Top 10 Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time

There is something about female athletes that seems to highlight the sporting industry in a perspective that was once never expected. When talented female players advance in sports, there is something extraordinary about their persistence and their distinctiveness that sets them apart from men.

While the sporting industry still thrives on its male-dominant successions, certain parts of sporting history have been impacted significantly, with the influence of the talent and the ambitions of female athletes. The following athletes have rather influenced their particular sport, or the entire sporting world at some point. From flipping on uneven bars, to anchoring the most popular sport networks, to obliterating world records that no one saw coming. In the past, it would not have been suggested that female athletes could have such an impact on the sporting industry. However, each of these talented women follow unimaginable successions and an athleticism that excelled women’s sports into the crazy obsession that it is today.

Many lists of influential athletes are often filled with the male athletes of history. The world of sports is unbelievably competitive and often difficult to succeed in. Many women in the world want to compete at the Olympics, yet only a handful ever gets to experience it. With that said, it may be surprising to know the enormous impact that female athletes have had on sports since first being allowed to participate. However, far too many women have excelled their way into sports and have had an immense impact on the sports of today to not honour them. Most female athletes came into the industry with the desire to play sports. Combine that with an irrefutable talent and the ambitions of a leader and you have 10 of the most influential women in sports of all time.

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10 Brittney Griner

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The 6’8” baller with 18 career dunks as a college player and the refusal to hide her sexuality to protect her career is first on our list. Former Baylor idol, Brittney Griner has a dominating style and athleticism that has proved an exhilarating contribution to the history of NCAA’s women’s basketball. Griners’ college team, the Lady Bears, saw endless victories, losing just one regular season conference game and winning the National Championship in 2012. Now, in her third season with the Phoenix Mercury, she's already led them to a WNBA Title. Griner has already become an immense impact on basketball and its cultural landscape and her career has only just begun.

9 Linda Cohn

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Although not a competitive athlete, ESPN’s Linda Cohn, who was hired by the Worldwide Leader in 1992, has become one of the more distinct personalities to influence the sports network. Cohn made sportscasting history after being hired by ABC in 1987, becoming the first US female sports anchor on a national radio network.

With a cynical sense of humour and that wonderful Long Island accent, the American sportscaster has the type of personality that distinguishes her from her colleagues.

8 Maria Sharapova

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Drawing attention to any event she competes in, Sharapova brings serious advertisement and broadcasting to women’s tennis. Her influence became obvious after becoming the 2nd most searched female athlete in 2011 and her $24.5 million endorsements. Russia’s Maria Sharapova is currently ranked number 2 in the Women’s Tennis Association. Sharapova turned pro in 2001 and on five occasions has been ranked the number one player. She's an incredible force on the tour, with her impressive 34 singles titles and five Grand Slam titles.

7 Mia Hamm

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Winning two of the first four Women’s World Cups and a founding member of the Washington Freedom, USA’s Mia Hamm has had 158 career goals in international competitions- the most that any other Soccer player has ever reached. In the 1996 and 2004 Summer Olympics, Hamm won the Gold medal and was awarded with the Woman’s FIFA World Player of the Year for the first two years of its title. Now, the retired soccer player is honored in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

6 Dawn Staley

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Former Virginia standout, Hall of Fame WNBA player and three-time Olympic gold medalist, Dawn Staley took over a women's basketball program in 2008 and created a force to be reckoned. As Temple’s head coach, Staley’s first eight years saw the Owls make six NCAA tournament appearances. She then took on a much bigger role as the coach of the South CArolina Lady Gamecocks, which saw her win the SEC and make their third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.Her incredible success has her as a finalist for the Pat Summitt Coach of the Year Award.

5 Mary Lou Retton

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Mary Lou Retton became the first woman outside of Eastern Europe to win the all-round gymnastics gold medal in the Olympics in 1984, which made her one of the most popular female athletes in the US. Retton also won the American Cup and placed second at the US Nationals in 1983. Further success was found after winning Japan's 1983 Chunichi Cup, along with the American Classis in both 1983 and 1984. Retton has a gymnast legacy with the uneven bars move “The Retton Flip” and is still today seen as a major gymnastics influence in history.

4 Billie Jean King

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Tennis player Billie Jean King became a famously influential female athlete at age 29 after winning a “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs in 1973. However, that is far from the reason that this extraordinary competitor made it to the list. King, with a career Grand Slam, won 12 Grand Slam single titles, along with winning a title at age 39 and being the oldest woman to ever win a singles tournament. In total, throughout her illustrious playing career, King won 129 singles titles, which is truly an impressive feat.

3 Jackie Joyner-Kersee

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Along with three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals in the heptathlon and long jump, Joyner-Kersee won hundreds of competitions during her athletic career and was named the top female athlete of the 20th century in Sports Illustrated for Women. At the 1986 Goodwill Games, Joyner-Kersee became the first woman to score 7000 points in a heptathlon event and, in the same year, received the James E. Sullivan Award as top amateur athlete in America.

2 Lottie Dod

UK’s Lottie Dod- with a talent in tennis, hockey, golf and archery- became the youngest woman to ever win the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Championship at the age of just 15. She then continued to win a further four times after that. With such an athletic diversity, Dod played for England’s national field hockey after her first two years of play and won the British Ladies’ Amateur golf tournament in 1904. At the 1908 Olympics in London, she won the silver medal in archery and quickly became a female influence that has impacted the world today.

1 Babe Didrikson Zaharias

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Perhaps the most influential female athlete of all time, USA’s Babe Didrikson Zaharias won gold in both the 80 Meter hurdles and javelin throw, along with a silver medal in the high jump at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Lose Angeles. Zaharias won the 1946 US Women’s Amateur golf tournament and in the following year, saw the winning of the British Ladies’ Amateur golf Tournament. Her experience in golf resulted in the joint founding of the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association in 1949, along with competitive golfer, Patty Berg. She played at three different PGA events and remain the only woman to ever make the cut at a PGA tournament.

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