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Celebrating Female Athletes

Gone are the days that sports were reserved for men, while women “threw like girls.” The games in Rio begin on August 5, 2016, and women are making their marks.

The ancient games allowed only men to participate. It wasn’t until 1900 in Paris that women were included in the general games, for lawn tennis, croquet, yachting, equestrian, golf and gymnastics. Over 100 years later in 2012, the games debuted women’s boxing, and for the first time in history, there were no sports that didn’t include women. Here are some of the most influential women in athletic history:

“She came to the games and conquered.”

Helene de Pourtales

Helen de Pourtales was the first woman to compete in the modern Games in 1900. From Switzerland, she participated in the yachting games. Elvira Guerra from France competed in the equestrian games, Charlotte Cooper from England in the tennis games and Margaret Abbott from the U.S. in the golf games in 1900 as well, the yachting games were the first of the year to include women. Not only was she the first woman to compete, but she came to the games and conquered, leaving with a gold medal.

Mildred Didrikson Zaharias

By the time Mildred Didrikson Zaharias got to the 1932 competition, she had already gained attention by competing in track and field and gaining All-American status in basketball. When she competed, she won two gold medals and a silver. After the game, Didrikson took up golfing, and it was no surprise that she was great at it as well. In 1938, she was the first woman to compete in the Professional Golfers’ Association’s Los Angeles Open. She shot 81 and 84.

Mary Lou Retton

Gymnast Mary Lou Retton became a household name in 1984 when she became the first American to receive an all-gold medal. She was also the first female from outside of Eastern Europe to achieve this. In addition, Retton also took home the silver in the team competition and in vault, along with a bronze in the floor exercise and uneven bars. In 1997, she was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame and still appears on TV as an analyst for gymnastics tournaments and competitions.


Maria Sharapova has been the world’s No. 1 tennis player more than once.

Maria Sharapova

Even people who don’t follow sports or tennis know the name Maria Sharapova. The athlete has been competing professionally since 2001, and at one point, was ranked No. 1 in the world. Sharapova took home the silver medal in 2012 and has also achieved a Grand Slam – the first Russian to do so and one of only 10 women – at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and the French Open, despite having had shoulder surgery. Though she played for Russia, Sharapova has been a U.S. resident since she was 7 years old.

Natalie Cook

It wasn’t until 1996 that beach volleyball was introduced in the games. Since then, Natalie Cook has competed in the games every four years until this year. She was the first Australian woman to compete five times in the summer games. She took home a bronze medal in 1996 and a gold medal in 2000. In 2003, she also competed at the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro. Though she won’t be competing in the games this year, Cook still keeps up with the volleyball world, having opened her own volleyball venue in Brisbane, called Sandstorm, and even tours as a motivational speaker.

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