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International Women’s Day 2021: Iconic Female Athletes who ‘Choose to Challenge’

writes David Andrews

With International Women’s Day being celebrated this weekend, I was struck by the thought of how far women have come in sport. Over the last 100 years or so women have been impactful, serving as inspirations and role models to those who aspire to do the same. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Choose to Challenge’, and with the likes of the courageous women below who choose to challenge the norms of society daily, we are seeing a shift in the dominant world many of us may have been brought up in. 

Starting with names like Billie Jean King and Wilma Rudolph, the world of female sport has continued to excel and we have been introduced to various other powerful women along the way. In 2018, Nielsen released a report based on the rise of women’s sport which showed over 84% of general sports fans now have an interest in the female sports industry.

Below, I’ve listed some of the most iconic female athletes who have paved the way for women’s sport to be in the spotlight. These are just a select few of the millions of inspirational women around the world. Every day women are challenging stereotypes and defying odds, proving to be role models for the younger generation. These ladies have encouraged change, and with this, encouraging the next generation to ‘Choose the Challenge’.

Wilma Rudolph

Sprinter Wilma Rudolph was the first-ever American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics (Rome, 1960). Suffering from polio at the age of five, Wilma overcame the loss of strength in her left leg and foot to become the fastest woman in the world at the Games in 1960. We should also mention that she held the record for the 100 meters at 11.2 seconds and 200 meters at 22.9 seconds. Rudolph gained international recognition during the 1960 Games due to its worldwide television coverage. During the peak of the civil rights movement, Rudolph was a trailblazer; she fought for the rights of African American’s and women, while also breaking the gender barrier of all-male track events. Rudolph’s legacy lives on today.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is regarded as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, if not the best. With 39 Grand Slam titles to her name, including 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles and 11 in mixed doubles, it is clear that King is an all-time great. Her advocacy for gender equality and social justice remains today, and her continued fight for equal pay allowed her to become the first female athlete to earn over $100,000 in prize money in 1971. However, inequalities continued after this historic feat. Today, King is a primary advocate for women and LGBTQ equality.

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe is co-captain of the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) and helped the US to its second consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019. Rapinoe scored six goals along the way to winning the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards. She was a key part of the successful FIFA World Cup side in 2015 and 2012 Olympic team, winning a gold medal at both events. Rapinoe is vocal both on and off the field and is an advocate for numerous LGBTQ organisations, often using her platform to speak out against social injustice and is also a powerful advocate for women in sports and equality.

Katie Taylor

One of Ireland’s greatest sporting champions, Katie Taylor has inspired countless girls to follow their dreams– even in what are normally male-dominated spaces. The boxing legend’s incredibly successful career has seen her become the undisputed World Lightweight Champion and has been named RTÉ’s Sportsperson of the year twice– in 2012 following her Olympic gold medal, and again just last month. The spectacular athlete, who has been crowned World Amateur Champion in boxing multiple times, often takes the time to encourage her younger fans to persevere in their passion, writing last year that you should “never underestimate the conviction of a dream in a child”.

This list is a mere snippet of the ever-increasing female sports stars who chose to challenge the status quo. We’d love to hear your opinions on these inspirational women, or on others who inspire you to be great every day.