With Sunday’s Mother’s Day festivities honoring women around the country for a traditional role, it’s a great time to look at a role that’s developing a great tradition of its own: women as sports stars. Although there have been celebrated female athletes for nearly as long as the men’s sports hype machine has been in place, women’s sports have never been more popular than they are now.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the greatest female athletes in sports history:
Margaret Court, Tennis
Most tennis players never even approach a career Grand Slam, but Margaret Court completed a single-year Grand Slam three different times (a record for any player, man or woman). In addition to winning all four major singles titles in 1970, she earned all four championships in mixed doubles (with various partners) in both 1963 and 1965.
In all, Court won or shared 64 championships in grand slam action, completing two so-called “boxed sets” by winning titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at each tournament at least twice. 92 of her 192 career singles titles came during the Open era.
Mia Hamm, Soccer
No soccer player, male or female, has scored more goals in international competition than Mia Hamm. The legendary striker racked up 158 goals in 275 matches for the U.S. national team.
That scoring led to plenty of success for her teams, as Hamm earned a pair of World Cup titles and three Olympic medals (two gold, one silver). She also won the final championship of the short-lived WUSA club league while playing for the Washington Freedom, not to mention four collegiate national titles at North Carolina.
Sheryl Swoopes, Basketball
There’s no shortage of contenders for the crown of greatest women’s hoops player, but no one can match the breadth and depth of Sheryl Swoopes’ success. Her collection of championships started at Texas Tech, where she won the 1993 Naismith Award and led the Lady Raiders to their only national title.
Four years later, the 6’0” SF became the first player signed by the WNBA, where she won the league’s first four championships as a Houston Comet, not to mention three MVPs, two scoring titles and three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Swoopes, who also has three Olympic gold medals to her credit, currently ranks in the WNBA's top 15 all-time in points, assists and steals (third).
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Track and Field
The heptathlon is the ultimate test of versatility in women’s track and field. World record holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee is also the only woman to capture Olympic gold in the event twice (1988 and 1992).
Joyner-Kersee also earned silver in the 1984 heptathlon, along with three more medals (one gold, two bronze) in the long jump. For good measure, she also picked up four World Championship golds (two in each sport) and a Pan Am Games gold in the long jump.
Sonja Henie, Figure Skating
The rare non-U.S. Olympian to become a celebrity in America, Sonja Henie did more than any other athlete to put figure skating on the map as a sport. In a competition renowned for the short careers of its leading lights, Henie won a record three Olympic golds.
The Norwegian star also won the World Figure Skating Championships for 10 straight years, starting in 1927. Over a 14-year career (before retiring to become a successful actress), Henie entered 33 competitions and won 29 of them.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Everything
The header is an exaggeration, but not by much. Babe Didrikson (before or after her 1938 marriage to George Zaharias) dominated pretty much every sport she played, and she played a lot of them.
A basketball champion and All-American in AAU play (the only option at the time for adults), Didrikson was even more impressive at track and field, where she won Olympic gold as a hurdler and javelin thrower in 1932. Three years later, she found her best sport of all: golf, in which she won 10 major championships, helped found the LPGA and then became its leading money winner for its first two seasons of existence.