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Women of the Summer Olympics

Female Athletes Who've Made Their Mark at the Summer Olympics


While every modern Olympics includes many women as well as men, a few women have stepped to the forefront as pioneers in women's athletics or in their particular field. Here are a few of the notable women summer Olympians, listed alphabetically.

Joan Benoit

1984 - Joan Benoit
Getty Images / Tony Duffy / Allsport
May 16, 1957 -
1984 Olympics: marathon, USA
Joan Benoit Samuelson won the 1984 women's marathon, the first time the sport was included for women in a modern Olympics.

Fanny Blankers-Koen

Fanny Blankers-Koen 1948 London Olympics 80m hurdles
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Fanny Blankers-Koen was once voted best female athlete of the 20th century. The Dutch track and field competitor participated in the 1936 Olympics; no 1940 and 1944 Games were held. During the Nazi occupation, she married and had two children. When the 1948 Olympics Games were held, she was thought to be too old to compete, especially having given birth twice. But she was determined, and became the first woman athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympics. She won every heat and final in which she competed at the 1948 Games. In 1952, blood poisoning from an infected boil kept her from another Olympics. She coached the Dutch team in 1968 at Mexico City.

Tracy Caulkins

Tracy Caulkins at Start of Women's 100 Meter Breast Stroke, 1984 Olympics
Getty Images / Tony Duffy
January 11, 1963 -
1984 Olympics: swimming, USA
Tracy Caulkins was the first American to set an American record and win an American title in each of four swimming strokes (breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke, freestyle). The 1980 Olympics, which the USA boycotted, was likely at the height of her performance, but she persisted and came back in 1984 to win two individual gold medals and one gold for a relay. She also met her future husband at that Olympics, Australian swimmer, Mark Stockwell.

Alice Coachman

November 29, 1923 -
1948 Olympics: Track and Field, USA
Alice Coachman was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a track and field event.

Nadia Comaneci

Nadia Comaneci, Beam, 1980 Olympics, Moscow
Getty Images / Tony Duffy
November 12, 1961 -
1976, 1980 Olympics: gymnastics, Romania
Nadia Comaneci was the first woman gymnast to score a perfect 10 score in Olympic competition. She earned a total of seven perfect 10 scores and three individual gold medals and a silver for team competition in the 1976 Olympics. After winning four medals in 1980, she retired from amateur athletics in 1989, and escaped Romania to the United States in 1989. In 1996, she married Bart Conner, a US competitor in gymnastics at the 1976 Olympics.

Babe Didrikson (Zaharias)

Babe Didrikson Zaharias - 1932 Olympics
Getty Images
June 26, 1911 - September 27, 1956
1932 Olympics: Track and Field, USA
Considered the best female athlete of her time, Babe Didrikson became a charter member of the US Olympic Hall of Fame posthumously in 1983. She was named "Female Athlete of the Year" by the Associated Press in 1932, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, and 1954. In 1949 Babe Didrikson Zaharias became one of the founding members of the Ladies' Professional Golf Association.

Steffi Graf

Steffi Graf, Germany, wins gold medal in women's singles tennis, 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Getty Images
June 14, 1969 -
1984, 1988, 1992 Olympics: tennis, Germany
Following a long reign by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova at the top in women's tennis, Steffi Graf moved into that top spot in 1987. She began playing tennis at age three, with her father as teacher and coach. In 1984, she won an Olympic gold medal. She won the Grand Slam of tennis in 1988 (winning the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens plus Wimbledon), and in 1988 won another Olympic gold medal. In 1992, Jennifer Capriati beat Graf for the gold medal at the Olympics. In her lifetime, she won three Grand Slams and 21 Grand Slam tournaments, the latter beating Evert and Navratilova, but not quite matching Margaret Court's 24.

Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo)

Florence Griffith-Joyner, after winning women's 100 meter at 1988 Seoul Olympic games.
Getty Images / Tony Duffy
December 21, 1959 - September 21, 1998
1988 Olympics: track and field, USA
Florence Griffith Joyner dazzled world at the 1988 Olympics with her long hair and fingernails, attractive running outfits which she designed, and big smile -- and gold medal wins in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4x100 meter relay, plus a silver. Flo-Jo almost won a place on the 1980 Olympic team. She married 1984 Olympic gold medal triple jumper Al Joyner in 1987, Jackie Joyner-Kersee's brother. She was rumored to have taken steroids, but passed drug tests and denied using drugs. She retired from sports in 1989, appearing as an actress, making a fitness video, and writing children's books. She died after a heart seizure in 1998.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Long Jump, 1985
Getty Images / Tony Duffy
March 3, 1962 -
1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 Olympics: Track and Field, USA
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is considered by many to be the best all-around female athlete in the world. She won medals in 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996 Olympics.

Olga Korbut

Olga Korbut, 1972 Munich Olympics
Getty Images / Tony Duffy
May 16, 1955 -
1972, 1976 Olympics: Gymnastics, USSR (Soviet Union)
Olga Korbut, replacing an injured gymnast to represent the Soviet Union in 1972, helped her gymnastics team to a gold medal. In her individual participation, she quite publicly fell apart, then recovered, capturing the heart of the world, even being named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in the United States. She toured the US after the 1972 Olympics, helping to spark a large increase in the number of children learning gymnastics. In 1976, she again helped her team to the gold, and won a silver in the balance beam. She moved to the United States in 1991.
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