Sports

The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time 

Ranker Sports
Updated September 25, 2019 8.2k votes 971 voters 7.8k views 49 items

List Rules Vote up the most influential female athletes who changed their sport.

When it comes to the most influential female athletes of all time, who do you think tops the list? While being one of the best in their respective sports is certainly a qualifying factor, there's plenty more to consider in determining just which women had the greatest influence on generations of females to come. Of course, all these stars will go down as some of the greatest female athletes, but who changed the game for women the most? Who's the most iconic? That's up to you to decide. 

From track and field to tennis, the most influential female athletes span a range of sports—and some have even competed with top male athletes. Some of the most notable women in sports include Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, soccer star Mia Hamm, and skiing phenom Lindsey Vonn, among many other iconic females. In short, the list of influential ladies below features some of the greatest female athletes of all time, and some of the most influential athletes right now.

Check out all the famous female athletes below and cast your votes for those you think had the greatest influence. You can also add others to the list if you think they deserve to be considered.  , then head over and check out the highest-paid women in sports.

list ordered by
1
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Gymnastics

Birthplace: Onești, Romania

Nationality: United States of America, Romania

Nadia Elena Comăneci (UK: , US: , Romanian: [ˈnadi.a koməˈnetʃʲ] (listen); born 12 November 1961) is a Romanian retired gymnast and a five-time Olympic gold medalist, all in individual events. ...more

More Nadia Comăneci 

#65 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #5 of 19 19 Things People Accomplished When They Were Teenagers

2
Larisa Latynina is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Gymnast

Birthplace: Kherson, Ukraine

Larisa Semyonovna Latynina (Ukrainian: Лариса Семенівна Латиніна, Russian: Лари́са Семёновна Латы́нина; née Diriy; born 27 December 1934) is a former Soviet artistic gymnast from southern ...more

More Larisa Latynina 

#208 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #4 of 91 The Best Olympic Athletes in Artistic Gymnastics #59 of 152 The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time

3
Věra Čáslavsk&aac... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Gymnast

Birthplace: Prague, Czech Republic

Nationality: Czech Republic

Věra Čáslavská (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvjɛra ˈtʃaːslafskaː]; 3 May 1942 – 30 August 2016) was a Czechoslovak artistic gymnast and Czech sports official. She won a total of 22 ...more
4
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Tennis

Birthplace: Mannheim, Germany

Nationality: West Germany, Germany

Stefanie Maria "Steffi" Graf (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtɛfiː ˈɡʁaːf]; born 14 June 1969) is a German former professional tennis player. She was ranked world No. 1 and won 22 Grand Slam ...more

More Steffi Graf 

#40 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #19 of 316 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models

5
Sonja Henie is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Figure Skating

Birthplace: Oslo, Norway

Nationality: Norway

Sonja Henie (8 April 1912 – 12 October 1969) was a Norwegian figure skater and film star. She was a three-time Olympic Champion (1928, 1932, 1936) in Ladies' Singles, a ten-time World Champion ...more

More Sonja Henie 

#80 of 452 Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person #6 of 229 The Best Female Athletes of All Time

6
Inge de Bruijn is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Swimmer

Birthplace: Barendrecht, Netherlands

Nationality: Netherlands

Inge de Bruijn (Dutch: [ˈɪŋə də ˈbrœyn]; born 24 August 1973) is a Dutch former competitive swimmer. She is a four-time Olympic champion and a former world record-holder.
7
Nastia Liukin is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Actor, Gymnast

Birthplace: Moscow, Russia

Nationality: United States of America

Anastasia Valeryevna "Nastia" Liukin (; Russian: Анастасия "Настя" Валерьевна Люкина [ˈlʲʉkʲɪn]; born October 30, 1989) is a Russian American former artistic gymnast. She is ...more

More Nastia Liukin 

#240 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #16 of 229 The Best Female Athletes of All Timelisted on The Best 'Dancing With The Stars' Contestants, Ranked

8
Fanny Blankers-Koen is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added

Birthplace: Baarn, Kingdom of the Netherlands

Nationality: Netherlands

Francina "Fanny" Elsje Blankers-Koen (26 April 1918 – 25 January 2004) was a Dutch track and field athlete, best known for winning four gold medals at the 1948 Summer Olympics in ...more

More Fanny Blankers-Koen 

#29 of 229 The Best Female Athletes of All Time #40 of 152 The Most Influential Athletes Of All Time

9
Martina Navratilova is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Tennis

Birthplace: Prague, Czech Republic

Nationality: United States of America, Czechoslovakia

Martina Navratilova (Czech: Martina Navrátilová pronounced [mar'cɪna navˈraːcɪlovaː]; born Martina Šubertová pronounced [ˈmarcɪna ˈʃubɛrtovaː]; October 18, 1956) is a ...more

More Martina Navratilova 

#590 of 771 American Public Figures Who Are National Treasures #23 of 316 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models #5 of 119 The Greatest Left-Handed Athletes of All Time

10
Marit Bjørgen is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Marit Bjørgen Athlete, Cross-country skier

Birthplace: Trondheim, Norway

Nationality: Norway

Marit Bjørgen (born 21 March 1980) is a retired Norwegian cross-country skier. She is ranked first in the all-time Cross-Country World Cup rankings with 114 individual victories. ...more
11
Chris Evert is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Tennis

Birthplace: Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Christine Marie Evert (born December 21, 1954), known as Chris Evert Lloyd from 1979 to 1987, is a retired American World No. 1 tennis player. She won 18 Grand Slam singles championships and ...more

More Chris Evert 

#171 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #156 of 183 Celebrities You Feel Like You Knowlisted on Athletes You Didn't Know Were Conservative

12
Lindsey Vonn is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Skiing

Birthplace: Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Lindsey Caroline Vonn (née Kildow ; born October 18, 1984) is an American former World Cup alpine ski racer on the US Ski Team. She won four World Cup overall championships—one of only ...more

More Lindsey Vonn 

#375 of 470 Famous Women You'd Want to Have a Beer With #177 of 677 Rank the Sexiest Current Female Athletes

13
Annika Sörenstam is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Professional golfer, Architect, Designer

Birthplace: Bro, Sweden, Sweden

Nationality: Sweden, United States of America

Annika Sörenstam (pronounced [ˈanːɪka ²sœːrɛnˌstam] (listen); born 9 October 1970) is a retired Swedish American professional golfer. She is regarded as one of the best female golfers ...more

More Annika Sörenstam 

#82 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #16 of 229 The Best Female Athletes of All Time #7 of 179 The Smartest Professional Athletes

14
Billie Jean King is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Tennis

Birthplace: Long Beach, California, USA

Nationality: United States of America

Billie Jean King (née Moffitt; born November 22, 1943) is an American former World No. 1 professional tennis player. King won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women's doubles, ...more

More Billie Jean King 

#847 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #49 of 229 The Best Female Athletes of All Time

15
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Track and field athlete

Birthplace: Volgograd, Russia

Nationality: Russia

Yelena Gadzhievna Isinbayeva (Russian: Елена Гаджиевна Исинбаева, IPA: [jɪˈlʲɛnə gɐˈdʐɨjɪvnə ɪsʲɪnˈbajɪvə]; born 3 June 1982) is a Russian former pole vaulter. She is a two-time Olympic gold ...more

More Yelena Isinbayeva 

#5 of 229 The Best Female Athletes of All Time #3 of 47 Overhyped Athletes Who Still Performed

16
Anni Friesinger-Postma ... is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Speed Skater

Birthplace: Bad Reichenhall, Germany

Nationality: Germany

Anna ("Anni") Christine Friesinger-Postma (born 11 January 1977) is a German former speed skater. Her father Georg Friesinger, of Germany, and mother Janina ("Jana") ...more
17
Lidia Skoblikova is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Speed Skater

Birthplace: Zlatoust, Russia

Nationality: Russia, Soviet Union

Lidiya Pavlovna Skoblikova (Russian: Лидия Павловна Скобликова; born 8 March 1939) is a retired Russian speed skater and coach. She represented the USSR Olympic team during the Olympic Winter ...more
18
Birgit Fischer is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added

Birthplace: Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany

Birgit Fischer (born 25 February 1962) is a German kayaker, who has won eight gold medals over six different Olympic Games, a record she shares with Aladár Gerevich, spanning seven ...more
19
Stefka Kostadinova is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added

Birthplace: Plovdiv, Yuzhen tsentralen, Bulgaria

Nationality: Bulgaria

Stefka Georgieva Kostadinova (Bulgarian: Стефка Георгиева Костадинова; born March 25, 1965) is a Bulgarian retired athlete who competed in the high jump. Her world record of 2.09 metres has ...more
20
Jackie Mitchell is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Jackie Mitchell Baseball

Birthplace: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Virne Beatrice "Jackie" Mitchell Gilbert (August 29, 1913 – January 7, 1987) was one of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history. Pitching for the Chattanooga ...more
21
Annemarie Moser-Prö... is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added

Birthplace: Kleinarl, Austria

Nationality: Austria

Annemarie Moser-Pröll (born 27 March 1953) is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from Austria. Born in Kleinarl, Salzburg, she was the most successful female alpine ski racer during the ...more

More Annemarie Moser-Pröll 

#66 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #28 of 74 The Greatest Alpine Skiers of All Time

22
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Track and field athlete

Birthplace: Davenham, United Kingdom

Nationality: United Kingdom

Paula Jane Radcliffe, MBE (born 17 December 1973) is a British long-distance runner. She is a three-time winner of the London Marathon (2002, 2003, 2005), three-time New York Marathon champion ...more
23
Gertrude Ederle is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Swimming

Birthplace: New York City, New York

Nationality: United States of America, Germany

Gertrude Caroline Ederle ( ED-ər-lee, AYD-; October 23, 1905 – November 30, 2003) was an American competition swimmer, Olympic champion, and former world record-holder in five events. On August ...more
24
Maria Sharapova is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Hormony added Athlete, Model, Tennis player

Birthplace: Nyagan, Russia

Nationality: Russia

Maria Yuryevna Sharapova (Russian: Мари́я Ю́рьевна Шара́пова, IPA: [mɐˈrʲijə ˈjʉrʲjɪvnə ʂɐˈrapəvə] (listen); born April 19, 1987) is a Russian professional tennis player. A United States ...more

More Maria Sharapova 

#95 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #65 of 677 Rank the Sexiest Current Female Athletes

25
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Influential Female Athletes of All Time
Tennis

Birthplace: Saginaw, Michigan, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Serena Jameka Williams (born September 26, 1981) is an American professional tennis player and former world No. 1. The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) ranked her world No. 1 in singles on eight ...more

More Serena Williams 

#6 of 2,166 The Best Athletes Of All Time #168 of 771 American Public Figures Who Are National Treasures #36 of 290 The Most Obnoxious Athletes