Sports have been instrumental in advancing the limits of human performance. Men have traditionally been at the forefront of this challenge, but women have stepped up their involvement which broadened sports' appeal and opened up a new competitive front. Here are a few of the women who have broken through barriers to become icons of excellence.
1. Mia Hamm.
The world's best all-around female soccer player showed that females can excel in the male-dominated sport– and how! Mia powered the US women's team to the gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She followed that up by leading the US to win the 1999 Women's World Cup. Amazingly, Mia was the world's leading goal scorer in 1999, surpassing the output of the best male players during that year
2. Paula Radcliffe.
The best female distance runner of all time, Paula is the current world record holder for the women's 10k run and owns four of the five fastest times in the history of women's marathon. Her current world marathon record of 2:15:25 is also one of the highest scoring performances ever.
3. Nadia Comaneci.
Only 14 years old, Nadia stunned the world when she scored seven perfect 10's during the gymnastics competition of the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Before her phenomenal performance, no one had been able to achieve perfection during competition, so much so that the scoreboards did not have a '10' and had to display a '1' to register Nadia's perfect scores.
4. Joanie Laurer.
Known as 'Chyna' among wrestling fans, she displayed remarkable strength to earn a place in the rough and tumble world of pro wrestling. Chyna was referred to as "The Ninth Wonder of the World" for her large and powerful physique. Her trademark "low blow" was the secret weapon that allowed her to win the Intercontinental Championship title twice.
5. Cheryl Miller.
Inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in1995, she was an All-America team member four times, a Naismith Player of the Year three times, a member of the USC NCAA champion basketball team two times, and led the US women's basketball team to the Olympic gold medal in '84. Dubbed as the best player ever in women's basketball, Cheryl's confidence is such that she would flip her wrists in triumph even before the ball goes through the net.
6. Birgit Schmidt-Fischer.
The greatest female canoeist of all time has won the gold at six different Olympic Games spanning 24 years. No one from her sport has come near her total of 37 medals, including 27 golds which she won at the World Championships from 1979 to 1998. Birgit's haul of eight Olympic medals is a record which experts predict will not be broken for a long time.
7. Nancy Lopez.
She remains the only woman to be named Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year – in one season. At age 12, Nancy won her first golf tournament with practically no playing experience against more experienced golfers. At age 21, she won nine tournaments, five of them in a row, to record the most amazing season ever for an LPGA rookie. At age 30, she was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame, the third youngest player to receive the honor.
8. Steffi Graf.
She has been called the greatest female tennis player of all time – a "machine" that stuck down her opponents with merciless precision during her 17-year career. Steffi had the singular record of winning all four Grand Slam events plus an Olympic gold medal-in a single year (1988). She's also the only player to have won all four majors at least four times.
9. Tracy Caulkins.
The most versatile swimmer ever has won national titles in all four strokes-plus the individual medley that combines all of them! Tracy went on to win 3 Olympic golds, 5 world records, 63 American records, and 48 individual national titles.
10. Julie Krone.
One Of the best female jockey's of all time proved that women can ride high in the 'sport of kings'. She was the first woman to win a riding title at a major track. She holds the record of being one of only four jockeys to win 6 races in one day. She's also the only female jockey to ever win a Triple Crown race.
As sports continue to raise the bar, women champions will continue to inspire not just the members of their specie but anyone who aspires to reach the height of his or her potential.