We all have our personal faves – sports, teams, athletes, and outstanding athletic moments. But the undisputed pinnacle of the sports world? The Olympic Games.
If you’re looking for the best athletes in the world, look no further than the modern Winter and Summer Olympics.
To celebrate the best female athletes in the world, the staff at SheBettor have come up with a list of the top women’s Olympic athletes of all time. These women achieved the apex of their respective sports and pushed the goal posts further for women worldwide.
Before we dive in, a little behind the scenes on how we created our list. We evaluated each athlete’s status across several different factors and ranked them on a combination of:
- Total medal count
- Records broken
- Historical significance
- Impact on the sports world at large
Of course, so many female athletes fit the bill – women who have shattered records, headlines, and glass ceilings.
But these are the ten Olympians at the very top.
Serena Williams: United States, Tennis
While Serena doesn’t have the highest Olympic medal count, she’s in the conversation as the Greatest Athlete of All Time, male or female.
Check it out: She’s won 23 Grand Slams, more than any other man or woman during the Open era. She also has 72 Women’s Tennis Association titles, four Olympic gold medals, and countless other championships, titles, and records. Oh, and she’s won over $94.5 million in prize money throughout her career, more than any other female athlete.
She and her sister Venus dominated the 2000, 2008, and 2012 Olympics, taking home gold in doubles each of those years. Serena also won the singles gold in London in 2012.
In our view, she’s absolutely the GOAT.
Simone Biles: United States, Gymnastics
Simone Biles is not just the most decorated US gymnast of all time – she has also significantly influenced the sport and helped change the conversation around athletes’ mental health.
Biles has seven Olympic medals to her name – four gold, one silver, and two bronze. She’s tied for most Olympic medals won by a U.S. gymnast. Add her stunning 25 World Championship medals, and you’ve got the most decorated gymnast in history.
As if that wasn’t enough, Biles was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year. The White House recognized her as an athlete and an “advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.”
As Biles herself said, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
First and only.
Allyson Felix: United States, Track & Field
Allyson Felix is the most decorated US track & field athlete in history, and the third most decorated in the world. She competed in five Olympic Games, starting in Athens in 2004, and went on to win 11 medals: seven gold, three silver, and one bronze.
In 2019, she surpassed Usain Bolt for most gold medals won at the World Athletics Championships. She’s now the most decorated athlete, male or female, in World Athletic Championships history.
Like many of the women on this list, Felix didn’t restrict her impact to the sports world. She was influential in pressuring Nike to expand its maternity policy in 2019 to guarantee salary protections for pregnant athletes.
She retired in 2022, but her legacy lives on.
Katie Ledecky: United States, Swimming
It’s hard to keep count of the medals and world records that Katie Ledecky currently owns, but let’s try.
Ledecky has 10 Olympic medals: seven gold and three silver. She has 22 overall medals in the World Aquatics Championships. She is the world-record holder in the 800- and 1500-meter freestyle (long course) and holds the fastest times in the 500-, 1000-, and 1650-yard freestyle events. Thirteen times, Ledecky has broken the fastest record in a given event.
Nobody is arguing with the fact that Ledecky is the greatest female swimmer of all time.
And she hasn’t even retired yet.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee: United States, Track & Field
Jackie Joyner-Kersee was named the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated. Not a bad starting point for our evaluation.
She has six Olympic medals to her name in the heptathlon and long jump: three gold, one silver, and two bronze. While winning the medals, Joyner-Kersee also set several world records, including one that still stands to this day – 7,291 points in the heptathlon. The heptathlon includes seven events: 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin, and 800-meter run.
Maybe the craziest fact of all? She did it while overcoming severe asthma.
Joyner-Kersee retired in 2001 and now sits on the board of directors for USA Track & Field (USATF).
Yuna Kim: South Korea, Figure Skating
Known as “Queen Yuna” or “Queen on Ice,” Yuna Kim is one of South Korea’s biggest stars and a figure skating superstar. Kim is the first female figure skater to win in every major international competition: the World Championships, the Grand Prix Final, the Four Continents Championship, and the Olympic gold.
She’s broken world record scores 11 times and is the current world-record holder for the figure skating ladies’ short program, free skate, and combined total.
According to Forbes, Kim was the highest-paid athlete at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
In 2018, Kim lit the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.
Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor: United States, Beach Volleyball
“Walsh and Treanor” is basically synonymous with beach volleyball in the U.S., and deservedly so. Together, Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Trenor have three gold medals from the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Olympic Games.
Together, the two women were a near-unstoppable force in world beach volleyball. They set multiple world records, including 19 consecutive tournament titles in 2007-2008 and a winning streak of 112 back-to-back matches.
They won gold at every Olympic Games where they competed together and were instrumental in bringing their sport into the mainstream. Misty May-Treanor is the most decorated female beach volleyball player of all time, with 112 wins under her belt.
Chloe Kim: United States, Snowboarding
Chloe Kim dominates the halfpipe and has set world records along the way. In 2018, she won gold at the Winter Olympic Games and became the youngest woman to win a snowboarding gold at just 17 years old. She qualified for her first Olympics at 13, but the age cutoff prevented her from competing. She’s also the only woman to win gold twice in the halfpipe.
But Kim’s dominance doesn’t stop at the Olympic Games. She’s also a six-time X Games gold-medalist and won gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games when she was too young to compete in the Olympics.
How about a bit of pop culture trivia? Kim competed in “The Masked Singer,” and her special edition Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box was the “fastest-selling cereal box in Kellogg Company history.”
Hélène de Pourtalès: Switzerland, Sailing
Countess (yes, Countess!) Hélène de Pourtalès was the first woman in history to win a medal at the Olympic Games. And she did it while competing with the men.
Born in America in 1868 as Helen Barbey, she competed with Switzerland’s men’s sailing team in the 1900 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. She helped take her team to both a gold and silver medal.
In those Olympics, only 22 women competed in total. Compare that to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where 5,494 female athletes competed for a near half-and-half split with male athletes.
We’ve come a long way in 120 years – and we have women like de Pourtalès to thank for it.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez