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Women sports pioneers

As with most areas of life that took place outside of the home, the world of sports was initially reserved for men only. This changed over the course of the 20th century.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Sports Gazette takes a look at some of the sporting world’s female trailblazers who helped move and break down barriers.

Charlotte Reinagle Cooper (1870-1966)

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

British tennis player Charlotte Cooper was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in Paris, 1900.
She won both the women’s singles tournament and the mixed doubles with Reginald Doherty. Throughout her career she won five Wimbledon singles titles and is as of yet the tournament’s oldest women’s singles’ champion.
She was 37 years old when she won her last title in 1908.

Mildred Ella «Babe» Didrikson (1911-1956)

Credit: ACME, via Wikimedia Commons

«Babe» Didrikson is one of the most versatile athletes of all time. The Texan won two gold medals in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles in javelin and 80-meter hurdles. She also won a silver medal in the high jump.
Yet, Didrikson is most famous for her achievements on the golf course. She started playing golf in 1935 and was a natural.
She was the first woman to successfully qualify for the men’s PGA Tour and competed in three events. Among her many trophies are 10 LPGA major championships.
Her life was cut short by colon cancer.

Alice Coachman (1923-2014)

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

High-jumper Alice Coachman became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal at the London games in 1948.
King George VI handed her the medal and President Harry S. Truman congratulated her at the White House but the mayor of her native Albany, Georgia, would not shake her hand during the ceremony given in her honour.
Growing up in the segregated South, Coachman was not allowed to train at athletic tracks with whites.
Until she was discovered by the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama while in high school, she trained by herself in the fields of Albany.
After the move to Alabama, she competed for Tuskegee’s high school and college teams, and later for Albany State College.
If the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games had not been cancelled, Coachman would probably have earned her historic gold medal sooner.

Janet Guthrie (1938- )

Credit: Dan Wildhirt, via Wikimedia Commons

Janet Guthrie, aerospace engineer and pilot, started racing cars on a full-time basis in 1972.
In 1977, she became the first woman to qualify for and compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup stock race; the Indianapolis 500.

That same year she defied her critics and became Top Rookie at the Daytona 500.
She has five top ten finishes.

Billie Jean King (1943- )

Credit: Lynn Gilbert, via Wikimedia Commons

Billie Jean King was the main driving force behind the establishment of the Women’s Pro Tour in 1973, as well as the US Open’s decision to award male and female players equal prize money that same year.
She has won 39 grand slam titles, out of which 12 are singles titles.
In 2007 Wimbledon became the last Grand Slam tournament to pay equal prize money to both genders.

Julieanne Louise Krone (1963- )

Credit: Bill Frakes, via Wikimedia Commons

Julie Krone made history when she became the first woman to win a Triple Crown event at the Belmont Stakes in 1993.
A decade later, the American Thoroughbred horse racing jockey became the first woman to win a million dollar event at the Pacific Classic.
With more than 3700 career wins Krone is the most successful female horse racing jockey of all time.

Manon Rhéaume (1972- )

Credit: Krista Windsor, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1992, Manon Rhéaume became the first woman ever to play in one of the four major US men’s leagues. The Canadian goaltender signed for NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992 and her landmark debut came in an exhibition match against the St. Louis Blues.
With Canada women’s national team, Rhéaume won gold at the World Championships in 1992 and 1994, and silver in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

She paved the way for young girls who dreamed of playing hockey. The National Women’s Hockey League was established in 2015. 

Cover photo:

Ingrid Sund
Ingrid has always loved writing and exploring different angles of a story and is now able to combine this with her passion for sports. She is a graduate of the University of St Andrews, where she studied International Relations. Her general interest in politics has led to a special interest in the politics and legal regulations of the sporting industry. While she finds all sports fascinating, her favourites are tennis, cycling and football. Ingrid is Norwegian and grew up a keen follower of winter sports, and will also cover these for the Sports Gazette.
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