It takes a lot to be a professional athlete: time, commitment, serious dedication, willpower.
For athletes who also are female, it can take even more grit to succeed in the male-dominated world of sports. And increasingly, these iconic women are flexing their strength off the the field to also address serious issues in society.
Serious female athletes are still asked ridiculous questions about smiling, or their tennis outfits by reporters. In some sports, like US soccer, women are paid one-fourth of the salary that their male-competitors receive. And when women sports are shown in the media, their airtime is miniscule compared to men’s sports.
One study found that women’s sports on ESPN and Fox Sports accounted for only 1% of total airtime, and that despite 40% of athletes in college and professional sports being female, only 4% of media coverage focused on women’s sports.
But sports can also be extremely empowering for girls, helping them build self-confidence. The women who have risen to the top ranks in sports demonstrate this; they are empowered and ready to compete, on and off the field, like women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe did when it came to equal pay for her and her teammates.
And around the world, female athletes are showing how that empowerment looks on the global state.
At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Saudi Arabia, sent a record-breaking four women to the games. For a country where women are culturally discouraged from playing sports, that is a historical move forward for women.
Here’s a look at 18 of these amazing female athletes, fighting for justice, for equality, and for victory around the world.
Game: Gymnastics – Women’s creative tumbling
Beginning of vocation: 2011
Most prominent accomplishment:
- Taken an interest in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she won 5 awards (4 gold and one bronze)
- Won 25 awards in World Championships (19 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze)
- Won 2 gold awards at the 2016 Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships
- Won 3 awards in FIG World Cups (2 gold, one silver)
Relationship: Dating proficient American football player Jonathan Owens
Co-creator of the personal history Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance
Contended on season 24 of Dancing with the Stars