5 Trailblazing Black Women in Sports

By Kelsey Erwin

For centuries, sports have been dominated by men. However, in recent decades, female athletes have been breaking down the barriers of gender inequality and becoming some of the most famous names in their respective sports. Here are five famous black, female athletes that have made history.

1. Serena Williams

Serena Williams is a professional tennis player who has won more grand slam tournaments than any other female player. She is the most successful active player in Grand Slam events with 23 major titles, including five at Wimbledon, three at the Australian Open and two at both French Open and U.S. Open.

Throughout her career, Williams has won a total of $84 million in prize money—which is the largest amount ever earned by any female tennis player.

2. Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a retired American track and field athlete. She’s the only female athlete to win gold medals in both the Summer Olympics and World Championships in Athletics.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born in East St. Louis, Illinois on December 21st, 1960. She competed for UCLA as an undergraduate student there from 1979-1983 before graduating with a degree in social welfare. While at UCLA, Jackie won two NCAA championships for long jump and sprint relay events during her junior year (1981). In 1982 she also won another three NCAA titles, including 100 meters hurdles event where she set world record time of 12 seconds flat which stood until 1988 when it was broken by Gail Devers with 11 seconds flat! Post Olympics, Joyner-Kersee developed a foundation that helps develop the next generation of athletes and academics from summer programs to STEM programs.

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3. Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was born in Tennessee in 1940. She grew up to be one of the greatest Olympians in American history, winning three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics and two silver medals at the 1964 Olympics.

Rudolph was also the first woman to win four gold medals at a single event when she won 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, 4×100 meter relay and 400 meter relay races during those games. In addition to her Olympic success, Rudolph won six national titles between 1958-1963.

4. Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas was the first African-American gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal. She won the all-around competition at the 2012 London Olympics and was a member of the Fierce Five, which also included Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross.

She began her career in gymnastics at age 6 when her mother enrolled her in a local recreation program near their home in Virginia Beach, Va. Four years later she started training under coach Liang Chow at Activate Athletics in Maryland — where she would eventually move with his family after being accepted into USA Gymnastics’ TOP program (Talent Opportunity Program).

5. FloJo (Florence Griffith-Joyner)

Florence Griffith-Joyner was a track and field athlete who held the world record for fastest time in the 100-meter dash (10.62s), beating the old mark by just 27 seconds. She won three gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and one silver. She would also go on to recieve the Sullivan award that year. Griffith’s 100-meter dash record stood for 33 years, only to be broken by Elaine Thompson-Herah at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. 

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In addition to her incredible athletic achievements, FloJo established a foundation for underprivileged children and served as the cochair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness during retirement. 

Paving the path for the next generation

These women have made history by being the first in their sport, as well as making it possible for future generations of athletes to follow in their footsteps.

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