In honor of Women’s History Month: Women Athletes Who Influenced Sports In America Installment #2
Chris Evert (Tennis) – Won 18 Grand Slam singles championships and three doubles titles. She held the number one singles ranking from 1974-1981 and won a total of 157 singles championships and 29 doubles titles. Her career winning percentage in single matches of 89.96% (1309-146) is the highest in the history of Open Era tennis, for men or women. She currently operates the Chris Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Florida, and does commentary for ESPN.
Lisa Fernandez (Softball) – Was a pitcher who established an Olympic record in softball with 25 strikeouts in a single game as a member of the United States Women’s team. She is currently an assistant coach of the women’s softball team at UCLA.
Peggy Fleming (Figure Skating) – Is the 1968 Olympic Champion in Ladies Singles, her gold medal was the only one won by the U.S. in those Games. She was also a five-time National Champion and three-time World Champion. Her win at the Olympics in Grenoble, France launched a long and successful career as both professional figure skater and sports commentator with ABC Sports. She won many outstanding awards and is considered a pioneer in women’s athletics. In 1998 she celebrated another victory when she overcame breast cancer. After her recovery, she became a spokesperson for Breast Cancer Awareness. When she retired from skating and the spotlight, she ventured into winemaking, launching Fleming Jenkins Wines with her husband, Dr. Greg Jenkins.
Althea Gibson (Tennis) – Was the first African American athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title (the French Open) The following year she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (now known as the U.S. Open) then won both again in 1958, and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. She won a total of 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including six doubles titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In the early 1960s she also became the first black player to compete on the women’s professional golf tour (LPGA).
Diana Golden (Skiing) – Was a champion ski racer. After losing a leg to cancer at age 12, she went on to win 10 world and 19 United States championships between 1986 and 1990 as a three-tracker, or one-legged skier. She also won an Olympic gold medal in giant slalom at the1988 Calgary Games where disabled skiing was a demonstration sport. She participated in alpine skiing at two Winter Olympic Games, in 1980 and 1988, winning two gold medals in 1988. After retiring from skiing, she became a motivational speaker and also took up rock climbing and mountaineering leading to a successful climb of Mount Rainier. After her death from cancer in 2001, she inspired the “Diana Golden Race Series”, hosted by Disabled Sports USA, and the Diana Golden Opportunities Fund, an endowment that supports and encourages junior athletes with disabilities in their pursuit of excellence in skiing by providing scholarships for purchasing equipment or participating in an adaptive race or development camp.
Steffi Graf (Tennis) – Holds 22 Grand Slam singles titles. These titles are second all-time behind Margaret Court (24 titles), and mark the record for most Major wins by a tennis player (male or female) since the introduction of the Open era in 1968. In 1988, she became the first and only tennis player (male or female) to achieve the Calendar Year Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year. She is the founder and chairperson of “Children for Tomorrow”, a non-profit foundation for implementing and developing projects to support children who have been traumatized by war or other crises.
Janet Guthrie (Auto Racing) – Was the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 car races.. She began racing in 1963 in select races and by 1972, she was racing on a full-time basis. In the 1976 World 600 Guthrie finished 15th, becoming the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup superspeedway race. She would go on to compete in four more races that season. The following season, she competed in her first Daytona 500, finishing 12th. For the race, she earned the honor of Top Rookie. Overall, she went on to compete in 33 races in NASCAR over four seasons Her highest finish, sixth place at Bristol in 1977, is the best finish by a woman in a top-tier NASCAR race, now currently tied with Danica Patrick in 2014.
Dorothy Hamill (Figure Skating) – Was the 1976 Olympic Champion in ladies’ singles in Innsbruck, Austria, and the 1976 World Champion. The Olympic win instantly crowned her as “America’s Sweetheart”. Everyone wanted her haircut, and she became a commercial success. She went on to star in productions including the company she helped bring to prominence, the touring Ice Capades. She also starred in primetime TV specials written in her honor, as well as her own productions. She currently spends her time hosting TV skating specials and running her newly launched jewelry business, the proceeds of which are donated to various charities.
Lynn Hill (Climbing) – Is widely regarded as one of the leading competitive sport climbers in the world during the late 1980s and early 1990s. She is famous for making the first free ascent of the difficult sheer rock face of The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, and for repeating it the next year in less than 24 hours. She has been described as both one of the best female climbers in the world and one of the best climbers of all time. She is one of the first successful women in the sport, and she defined rock climbing for women becoming its voice to help it gain wider popularity and arguing for gender equality. She helped to promote the sport by appearing on television shows and documentaries and writing an autobiography, Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World.
Flo Hymen (Volleyball) – Was a 1984 Olympic silver medalist and also played professional volleyball in Japan. She was instrumental in bringing the physical disorder of Marfan’s Syndrome to public attention. She died of Marfan’s while competing in a volleyball match in Japan in 1986. In her honor, the Flo Hyman Memorial Award was conferred annually between 1987 and 2004 by the Women’s Sports Foundation in Washington, D.C., during the organization’s commemoration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day. It is given to a female athlete, irrespective of nationality or sport, who demonstrated the dignity, spirit and commitment to excellence in sports that Flo exhibited. NGWSD is celebrated annually in all 50 states.
Lynn Jennings (Track & Field) – Is a long-distance runner and one of the best female American runners of all time. She has competed in distances from 1500 meters to marathons. She also excelled at all three of the sport’s major disciplines of track, road, and cross country. She became the first American woman to win an Olympic long-distance track medal when she won the bronze in 1992 at the Olympics in Barcelona. She is a nine-time champion of the USA Cross Country Championships, and still holds the American road-race record for 10km at 31:06.
Joan Joyce (Softball) – Was also an outstanding athlete in golf, volleyball and basketball. In her softball career, she racked up many sports’ records, which have yet to be broken including the most consecutive all-star team selections (18), eight-time MVP in the National Tournament, most victories in a season (42) (in 1974), shutouts in a season (38 in 1974), and she struck out Ted Williams and Hank Aaron in exhibition games. Her golf credits includes being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the lowest number of putts (17) in a single round, best for any man or woman, set in 1982. In volleyball, she competed in four national tournaments and was named to the All-East Regional team. In basketball she played on the USA women’s basketball team in 1964 -65. She set a national tournament single scoring record in 1964 with 67 points, and she was a four-time Women’s Basketball Association All-American. She is currently a coach at Florida Atlantic University.