Billie Jean King

Bobby Riggs was an excellent tennis player who won six major championships and spent three years at number one on the world rankings. After his retirement in 1951, he continued to promote the sport and express his opinions about its progress until his death in 1995. Riggs was a strong proponent of the superiority of men’s tennis to women’s; at 55 years old, he boasted that he could beat any female player. In 1973, 29-year-old female professional player Billie Jean King faced off against Riggs in a match that became known as “The Battle of the Sexes.” King made a stunning comeback after falling behind during the first set. She won all three sets, winning 6 to 3 in the third set and taking home $100,000 for her efforts.

Judit Polgar

All-time chess champion Garry Kasparov was defeated in Moscow in 2002 by Hungarian Judit Polgar, who since childhood has broken barriers for women. In a match between Russia and the Rest of the World, Polgar beat him in 42 moves. A few years before they first met in Spain, Kasparov had called Polgar a “circus puppet” and said women chess players should stick to having children. The game came down to a battle of rooks: Polgar’s pair broke through in the centre, while Kasparov’s floundered on the flanks. Polgar mopped up the black pawns, forcing Kasparov to resign without waiting for her next move. He then escaped into a passage where journalists and photographers were barred; Polgar described the game as “one of the most remarkable moments of my career.”

Gertrude Ederle

On August 6, 1926, the New York Daily News proclaimed on its frontpages: “ENGLAND OR DROWN!” It was the day that an American swimmer—Gertrude Ederle—was poised to become the first woman to swim across the English Channel. Although only five men had previously swum the waterway, Ederle made it across in 14.5 hours, beating all previous times. The challenges included quickly changing tides and six-foot waves, frigid temperatures, and lots of jellyfish.

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell made history in 1931 when she pitched two innings of a baseball game against the New York Yankees. She was only 17 years old at the time. As her team’s pitcher, Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, two of the game’s greatest hitters, in succession with only seven pitches. Ruth had told a Chattanooga reporter before the game, “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”

Lynn Hill

In 1993, rock climber Lynn Hill became the first person–male or female–to complete a free ascent of the Nose Route on Yosemite’s El Capitan. Hill was frustrated by gender disparities in the sport, so she worked to level the playing field. “I made a statement,” Hill said, referencing her climb on the Nose. “We shouldn’t be limited by our stereotypes.” Some jealous male climbers complained that Hill’s gender gave her an unfair advantage because of her small hands, which were uniquely suited to the rock face. “It’s generally not an easy thing for men when women climb better than them,” Hill said.

Pamela Reed

Pamela Reed won the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2002 and 2003, running 135 miles through the Mojave Desert. She followed up by becoming the first person–male or female–to run 300 miles straight without sleep. Her male rival Dean Karnazes, who won Badwater in 2004 and set a world record for running 7 marathons in 7 days as well as other feats, attempted the 300-mile run twice and failed.

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick is not only the most successful woman in the history of American car racing, but she is one of the few female race car drivers to have ever competed. Patrick, who began stock car racing as a youngster, won the Indy Japan 300 in 2008— becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race. In 2009, Patrick finished third in the Indianapolis 500—the highest finish by a female driver in that race. In 2013, she became the first female NASCAR driver to take a pole position in the Daytona 500. Her eighth place finish at that race is the highest finish for a woman in that race to date.

Jackie Tonawanda

Jackie Tonawanda, nicknamed “The Female Ali” of the 1970s and 1980s, can be credited with paving the way for female boxers. She was one of three women to successfully sue New York State for a boxing license. On June 8, 1975, Tonawanda became the first female boxer to fight in Madison Square Garden. Her opponent was Larry Rodania, a male kickboxer from Aaron Bank’s Oriental World of Self-Defense. Tonawanda won the match via second-round knockout.

Katie Hnida

August 30, 2003, was a historic day in women’s football as Katie Hnida became the first woman to score points in an NCAA Division 1-A game. She did so while playing for the New Mexico Lobos at the University of New Mexico. Hnida played in the fourth quarter of the game against Texas State University. She was the second woman ever to dress in a college football uniform in the United States. Even today, few women are asked to play in NCAA games. However, Hnida helped prove that women can score points alongside men.


Wrestler Jeff Jarrett was notorious for demeaning women both in and out of the ring. However, he got what was coming to him in 1999 when he faced off against female wrestler Chyna in World Wrestling Federation’s No Mercy match. The participants were allowed to use household objects to hit each other. Chyna pinned Jarrett with his own guitar and won the title belt, becoming the first woman to hold a WWF Intercontinental Championship. She also made a statement by showing Jarrett how much tougher she was than him.

Eri Yoshida

In 2008, 16-year-old pitcher Eri Yoshida became the first woman ever drafted by a Japanese professional baseball team when she joined the Kobe 9 Cruise. In 2010, Yoshida became the third woman in history to play in the U.S. She was also the first Japanese woman to play in a men’s professional baseball league, when she joined Chico Outlaws, part of California’s Golden Baseball League. She was drafted in 2017 by the professional baseball team Tochigi Golden Braves, which was mostly male at the time. Yoshida is still known as the “knuckleball princess,” a nickname she received when she was in high school because of her ability to throw a knuckleball.

Julie Krone

As a child, American Julie Krone was already an accomplished show rider, but she still dreamed of emulating the career of professional thoroughbred jockey Steve Cauthen. In 1981, Krone moved closer to her dream of becoming a jockey when she started riding at Tampa Bay Downs. Two weeks later, she won her first race, and by 1993 she had accomplished something no woman had ever done before: winning the 1993 Belmont Stakes while riding Colonial Affair. Her victory in the Belmont Stakes in 1988 made Krone the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race. Voters were so impressed by her accomplishment that they subsequently inducted her into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. But Krone wasn’t done yet. In 2003, she became the first woman jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race when she rode Halfbridled in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.

Carissa Moore

Surfer Carissa Moore has won several women’s competitions, but her most important victory came in 2007 when she beat out male competitors to win the Quicksilver King of the Groms event. In 2011, Moore was the first female to earn a wild card entry into the Triple Crown of Surfing, a prestigious competition featuring only men. She has since been inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame.

Ellen MacArthur

On February 7, 2005, English sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur beat the world record for fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. She sailed around the equator in a time of 71 days, 14 hours, and 18 minutes, beating male sailor Francis Joyon’s previous record by 1 day, 8 hours, 35 minutes, and 49 seconds. MacArthur finished her voyage by sleeping only 20 minutes at a time. She now works at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization that teaches young people how to sail while they recover from cancer.

Zhang Shan

Chinese athlete Zhang Shan won the gold in Olympic Skeet Shooting at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. The event was mixed gender, and she became the only woman to win a medal in the sport between 1972 and 1992. Shan hit 24 targets in the 25-shot final, missing only one. She also shot 96 hits during the qualifying round, matching the world record set by Veronique Girardet-Allard at the Lonato World Shooting Championship in 2005.

Babe Zaharias

Babe Zaharias was the first woman to play in a men’s PGA golf tournament when she competed in the Los Angeles Open in 1945. It took nearly 50 years before another woman played in a men’s tournament. Zaharias later became the first female celebrity golfer in the U.S. and was well known in the ’40s and ’50s. Zaharias was one of six initial inductees into the LPGA Hall of Fame when it opened in 1977. She also has a museum dedicated to her in Beaumont, Texas. In January 2021, Zaharias was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Fallon Sherrock

In 2019, 25-year-old English darts player Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to beat a man at the Professional Darts Corporation World Championships, defeating Ted Evetts in the first round by a score of 3–2. She followed this win up with a victory over Mensur Suljovic, who was ranked 11th in the world. During the 2021 Gland Slam of Darts, Sherrock broke more records by becoming the first woman in darts history to reach the quarter-finals in a major darts tournament. Thanks to Sherrock, it is no longer true that “darts is a man’s world.”

Camille Herron

Camille Herron, fuelled by beer and tacos, defeated the competition at the USA Track and Field 100-mile Championships in Nevada earlier this year. Her triumph was significant for several reasons, not least because it marked the first time an American woman had won this event. First, Herron broke her own women’s world record, crossing the line in 12 hours and 41 minutes. Second, the American smashed the 50-mile world record in the 40 to 44-year-old age category with a time of 6 hours and 8 minutes. Herron also finished nearly 30 minutes ahead of the fastest male athlete, Arlen Glick, who came in second in 13:10:25.

Jasmin Paris

British runner Jasmin Paris shattered the course record at the 268-mile Montane Spine Race in January 2019. She finished in 83:12:23, 12 hours faster than the previous mark. At the time of the race, she was still breastfeeding her daughter and stopped off to express milk mid-race. Her nearest opponent, a male athlete, finished 15 hours behind her.

Katie Wright

Katie Wright, a British junior doctor, won the 2019 Riverhead Backyard ReLaps Ultra-marathon in New Zealand by running almost nonstop for 30 hours. She beat 40 men and six other women. For the 32-year-old who had only run her first ultra race in October 2018, it was a phenomenal performance.

Sarah Thomas

American marathon swimmer Sarah Thomas holds the record for farthest distance swum by a woman, 104.6 miles in 2017. On August 7, 2017, Thomas began her swim at Rouses Point, New York and swam to and around Gardiner Island, Addison County, Vermont before returning to Rouses Point on August 10. Her trip took a total of 67 hours and 16 minutes. She swam almost 39 miles farther than the men’s record holder.

Courtney Dauwalter

Courtney Dauwalter, who frequently competes in ultra-marathons, including the Moab 240—a 238-mile race in the oppressive heat of the Utah desert—is one of the first women to finish it. The first man finished 10 hours behind her. She also holds the record for the longest distance by a female runner in the Big Dog’s Ultra race.

Sonya Thomas

Sonya Thomas, a petite Korean-American from Los Angeles, has gained a following in the competitive eating circuit with her small size and love for food. She has been nicknamed “The Black Widow” because of her penchant for beating men up to five times her size in eating contests. In 2003, Thomas won the National Buffalo Wing Festival. She competed against men, who were her biggest rivals, and downed 134 buffalo wings in 12 minutes. The next year, she won the competition again, and in 2007 and 2011 she did it for a third and fourth time. She also made a name for herself at the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. In 2004, she finished 26.5 hotdogs in 12 minutes—a record for any American competitor, male or female.

Kelly Kulick

Kelly Kulick made history on June 4, 2006, when she was granted an exemption on the Professional Bowling Association tour. This made her the first female pro bowler to compete in every PBA event for the 2006-2007 season. After Kulick won her first PBA Tour title, she set out to become the first woman to win a PBA event. In 2010, she accomplished that goal at the Tournament of Champions. Kulick had qualified for the tournament by winning the PBA Women’s World Championship, but she proved her worthiness to participate in it by outscoring Chris Barnes in the final, 265-195.

Michaela Hutchison

Women have wrestled against men for years, but Michaela Hutchison from Anchorage, Alaska made history in 2006 by becoming the first female wrestler to win a state championship where males also competed. Michaela’s brothers had both been wrestling state champions, so she had plenty of experience in the sport before becoming a state champion herself. But it was still special when she was able to score an escape with just 16 seconds left in her championship match, enabling her to win 1-0. Hutchinson finished the season with a 45-4 record, including 33 pins — one shy of the state’s single-season record for pins. One boy who lost to her confirmed, “I expected it. She’s good.”

Simone Biles

American gymnast Simone Biles, who holds 25 world championship medals, became the most decorated gymnast in history in 2019 when she broke male gymnast Vitaly Scherbo’s record of 24 medals at the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles won five gold medals, including the all-around title, when she incorporated two new skills into her routine – skills that will be named after her in the women’s code of points. The Olympics in Tokyo in 2021 was a big year for Biles and she won two more medals to take her collection of Olympic medals to a grand total of seven. At just 24, Biles has already earned a place among the all-time great Olympic athletes, like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. She is already considered the greatest gymnast that ever lived.

Ko Jin-young

South Korean golfer Ko Jin-young made history at the 2019 Cambia Portland Classic, finishing a streak of 114 holes without hitting a single bogey. She eclipsed Tiger Woods’ record of 110 bogey-free holes in 2000. Ko finished her streak by making a par on the eighth hole and then missing a 3-foot putt for par on the ninth. “Now it’s done,” Ko said. “I’m free.”

Shannon Szabados

Canadian Shannon Szabados, who plays goalie for the Columbus Cottonmouths, became the first woman to compete in the Southern Professional Hockey League after she made her debut with the team during its 2013-2014 season. On November 21, 2014, Szabados made 34 saves to become the first female goaltender to win a game in the Southern Professional Hockey League when the Cottonmouths defeated the Fayetteville FireAntz 5–4 in overtime. On December 27, 2015, Szabados made her mark in hockey history by recording a shutout in a men’s professional league. She made 33 saves and led the Cottonmouths to a 3–0 win over the Huntsville Havoc.

Manon Rhéaume

Manon Rhéaume remains the only female ice hockey player to ever play in the NHL, appearing in a September 1992 preseason game for the Tampa Bay Lightning that marked the first time a woman had ever played in a men’s professional sporting event in any major league in the United States. “There were so many times in my life that people said ‘No’ to me because I was a girl.” Rhéaume told In the first period, Rhéaume played in action and had seven saves, allowing two goals. The score was tied 2-2 at the end of the first period.

Annie Duke

Nicknamed ‘The Duchess of Poker’, Annie Duke is still considered one of the top four poker players in the world, despite retiring back in 2010. In the 2000 World Series of Poker World Championship event, even though she was nine months pregnant with her third child, she placed 10th out of a total of 512 players. This was the second-highest finish by a woman in the event’s history. In 2010, Duke won the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. She defeated a field of 64 players including former winner Huck Seed and Erik Seidel in the final match. She won $500,000 and became the first female player to ever win the event. As of September 2021, Duke’s lifetime live tournament winnings of $4,270,548 rank her fourth overall on the list of women’s all-time live tournament winnings.