy of Flickr / Creative Commons

Wilma Rudolph / photo courtesy of Flickr / Creative Commons

Adrienne Austin, Sports Writer

As gender barriers break, a whole new world of fantastic female athletes is opening. Over time, women have shown what they are capable of and have been inspirations for us today and will be for future generations. Most of us have heard of the legendary tennis players, Venus and Serena Williams. But what about other female athletes that paved the way for women in sports today? Here are some of the top five.

Wilma Rudolph  

The first athlete on the list is a woman whose story is truly unforgettable. Wilma Rudolph was an African American woman who was known at the time as “the fastest woman in the world,” that was not the path for her that anyone could have ever imagined. She was born in 1940 as a premature baby and had to wear a leg brace throughout her childhood. During that time, she contracted polio, a disease that can cause muscle paralysis. Rudolph said, “My doctor told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” Later, at the age of 11, Rudolph learned to walk on her own and started to discover her love for sports. Despite the possibility that she would never be able to walk again, Rudolph went on to be a record-breaking track champion. She ran events such as 100m, 200m and 4 x 100 relay. She even won three gold medals in a single Olympic game and became the first African American woman to do so. She truly is talented, inspirational, and has shown what women are capable of. 


Babe Didrikson Zaharias

The next female athlete was an individual who was skilled at numerous sports and had many first-place medals to prove that she was the real deal. Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, who was known as “Babe,” was named “Women Athlete of the Half-Century” in 1950. She was known for primarily track and field and tennis, but she also played basketball, baseball and swam competitively. One of her most notable accomplishments is her eight first-place awards at the 1931 National Women’s AAU Track Meet. Not too long after, she competed in the 1932 Olympics. She participated in track and field events such as hurdles, high jump and javelin throw. Even though women were only allowed to compete in three events, Zaharias broke four world records.

And that’s not even it for this breathtaking woman: in 1938 she made it to the qualifying round in the PGA golf tournament, becoming the first woman to ever compete. Zaharias once said, “All of my life I have always had the urge to do things better than anybody else,” and she did. 


Kathryn Johnson 

The third fearless female was just 12 years old when she proved that girls had the athletic ability to play sports. In 1950 Kathryn Johnson’s favorite thing to do was play baseball, but at the time, girls were not allowed to play. While watching her brother get ready for Little League Baseball tryouts, Johnson thought it was unfair that she wasn’t allowed to play when she knew that she was just as good as him. So she cut her braids, tucked her hair behind her ears, and tried out for the team posing as a boy with the nickname “Tubby.” She then made the team.

In a recent interview with StoryCorps, she was asked if making the team came as a shock to her. “No, I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew I was good, and I had fooled them so far,” she said. Rewinding back to 1950, Johnson came clean after a few weeks of practicing. Although she had the support of her coach and teammates, she was constantly pushed down and made fun of by other teams. The Little League Organization even disapproved of her playing. Despite the falls, Johnson is proud to have proven that girls truly have what it takes to compete. 


Julie Krone 

Up next is a woman who won’t let anyone or anything stop her from being the best. Julie Krone is an American Jockey who has over 3,700 wins in her career. For those who are unaware, American Jockey is professional horse racing, usually with obstacles along the way. A sport like this takes skill and hard work, and Krone proved she had what it takes.  She has a long list of accomplishments, but one of her most notable was being inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, and is the first woman to do so. Before that, she became the first woman to win a Triple Crown Event. She made racing her first priority and was willing to do whatever it took. She has once even raced with a fractured kneecap and still ended up taking the win. Krone was a true example of determination and perseverance.


Gayle Gardner

While female athletes have dominated in their playing field, it is important to bring light to those behind the scenes. Last on the list is Gayle Gardner, who became one of the first female sports broadcasters and reporters to air weekly on a major television network. In 1983, Garder became a SportsCenter anchor for ESPN. She later started broadcasting for NBC. At NBC, she had the opportunity to anchor college football games, NFL live and even Super Bowl XXIII.

On August 3, 1993, she did a televised play-by-play of professional baseball, becoming the first woman to do so. Finally, Garder co-hosted NBC’s coverage of the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics. She is a clear role model for females who want to use their love for sports to do something big. Gardner is an advocate for women broadcasters and being on air for knowledge and not looks. Gardner said, “For women especially, this profession will never stop being a struggle with constant blows which must be taken”. Gardner paved the way for female broadcasting and still remains a role model for women today.