While the 40th anniversary of Title IX commemorates gender equality in education, including athletics, the celebration has extended much further into a celebration of women. In the context of sports, recognizing the impact of Title IX has meant celebrating women’s athletics and the large strides it has made in the last 40 years. As result, I take a look back on the greatest moments in the history of women’s sports.
1.Team USA Wins the 1999 World Cup
It’s probably the most iconic image in women’s sports: Brandi Chastain scores the winning penalty kick against China and rips off her jersey, clenching her fists in glory. In what most would call the greatest moment in women’s sports history, the match featured some of the best women’s athletes of all time, including Mia Hamm, the world’s all-time leading international scorer (men or women) as well as Kristine Lilly, the world’s all-time leader in international appearances.
The match was watched all over the world and was the leading conversation in sports. More than 90,000 people packed the Rose Bowl for the final, the largest crowd ever at a women’s sporting event. As a result of this game, women’s soccer in the United States has been on the rise. Ever since, the U.S. women’s national team has dominated the soccer stage.
2.The Beginning of the WNBA
I’ve been surprised that none of the experts have declared this an important moment in women’s sports. In my mind, the launch of the WNBA in 1997 is close to the top of the list. The league just completed its 16th season, concreting itself as the longest lasting women’s pro league in the United States. The WNBA features the best women’s basketball players from around the world such as Diana Taurasi and Lauren Jackson. One of the most important effects of this league, though, has been consistently giving young girls female athletes to look up to.
3.USA Gymnastics Wins First Ever Team Gold
You’ve probably seen this moment; it’s been replayed over and over again, and for good reason. With a gold medal on the line, an injured Kerri Strug had one remaining vault. She stuck her second vault one-footed, earning the USA its first ever team gold in women’s gymnastics. Team USA beat the Russians, who were undefeated in the history of the team competition at the Olympics. Strug proved the strength of a women’s athlete, overcoming adversity and performing under pressure.
But as a team event, it wasn’t just Strug. Known as the Magnificent Seven, the team was also composed of stars such as Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller, the most decorated American gymnast of all time. I chose this as a top moment because it changed the course of women’s gymnastics. Ever since, Team USA has been a force to be reckoned with.
4.Billie Jean King Defeats Bobby Riggs in a Battle of the Sexes
On Sept. 20, 1973, Billie Jean King did what was thought to be the impossible; she beat a man. And not only did she beat Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon champion, she destroyed him, winning in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. In front of 50 million people from all over the world, King won the $100,000 prize. What’s extremely important about this event is that millions were talking about — and couldn’t take their eyes off of — a sports event that featured a woman. King exhibited her physical ability and mental toughness, representing all women.
5.Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings Three-Peat
Misty and Kerri: they’re so loved by America that we know them simply on a first-name basis. Together, they won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, the most recent in 2012. However, I think this duo has been unfairly overlooked, considering it hasn’t been mentioned once in anything dealing with the top moments in women’s sports (and trust me, I’ve read a lot). How could they not be on this list? They’ve lost just one set in Olympic competition, winning 21 consecutive Olympic matches. They also set one of the longest winning streaks in sports history at 89 games on the AVP tour and international circuit. They’ve been a symbol of domination and teamwork.
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings will go down as the best duo in the history of beach volleyball, but I’m going to take that one step further and call them the best duo in sports history.
6.Mary Lou Retton Wins the All-Around Gold Medal
She measured 4’9’’, weighed only 94 pounds and was just 16 years old, but Mary Lou Retton made a big impact on the sport of gymnastics. At the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Retton became the first American woman to win the most coveted award in gymnastics: the all-around gold. Needing a 9.95 to win the event, Retton delivered a perfect vault, receiving a perfect 10. She won a total of five medals at those games, more than any athlete.
Suddenly, millions of little girls wanted to do gymnastics, inspiring those such as the Magnificent Seven. In the last three Olympics, an American athlete has won the all-around medal. To me, Retton is a large reason why.
7.Babe Didrikson Sets Four World Records at AAU Championships
Mildred ‘Babe’ Didrikson is a true example of a multisport athlete, as she competed in numerous sports including basketball, diving and boxing. Known as the “first lady of sports,” her nickname ‘Babe’ comes from scoring five home runs in a baseball game.
On July 16, 1932, she won six events in a three-hour time span, setting four world records at the Amateur Athletic Union Championships. Competing on her own team, Didrikson won the team championship single-handedly. The runner-up was a 22-person team but still scored eight points less. She then went on to win two gold medals and a silver at the 1932 Olympics.
After that, she became a golfer, dominating that sport, too. She won 10 majors and 31 championships. She also cofounded the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in 1949.
8.Dara Torres Competes in her Fifth Olympic Games
Dara Torres competed in five Olympic Games. Try to comprehend that for a second. That’s 20 years of swimming at the most elite level. The first and only swimmer from the US to accomplish this, she was 41 years old and at her final Olympic Games in Beijing. Despite being almost three times as old as her youngest teammate, Torres won three silvers in 2008, standing on the podium in every event she competed in. On her career, she garnered 12 medals, tying her for the female record in the sport. She has earned at least one medal in each Olympics in which she competed.
9. College Basketball Wins Big
Okay, I’m cheating. I chose two college basketball moments and am calling it one because I couldn’t choose between them and they both deserve to be on this list.
In 1998, Tennessee completed a perfect 39-0 season, becoming the first team to win three consecutive national championships (a record that still they still hold). The team also set seven NCAA records. Head Coach Pat Summit, the winningest NCAA basketball coach with 1,098 victories, should go down as one of the best college coaches of all time (John Wooden is the only coach I can think of who could arguably have been better, but I still give it to Summit).
Ten years later, from 2008 to 2010, the UConn women’s basketball team won 90 consecutive games, setting a new collegiate record. The streak topped the 1971-74 UCLA men’s basketball team coached by Wooden, which won 88 straight matches. The streak resulted in two national championships. More importantly, though, this to me was the first time that basketball was simply seen as basketball. It didn’t matter that the streak was set by women.
10. Jackie Joyner-Kersee Sets Heptathlon record at the 1988 Seoul Olympics
There’s a saying that goes, “All records are made to be broken.” But Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s heptathlon record may never be beaten. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Joyner-Kersee totaled 7,291 points in the heptathlon, breaking the world record. Not to mention, she holds the next five best scores too. She also took home the gold medal in the long jump (her 7.49 meters still ranks second best all-time) and four years later at the 1992 Olympics, repeated as the heptathlon champion, solidifying herself as one of the greatest multi-event athletes of all time. On her career, she competed in four Olympic Games, earning six medals total.