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Ann Bancroft (1955- )
In 1986, this teacher, coach, and athlete joined a dogsled expedition across the ice to the North Pole - becoming the first women to complete this feat. Then in 1993, Bancroft led a team of four women, skiing and pulling sleds, to the South Pole. She has been involved in a number of organizations dedicated to helping women, girls, and those with learning and physical disabilities.

Suggested Site:
Bancroft Arenson Expedition: Ann Bancroft


Joan Benoit (1957- )
Until 1980, the Olympic Games offered no race for women longer than a mile. When the marathon for women was introduced in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, a 26-year-old American took home the gold, becoming a national celebrity. Benoit is also famous for her record-breaking performances in the Boston Marathon, where she set an American record in 1979 and a world record in 1983. Her feats inspired a new generation of women long-distance runners.

Suggested Site:
Maine Women's Hall of Fame: Joan Benoit


Bonnie Blair (1964- )
The fastest U.S. speed skater who ever lived, Blair is considered one of the top 10 winter Olympic athletes of all time. Winner of five Olympic gold medals, she is the first American athlete to win three consecutive golds in any winter Olympics event. Not only did she win the gold for the 500-meter in the 1988, 1992, and 1994 Games, she broke the world record in both the 1988 and 1994 races.

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SportsCentury Top Athletes: Bonnie Blair

Mildred “Babe” Didrikson (1914-1956)
Six-time winner of the Woman Athlete of the Year award and named Woman Athlete of the Half Century in 1950, Didrikson more than earned her nickname “Babe” (after Babe Ruth). At the 1932 summer Olympics, she won two gold medals - breaking two world records - in track and field events. That same year, she played pro basketball and even pitched a pre-season baseball game. In 1949, she helped found the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and went on to win the 1954 U.S. Open and All American Open. She holds more medals and records in more sports than any other 20th century athlete.

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SportsCentury Top Athletes: Babe Didrikson

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)
From the time she was young, Earhart knew she wanted to fly planes. In 1921, she began flying lessons, buying her first plane just six months later. She went on to achieve many firsts, including records for speed and altitude. In 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Then in 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean. In her final flight, Earhart attempted to fly around the world, but her plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

Suggested Site:
The Official Site of Amelia Earhart


Gertrude Ederle (1906- )
In the 1920s, many people didn’t believe a woman could swim the 35 miles across the English Channel. But in 1926, Ederle not only completed the swim, she broke the men’s record by almost two hours. She set many other world records in swimming and won three medals in the 1924 Olympic games. She later became a swimming instructor for the deaf, as her own hearing had been permanently impaired by the famous English Channel swim.

Suggested Site:
Women in American History: Gertrude Ederle

Althea Gibson (1927- )
From the streets of Harlem to the courts of Wimbledon, Gibson faced many challenges on her way to becoming a tennis champion. As an African American, she was excluded from professional tournaments early in her career. But in 1950 - amidst a storm of controversy and racism - Gibson was finally permitted to play in the U.S. Nationals (today the U.S. Open). Not only was she the first African American to complete in the tournament, she won it in 1957 and 1958. She was also the first African American to win the French Open and Wimbledon. By the end of her career, she won a total of 11 Grand Slam events, breaking the color barrier for future African-American tennis players.

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SportsCentury Top Athletes: Althea Gibson


Mia Hamm (1972- )
She started playing soccer at the age of seven and today is considered one of the best woman athletes in the world. Hamm has led the USA in an Olympic gold medal and two World Cup championships. At 15, she was the youngest player ever to play for the U.S. National Team. She has been named U.S. Female Player of the Year five times and World Cup MVP twice. By 1999, she scored more points in international competition than any other soccer player in history, man or woman.

Suggested Site:
Mia Hamm Foundation: Mia Hamm

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1962- )
Although she has struggled with asthma and allergies for years, many consider Joyner-Kersee the best all-around woman athlete in the world. She has won six Olympic medals, including three gold, in the long jump and heptathlon. She also broke the world record in the heptathlon, a two-day event that includes hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin, a 200-meter race, and an 800-meter race.

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SportsCentury Top Athletes: Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Billie Jean King (1943- )
This tennis champion won a record 20 Wimbledon titles, including six singles titles, as well as titles in four U.S. Open singles, the French Open singles, and the Australian Open singles. But King is also known for her efforts for equality in women’s tennis. In the 1973 “battle of the sexes,” she defeated Bobby Riggs, who said no woman could beat a man. In addition to her outstanding tennis career, she was active in the woman’s rights movement and helped found the Women’s Tennis Association in 1970.

Suggested Site:
Women in American History: Billie Jean King


Libby Riddles (1956- )
The Iditarod, a challenging 1000-mile dog sled race across Alaska, has historically been a sport dominated by men. But during the 1985 competition, champion dog sled racer Riddles did something daring. She mushed her dogs through a fierce blizzard, gaining a lead over the other racers. She reached the finish line three days later, becoming the first woman ever to win the Iditarod.

Suggested Site:
Female Frontiers: Libby Riddles

Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994)
As a child, Rudolph was diagnosed with polio, which left her with limited use of her left leg. She wore a steel leg brace until the age of 11, but by high school she was running track and playing basketball. She was a track star at Tennessee State University, but it was Olympics that made her famous. In the 1960 Games, she won gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and as a member of the 4 ×100-meter relay team, becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.

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SportsCentury Top Athletes: Wilma Rudolph

Pictures: Associated Press (6) |

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