Today’s sporting world is packed with female athletes who are absolutely excelling in their respective fields. And while some of these sportswomen are household names and others relative unknowns, all of them are undoubtedly world class – whether they’re a record-breaking race car driver or a medal-winning martial artist.
40. Serena Williams
Who better to start the list with than possibly the world’s most famous sportswoman? Serena Williams has spent over 300 weeks as the top-ranked female tennis player on the planet, has earned more than three dozen major trophies and is one of the few players to have ever won four Grand Slams in the same year. She’s also achieved huge success on the doubles circuit thanks to her partnership with sister Venus, who is a world-conquering champion in her own right.
39. Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick has helped to break down barriers as a professional racing driver; in 2008 she became the first ever female to win an IndyCar Series race, for instance. Four years after that, Patrick joined Shawna Robinson in the exclusive club of women to have achieved pole position in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. And in 2015 she surpassed the record set by Janet Guthrie for the highest number of Sprint Cup Series top-ten spots achieved by a female driver.
38. Lolo Jones
Lolo Jones is one of those rare competitors who have appeared at both the Winter and Summer Olympics. She first achieved fame as a sprint hurdler, winning golds at both the World Indoor Championships and World Athletics Final. Jones then swapped the athletics track for the bobsled track when she became a brakewoman for Team USA, subsequently earning a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships in the mixed team event.
37. Cecilia Braekhus
Cecilia Braekhus has also excelled in two different sports – although both are in the ring. She first made a name for herself in the world of kickboxing, becoming world champion in the Semi Contact 65 kg field in 2003. But Braekhus achieved true greatness when she moved into boxing. Indeed, she’s one of only five fighters to ever be WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF champion at the same time.
36. Chang Hye-jin
South Korean Chang Hye-jin certainly had an Olympics to remember in 2016. The skilled archer not only helped her homeland earn its eighth gold medal in a row in the team event, but she also made the top of the podium after beating Germany’s Lisa Unruh in the Rio individual final. She was later crowned the world’s number one in her sport, too.
35. Nafissatou Thiam
It’s hard enough training to be a world-class athlete in just one particular event, let alone seven. But that’s exactly what Nafissatou Thiam did to become perhaps the world’s premier heptathlete. The Belgian record holder shot to fame when she won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She proved that achievement was no fluke, either, by going on to finish first at both the 2017 World Championships and the following year’s European Championships.
34. Vicky Holland
Vicky Holland also knows what it takes to become a world champion in a multi-event sport. The British athlete first caught attention when she clinched bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the triathlon – a grueling mix of long-distance swimming, cycling and running. Then, two years later, she pipped the United States’ Katie Zaferes to first place in the World Triathlon Series.
33. Brittney Reese
U.S. long jumper Brittney Reese has spent close to a decade at the top of her chosen field. She won her first major gold at the World Championships in 2009, going on to add to her tally of medals at the 2010 World Indoor Championships and the 2012 Olympics in London. Reese retained her world title in 2011 and 2013; with a distance of 7.23 meters, she also broke the U.S. indoor long jump record in 2012.
32. Mara Navarria
Fencer Mara Navarra has achieved major success in the épée discipline of the sport. The Italian first made the podium as part of team events, earning bronze and silver medals at the World and European Fencing Championships from 2010 to 2014. She has since taken gold all for herself, though, thanks to her individual performance at the 2018 Worlds in Wuxi, China.
31. Allyson Felix
Allyson Felix’s tally of six golds is the highest for a female track and field athlete in Olympic history. The sprinter has won all but one of those medals as a member of Team USA’s dominant relay teams; the other came as an individual at London 2012 in the 200 meters – an event in which she’s also picked up two Olympic silvers and three World Championship golds. Felix has won almost as many medals in the 400 meters, too.
30. Delfina Merino
Field hockey star Delfina Merino has seen considerable success at both national and international level. The forward, who has spent her domestic career alternating between Banco Provincia and SCHC in her native Argentina, has won an Olympic silver medal, numerous Champions Trophies and a handful of Pan American Cups while representing her country. In 2018 the International Hockey Federation even crowned her as the world’s top player.
29. Leticia Bufoni
Leticia Bufoni has been a dominant force in professional skateboarding ever since she burst onto the scene. In fact, the Brazilian became the first ever female X Games competitor to pick up three golds in the same year in 2013. World Cup Skate also named her as the world’s number one female street skater for four consecutive years, from 2010 to 2013. In 2018, meanwhile, she was hailed as one of the most powerful sportswomen on the planet by Forbes.
28. Ada Hegerberg
Soccer player Ada Hegerberg made history in 2018 when she became the winner of the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or. Prior to achieving that feat, however, the Norwegian striker had also been crowned the UEFA Best Women’s Player in Europe and the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year. Hegerberg, who has played for Kolbotn, Stabaek and Olympique Lyonnais at club level, also finished as a runner-up at the 2013 UEFA Women’s Championship with her national team.
27. Tessa Virtue
Alongside her long-term professional partner Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue has dominated the world of ice dancing since winning Olympic gold in 2010. The Canadian skater reached the top of the podium again in 2018, after having been crowned world champion in 2010, 2012 and 2017. Virtue has also come out on top on numerous occasions at the Four Continents and Canadian Figure Skating Championships; in 2017, moreover, she added Grand Prix of Figure Skating winner to her list of achievements.
26. Simone Biles
A member of the so-called “Final Five” team that took the Olympics by storm in 2016, Simone Biles is one of Team USA’s premier gymnasts. Biles has excelled on her own, too, as the record-breaker also won three individual golds in the vault, floor and all-around events at Rio. And in 2017 she became the first ever U.S. gymnast to earn a medal in each event at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
25. Dakota Ditcheva
Mentored by her ex-karate world champion mother Lisa Howarth, Dakota Ditcheva had already conquered the martial art form known as Muay Thai by her late teens. Indeed, the youngster had taken the sport by storm in the mid-2010s with victories at the European and World Championships. She was also a key member of the British squad crowned International Federation of Muaythai Amateur champions in 2016.
24. Lindsey Vonn
Record-breaking Alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn is only the second ever woman to have earned four World Cup championships in her discipline. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, she also became America’s inaugural female gold medalist in the downhill event. But that’s not all, since Vonn is one of only six female skiers to have finished first in each of the five alpine skiing classes at the World Cup. As a result, then, she’s widely regarded as one of the sport’s all-time greats.
23. Emma Coburn
In 2016 Emma Coburn became the first U.S. woman to win a 3,000-meter steeplechase Olympics medal when she finished in third place. A year later, the runner became her homeland’s inaugural world champion in the long-distance event when she took gold in London. Coburn also holds the American women’s steeplechase record and has been crowned a USA Outdoor Track and Field champion on no fewer than seven occasions.
22. Charlotte Dujardin
Hailed as the best dressage rider of recent times, Charlotte Dujardin has won every single major title in the sport since turning professional in 2011. Yes, the British star has emerged victorious at the World Equestrian Games, European Dressage Championships and Dressage World Cup – all while riding horse Valegro. She’s also earned three Olympic gold medals as a member of Team GB.
21. Nina Clarkin
Nina Clarkin is arguably polo’s most notable female player in the modern era. She’s certainly one of her sport’s most outstanding, having become the only woman in her field to have been given a ten-goal handicap. Also married to a polo player, New Zealand’s John Paul Clarkin, Clarkin guided the Hindon Polo Team to the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup – then known as the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup – back in 2003.
20. Maggie Steffens
Meanwhile, the type of polo that doesn’t involve horses has been dominated in the 2010s by Maggie Steffens. The Stanford alumna helped guide Team USA to Olympic gold at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, with her and her colleagues also having emerged victorious at the FINA World Championships, the FINA Women’s Water Polo World Cup and the Pan American Games. Steffens has also been crowned the FINA Women’s Water Polo Athlete of the Year on two separate occasions.
19. Kasey Cooper
Alabama native Kasey Cooper has been a star of American softball ever since she started playing for the Auburn Tigers during her college years. The third baseman was subsequently crowned Player of the Year by espnW in 2016, after having steered the U.S. women’s team to silver at the World Cup of Softball and gold at the 2016 Women’s Softball World Championship.
18. Yulimar Rojas
When it comes to jumping, few are better all-rounders than Yulimar Rojas. The versatile Venezuelan athlete has broken national records in both the triple and long jump, also having earned Olympic silver and World Championship gold in the former discipline. But Rojas began her sporting career with the high jump, in which she most notably won gold at the 2014 South American Games.
17. Mariya Lasitskene
When it comes to jumping vertically, however, Mariya Lasitskene is the woman to beat. The Russian was crowned world champion in the high jump in both 2015 and 2017, for example. She would probably have added an Olympic gold to her medal haul, too, had all Russian track and field athletes not been banned from the Rio Games in 2016.
16. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey has completely dominated in not just one but three combat sports. She initially rose to fame by becoming the first female U.S. judo Olympic medalist ever by picking up bronze at Beijing in 2008. She then went 30 months unbeaten in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where she also became the longest-running Women’s Bantamweight Champion. Then, if that weren’t nearly enough, Rousey subsequently joined WWE and added Raw Women’s Champion to her list of achievements.
15. Rosie MacLennan
Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan is the first athlete in Canada’s history to win consecutive Olympic golds in an individual event, as the star impressively made the top of the podium at both London 2012 and Rio 2016. She has also been crowned national and world champion on multiple occasions and has enjoyed success in synchronized trampolining with fellow Canadian Karen Cockburn.
14. Chloe Esposito
The modern pentathlon – a combination of swimming, show jumping, fencing, cross-country running and pistol shooting – is one of the Olympics’ most distinctive and traditional events. And Chloe Esposito is perhaps one of the discipline’s biggest stars today. The Australian first caught attention when she became her native country’s highest-placed competitor for nearly half a century in the pentathlon at London 2012. Then, four years later, she won gold at Rio with a record-breaking 1,372 points.
13. Candace Parker
After breaking records in both high school and college, Candace Parker continued to make a major impact on women’s basketball when she signed for the Los Angeles Sparks. And the forward has won numerous individual and team honors since, including a WNBA Championship, a Rookie of the Year Award and a All-Star Game MVP accolade. She also helped to guide Team USA to Olympic golds in both 2008 and 2012.
12. Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim was the first female snowboarder to take home two Winter Youth Olympic Games golds. She then made the step up to the Winter Olympics in 2018 aged just 17, when she won gold in the snowboard halfpipe – becoming the youngest woman to do so in the process. And Kim has also been a dominant force at the X Games, having reached the top of the podium on no fewer than four occasions.
11. Saina Nehwal
With close to two dozen international titles to her name, badminton singles player Saina Nehwal has been hailed as one of India’s greatest ever sporting exports. In fact, the star is the only woman from her home country ever to be ranked world number one in her field. She’s also the first badminton player from India to have won an Olympic medal after earning bronze at London 2012.
10. Ireen Wüst
Ireen Wüst is the most successful speed skater in Winter Olympics history, having won five golds, five silvers and a bronze over the course of 12 years. She’s also the Netherlands’ most decorated Olympian ever and has been crowned world all-round and single distance champion on numerous occasions. When Reuters named her as the Sportswoman of the World in 2014, then, the honor was arguably deserved.
9. Danuta Kozak
Sprint canoer Danuta Kozak is the only female Olympian ever to win golds in the K1, K2 and K4 events at the same Games. The star achieved the feat at Rio in 2016, despite the fact that she had been battling a stomach infection just 24 hours before first taking to the water. Kozak has also been crowned Hungarian Kayaker of the Year on five occasions.
8. Ellyse Perry
Ellyse Perry is the first ever Australian to have competed in World Cups as both a soccer player and cricketer. The multi-talented star has since made the latter sport her focus, going on to win the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year award in 2017. She’s also the first Aussie to have made 100 Twenty20 International fixtures as well as the first to take 100 wickets in the same competition.
7. Lizzy Yarnold
It takes a brave individual to hurtle themselves down an icy track at a speed of 130 mph or more. But that’s exactly what Lizzy Yarnold did to win two Olympic gold medals in the sport of skeleton. The Brit is also the first competitor in her field to earn consecutive golds at the Games, having topped the podium at both Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018.
6. Natalie Geisenberger
While Yarnold makes her living throwing herself down an ice track face first, Natalie Geisenberger does so on her back. The German has dominated her field in the 2010s, winning four golds and a bronze to become the Winter Olympics’ most honored female luger. She’s also earned no fewer than a dozen medals at the FIL World Luge Championships and is fast approaching the same tally at the European Championships too.
5. Emily Regan
Emily Regan became a star of American rowing in the 2010s, when she won gold medals at three different World Championships. The New Yorker picked up her first gold in the W4- category in 2011, before adding to her tally in the W8+ in 2013 and then in France in 2015. Regan subsequently added Olympic gold medalist to her list of achievements when she helped the women’s eight to victory in Rio 2016.
4. Barbora Špotáková
Czech athlete Barbora Špotáková has been an almost unstoppable force in the women’s javelin event since the late 2000s. The star won Olympic gold at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012 and has been a world champion in her sport on three occasions. Špotáková, who set the present women’s javelin world record in 2008, completed her set of major titles with victory at the European Championships in 2014.
3. Nour El Sherbini
Nour El Sherbini made waves in the squash world at the age of just 13 when she became the youngest ever World Junior Champion in 2009. Six years later, meanwhile, she became the youngest ever winner of the Women’s World Championship. And Sherbini successfully defended her title in 2016, when she beat fellow Egyptian Raneem El Welily at a tournament staged in her homeland.
2. Lexi Thompson
Golfer Lexi Thompson also made a notable impact in her sport of choice from a young age. After going pro at just 15, she became the youngest ever LGPA tournament victor in 2011. Then, three years later, Thompson lifted her debut major title when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship. In 2018, meanwhile, she achieved her tenth LGPA Tour victory at the CME Group Tour Championship.
1. Hilary Knight
Hilary Knight has helped Team USA to seven IHHF Women’s World Championship golds during her glittering career in ice hockey. The forward was also instrumental in her country’s gold medal-winning success at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. And that’s not even to mention her debut year with the Boston Pride, in which she helped the NWHL franchise win the very first Isobel Cup.