We take a look at the women athletes who made professional sports the way it is today and their many accomplishments
Since the beginning of its existence, sports has always been a male-dominated industry. The Olympics were a male affair, testing the physical prowess of men.
It was only in the 21st century that females participating in sports became something commonly heard of. Before, female sports did not exist in any organised form. The 1928 Olympics was the first official international women’s track and field competition. Even for a long time after, the notion of a woman participating in sports was one that was still commonly disapproved of.
Since then, sports have come a long way. Over the years, through the propagation for equality by various women in the scene, it has definitely become more inclusive and has grown to be more gender-neutral. Through their accomplishments and perseverance, women have strived to be equally recognised as their counterparts for their sporting endeavours. These are some of the inspirational women who made history in sport and allowed female professional sport to be where it is today.
1. Eileen Gu
After announcing that she would be representing China instead of America at the Beijing Games, Eileen Gu was swarmed by an army of cynics who doubted her ability. In a move that proved her haters wrong, the American-born athlete successfully performed a feat she had never done prior. During the Winter Games, Gu had landed the double cork 1620—a move in which skiers spin 4 1/2 times while rotating twice off-axis while almost 20 feet in the air. Gu made history by being the first female athlete to successfully complete this trick in the history of the Winter Olympics. The 18-year-old athlete is currently the defending world champion in the half pipe and slope event.
2. Li Na
Li Na was the first Asian-born player to win a Grand Slam singles title. Over the course of her career, Li won nine WTA Tour singles titles including two Grand Slam singles titles at the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open, ranking number two world wide. Li was the first Chinese player to win a WTA tour title at the Guangzhou International Women’s Open in 2004 and the first to reach a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal at the 2006 Wimbledon Championships. In 2019, the famed professional player was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In her youth, Li was a bold individual who stood out for her non conformist personality. From having a chest tattoo to refusing to bow down to Chinese state’s sports system, Li Na was a strong feminist figure who never failed to stick it to the man.
3. Park Seri
At just 20 years old, Se Ri Pak became the youngest winner of the U.S. Women’s Open. For that season, Pak was awarded the Rolex Rookie of the Year award for winning a 20-hole playoff which made that tournament, the longest tournament ever held in the history of women’s professional golf. Since then, Pak has gone on to win 21 more events on the Tour, including three more majors. At age 29, Pak qualified for the World Golf Hall of Fame, a move that made her the youngest living participant to have ever entered. Among her other most notable achievements, Pak was the first woman since 1945 to qualify for a professional men’s tournament. Her successful career in golf has inspired many young women to pursue golf and has given them the courage to enter a world mostly dominated by men.
4. Sunisa Lee
The first Hmong-American Olympian, Lee’s outstanding performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games won her a gold medal. The olympian impressed the crowd and secured the gold medal through her outstanding execution of the nabieva. The nabieva consists of laying out vertically over the high bar, swinging around it, then passing over the bar backwards before finally grabbing it again. An extremely complicated routine, the nabieva has been given the highest difficulty rating. Sunisa Lee’s gold medal victory was a triumphant moment not only for her, but also for the Hmong people, a marginalised Asian American group. Being the first Hmong American Olympian, her victory has given hope to the Hmong community.
5. Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion professional tennis player. Currently ranked number one by the Women’s Tennis Association, she is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. When the defending champion is not on court, she is an activist who champions for various causes, a fashion designer, and an entrepreneur. An inspiring figure amongst aspiring athletes, Osaka is living proof that a woman can indeed do it all.
6. Momiji Nishiya
The world of sport is really changing. At the Tokyo Olympics Games last year, skateboarding made its official debut and introduced a bunch of new faces to the world. One of them is Momiji Nishiya, a 13-year-old whose daredevil skateboarding skills took the spotlight. The 13 year old made history that day by not only being the Japan’s youngest gold medallist but also the first-ever female Olympic skateboarding champion. Her triumphant win has inspired a new generation of young women to take up skateboarding, a sport that is often seen as masculine and tomboyish. Breaking gender stereotypes, Nishiya inspires and empowers other women to do the same.
7. Quan Hongchan
Quan Hongchan became China’s newest diving sensation when she won the 10m platform gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games. Quan who was only 14-year-old when she Tok part in the Olympics, barely made the minimum age. The diving prodigy scored a total of 466.20 with her delivery of three perfect-10 dives out of five securing her the gold medal for the event. Quan became the second-youngest woman to win gold in the diving event. After her victory, the young athlete made a heartwarming speech in which she revealed she strove for the prized position to support her ill mother who is in need of treatment.
Though the gender gap in sports has closed over the years, much more needs to be done for true equality to be reached.