In celebration of Women’s History Month, ZUNews will look back at the pioneering women in the sports world. 

To recognize the great women of the Olympics, we will be highlighting those who have helped pave a way for women to succeed beyond the United States. 

Wilma Rudolph (Track)

African American sprinter Wilma Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. She overcame the loss of strength in her left leg and foot, caused by polio at five years old, to become the fastest woman in the world at the 1960 Olympics. She holds the record for the 100 meters at 11.2 seconds and 200 meters at 22.9 seconds.

Rudolph gained international recognition during the 1960 Olympics because of worldwide television coverage and became an iconic figure for black and female athletes.

During the peak of the civil rights movement, Rudolph was a trailblazer for the rights of African Americans and women. She broke the gender barrier of all-male events in track and field, and her legacy lives on today. 

Simone Biles (Gymnastics)

Simone Biles won the individual all-around, vault and floor gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. At just 24 years old, Biles is a four-time World all-around champion, with three consecutive victories from 2013-15 and another in 2018. She is also a five-time U.S. National all-around champion. 

Biles is the most decorated American gymnast with 25 Olympic and World Championship medals. She set the U.S. record for gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Olympics winning four. Biles became the first female U.S. gymnast to receive four gold medals at a single Games. Dominant on nearly every event, Biles is considered to be one of the greatest gymnasts of all-time — one of the few athletes to have a move named after her.

Serena Williams (Tennis)

Serena Williams is highly regarded as one of the best female tennis players of the Open Era as well as one of the greatest athletes ever. 

Her victories and continued dominance have shaped her into an inspirational figure in sports. Williams is a four-time gold medalist at the Olympic Games and holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles combined among active players and tied for third on the all-time list —she is second in the Open Era. 

Diana Taurasi (Basketball)

Widely considered the GOAT of the WNBA, Diana Taurasi is also an Olympic icon. 

Since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Mercy, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer has won the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award, three WNBA championships and four Olympic gold medals from 2004-16. She also won the WNBA MVP Award in 2009 and two WNBA Finals MVP Awards in 2009 and 2014. 

Over her 15 year career, Taurasi has been selected to seven WNBA All-Star teams. She is one of 10 women who have won an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA championship and a WNBA championship. She is also tied for most women’s basketball Olympic gold medals with four — while only playing in four Olympics.

In the 2016 Olympic Games, Taurasi tied her record for most three-pointers in a single game while shooting 71% from behind the arc in Team USA’s 121-56 win over Senegal. 

She is considered one of the greatest women to play basketball, being called the “White Mamba” by Kobe Bryant and the Michael Jordan of the WNBA by DeAndre Ayton.

Allyson Felix (Track)

In 2019, the six-time Olympic gold medalist won her 12th gold medal at the track-and-field World Championship — breaking a record set by Usain Bolt just 10 months after giving birth via C-section.

In the 200m race she is the 2012 Olympic gold medal winner, and a three-time world champion — maintaining the title from 2005 to 2009. She’s also won five Olympic gold medals as part of USA relay teams: three 4x400m titles. Felix is the only female track star to win six golds. Aside from being in the elite space of track stars such as Bolt, Felix has also emerged as a women’s rights advocate — calling out Nike and other sport apparel companies for their lack of equity for mothers who are also athletes. 

Katie Ledecky (Swim)

Katie Ledecky holds the record for most medals by a female swimmer, winning five Olympic gold medals and 14 World Championship gold medals. She currently holds the world record in the women’s 400-meter, 800-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle. 

Ledecky made her international debut at the 2012 London Olympics at 15 years old and became an icon when she won the gold medal in the women’s 800-meter freestyle — becoming the youngest ever to win.

Four years later, she became the most decorated female athlete of the 2016 Olympics with four gold medals, one silver medal and two world records. She has broken fourteen world records throughout her career.

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings (Beach Volleyball)

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings are considered the greatest beach volleyball team of all-time. They won three consecutive Olympic gold medals from 2004-12, and 21 consecutive Olympic matches where they only lost one set during their 11-year run. 

May-Treanor announced her retirement following her and Walsh Jennings’ third gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. She was then inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 2016. 

Walsh Jennings began playing with former teammate April Ross in 2013 following May-Treanor’s retirement. The two won the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, making her the most decorated beach volleyball player, male or female, in history.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Track and Field)

Jackie Joyner-Kersee was known for the heptathlon — where athletes compete in seven different track and field events in two days, including  long jump. Over four Olympic Games, she took home three gold, one silver and two bronze medals in the two events. 

Joyner-Kersee established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in 1988, which is dedicated to providing youth, adults and families with athletic lessons and resources to improve their quality of life. She also is one of 11 athletes who founded Athletes for Hope, an organization that helps professional athletes take part in charity events and volunteering. She is also an activist for children’s education, racial equality and women’s rights. 

Lindsey Vonn (Skiing)

Lindsey Vonn is one of the greatest skiers of all-time, winning three Olympic medals, four World Cup titles, 82 World Cup victories and two World Championship gold medals, among other accomplishments. 

She is one of two female skiers to win four World Cup overall championships. She won three consecutive titles from 2008-10 and another in 2012. She was also the first American woman to win a gold medal in the downhill. 

Vonn won her 20th World Cup crystal globe title in 2016 to surpass Ingemar Stenmark for the overall record for men or women. She is also one of six women to win a World Cup race in all five disciplines of alpine skiing.

Mary Lou Retton (Gymnastics)

At the boycotted 1984 Summer Olympics, Mary Lou Retton became the first-ever American woman to win the all-around gold medal in gymnastics. She won by .05 points, beating Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo. Her victory was the first time a female gymnast outside Eastern Europe won the individual all-around gold. 

She also took home two silver medals and two bronze medals, helping her rise to popularity in the United States of America. Retton coined her own move on the uneven bars called “The Retton Flip.” The move consists of a transition from low-bar to high-bar, ending with the gymnast sitting on top of the high bar. 

Michelle Kwan (Figure Skating)

Michelle Kwan is a five-time World Champion and nine-time U.S. champion, which ties her for the all-time National Championship record. She is a two-time Olympic medalist, winning a silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002.

She is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history and is considered one of the greatest figure skaters of all time. Kwan stole the hearts of the American people to become one of the country’s most popular female athletes.