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8 of the most badass moments in women’s sports history



Women's soccer player celebrating a goal with arms up on her knees on a pink background with The Feminista logo

Happy Monday, Feministas! Today marks the 48th anniversary of the legendary “Battle of the Sexes,” in which tennis star Billie Jean King defeated her male opponent Bobby Riggs in an internationally broadcast event—a fabled match that pitted man against woman, way back in 1973. 

King’s epic win-against-the-odds was shared by women all over the world, and came on the heels of another important milestone in feminist history. Just a year earlier, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any school or institution that receives federal funding. And it was that one-two punch of concrete legislative change and front-page symbolic victory that paved the way for so many of the female athletes we know and love today.

So in honor of that fateful day and those important years in women’s sports history, we’re going full fangirl to celebrate our top eight, all-time favorite moments from ladies’ tennis, track, soccer and beyond. Ready, set, go girl. 

 

1. The Battle of the Sexes, Sept. 20, 1973

In this highly anticipated, widely televised event—50 million people tuned in to watch that day—Bobby Riggs, a 55-year-old former Wimbledon champ and favorite of the match by 5:2, took on 29-year-old tennis star Billie Jean King at the Houston Astrodome. It was a battle for $100,000 and social change, with the rights and respect of female athletes everywhere at stake (you know, metaphorically speaking).

King not only won the match, but dominated, winning the best-of-five match in just three sets: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. That same year, she became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association, and continued on to win 39 Grand Slam titles over the course of her career. She’s often referred to as the “mother of modern sports,” empowering so many other women to take up tennis and compete professionally. In 2017, that epic Battle of the Sexes was memorialized in film, with King played by Emma Stone. 

 

2. 1999 Women’s World Cup, July 10, 1999

Over 90,000 fans were there at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA that day—including President Bill Clinton—to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team take on China in the World Cup Finals. It was the largest audience ever to attend a women’s sports event in person, and after 90 minutes of regulation play and two sudden death overtimes, the match would be decided by penalty kicks.

After the first 4 players on the U.S. team made their shots, and one woman from China missed hers, it came down to Brandi Chastain. The stadium fell silent as she stepped up to take her penalty kick, hoping to make it 5-4 and seal the deal for the team. The rest is history—she scored, ripped off her jersey in celebration, and the U.S. won the World Cup at home in front of their fans, putting professional women’s soccer on the map and setting the stage for the kind of popularity the current U.S. team has in our culture. 

 

3. Kathrine Switzer Runs Anyway, April 19, 1967

Title IX may have been an important win for female sports, but women have been competing and making history in those spaces long before they were welcome. Kathrine Switzer is a perfect example. In 1967, she used her initials, K. V., to disguise her gender and enter the Boston Marathon, an event that was exclusively all-male at the time. 

When a marathon organizer noticed her on the course around the two-mile mark, he tried to chase her down (catch a glimpse of that famous moment here, caught on camera). Thankfully, her running partner obstructed his path so Kathrine could go on to be the first woman to officially participate and complete the race, finishing in 4 hours and 20 minutes. Get it, girl.

 

4. Babe Didrikson Does it All, July 16, 1932

A true renaissance woman in the way of sports—we're talking baseball, basketball, track and field, and golf—Babe Didrikson is undoubtedly one of the greatest female athletes of all time and a name you're going to want to commit to memory. In the 1932 Summer Olympics, she earned two gold medals and one silver for the 80-meter hurdles, javelin, and high jump, respectively.

In that competition, she broke 4 world records and became the only athlete—male or female—to earn individual Olympic medals in separate running, throwing, and jumping events. To this day, she's the only one ever to have achieved that, but, of course, she didn't stop there. Babe Didrikson turned her attention to professional golf and went on to win professional 10 LPGA major championships. NBD. 

 

5. The Serena Slam, January 26, 2003

We all know Serena as the G.O.A.T. of women’s tennis and a champion of modern day feminism—she’s an outspoken advocate of women’s rights and Black Lives Matter, and actively invests in Black female entrepreneurs and founders as they get their start. But she got hers on the tennis court, rising to fame with her sister Venus and taking the tennis world by storm.

She has countless achievements in that arena to choose from, but only five women have ever held all four major tournament trophies all at once, and in 2003, Serena made it happen for herself when she won the Australian Open—in an epic match against her own sister, Venus Williams. Her wins were successive, but didn’t all take place in the same calendar year, so ever since, this kind of Grand Slam title has been referred to as a Serena Slam, and when she won, she cried a few rare tears of joy, making it one of the truly great moments in sports history.

 

6. The Perfect Ten, July 18, 1976

At the 1976 Olympic games, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci performed so flawlessly on the uneven bars that she was awarded the first perfect 10 in the sport’s history—at the age of 14!—and, as you might imagine, took home gold. (See for yourself here.)

Her career was just getting started though, and she went on to earn six more 10s over the course of her time in the spotlight, as well as 5 Olympic gold medals total. To this day, she’s one of the best-known gymnasts of all time, known for her pristine technique, clean landings, and difficult and innovative skills, popularizing the sport and paving the way for women and girls who followed.

 

7. Flo Jo's World Record, July 16, 1988

A true Feminista favorite, Florence Griffith Joyner a.k.a. Flo Jo is a champion in both speed and style. She was an American track and field star who set impossibly fast records in her famously colorful bodysuits and sparkly acrylic nails. In 1988, she broke the world record for the 100-meter sprint by .27 seconds, with a pace of 10.49 seconds, a record that remains untouchable, set during the quarter finals.

Her gold medal-winning Olympic record of 10.62 seconds remained the record for over three decades until, just this year, Jamaica's Elaine Thompson-Herah broke Flo Jo's Olympic record by .01 seconds with her 10.61-second win. To this day, Flo Jo is considered the fastest woman in history, and for that and her bold fashion choices on the track, we love her.
 

8. Dana Torres Takes Five, August 17, 2008

In 2000, at age 33, she U.S. swimmer Dana Torres became the oldest swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal. It was her fourth stint at the Olympics, but she wasn't nearly done. She returned in 2008 to the summer games in Beijing, where at age 41, she earned three medals—two for relays and one silver in the individual 50-meter freestyle.

She broke countless records over the course of her career, earning twelve medals total, but the most notable achievement might just be that she qualified for, competed in, and medaled in 5 separate Olympic games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008) and showed that women at any age are badass competitors and a force to be reckoned with :)
 

Thanks for reading, Feministas. Did we miss any of your favorite sports moments? Share with us in the comments!

Otherwise, we'll see you next week for more of The "F" Word, our weekly newsletter and blog on all things feminist, from activism to fashion and beyond. Want it delivered? Scroll down, sign up, and we’ll send it straight to your inbox.



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