Written by Alexis Barton
After every Super Bowl, World Series, or Stanley Cup Championship there is a certain question that floats around the sports world: who is the greatest athlete in that sport? Who is the greatest of all-time? With his seventh Super Bowl victory just a few weeks ago, Tom Brady is considered by many to be the greatest football player of all time at the very least, and even more consider him to be the greatest athlete of all time. This is a difficult conversation to have considering that most professional athletes have wildly different traits that make them incredible within their sport. There is one trait, however, that usually disqualifies an athlete from this conversation: being a woman. Despite their great successes over their respective careers, female athletes are too often overlooked in the conversation about who is the greatest of all time. Here are just a few women whose past and continuing contributions to sports make them GOAT material.
5-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky. After making her Olympic debut in the 2016 Rio Games, Katie Ledecky has continued her dominance in the pool, winning 6 additional World Championship gold medals and setting 2 NCAA records with Stanford. Ledecky’s primary inspiration, and competition for the title of greatest swimmer of all time, is Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. Though she has not had the same international experience as Phelps at this point in her career, Ledecky is making her way to becoming one of the names synonymous with the sport of swimming just like Phelps.
4-time Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser. Women’s hockey would not be the same today without the contributions of Hayley Wickenheiser. The first woman to play full-time professional hockey in any position other than goalie, she made her professional debut in the Finnish professional league Suomi-sarja for HC Salamat. Her Olympic record is rivaled only by some of her former teammates, as she has won 4 gold medals, 1 silver medal, and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player two times, in 2002 and 2006. After representing Team Canada for 23 years, Wickenheiser retired in 2017 to go on to work a front office job in the NHL, where she is currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
4-time NCAA National Champion Breanna Stewart. If you have watched women’s collegiate basketball within the past 10 years you might have heard of a little team called the University of Connecticut Huskies. UConn, led by head coach Geno Auriemma, has been a dominant force in both the Big East conference and the NCAA. Leading this effort from 2012-2016 was Breanna Stewart. After winning 3 MVP awards and dominating the NCAA with her victorious Huskies, Stewart went on to the WNBA where she was the 1st overall draft pick in 2016. Her success only grew from there, as she went on to lead the Seattle Storm to victory in the 2018 and 2020 WNBA Championships, where she was the Finals MVP both times. Though Stewart plays with seasoned veterans like Sue Bird, her passion for the game is unmatched, and so is her skill.
Though these athletes deserve their due praise, this list is far from complete. Women including, but not limited to, Serena Williams, Hillary Knight, Simone Biles, and Aly Raisman are all worthy of the distinction of being among the greatest of their sports. It’s about time that the sports industry — and beyond– recognizes these individuals not just for being female athletes, but for being stellar athletes period.