The Roar
The Roar


The 'Babe' the best: My top 20 sportswomen of all time

'Babe' Didrikson Zaharias (Image: From file)
21st February, 2013
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‘Babe’ Didrikson Zaharias is my pick as the greatest sportswoman of all time in a photo-finish with Australian Heather McKay.

These two were nothing short of phenomenal in what they achieved.

Didrickson (1911-1956) won two golds at the 1932 Olympics in the javelin and 80m hurdles, and a silver in the high jump holding world records in the hurdles and high jump, before turning her multi-skills to golf with three US Opens and 41 tournament victories on the USLGPA tour, as well as the US and British Amateur among another 41 victories.

Just for good measure the Babe achieved All-American basketball status and shone in baseball, softball, diving, swimming, volleyball, handball, billiards, skating, and cycling.

When asked was there anything she didn’t compete at or play with, she answered “Yeah – dolls”.

Heather McKay (1941) lost only two squash matches between 1962 and 1981 on the way to winning 16 successive British Opens from 1962 to 1977, the sport’s premier tournament, and 14 successive Australian Amateur titles from 1960 to 1973.

She found time to be a Hockeyroo in 1967 and 1971, and was five times Canadian Racquetball champion in the early 80s.

My bronze medal goes to American Wilma Rudolf, (1940-1994) in one of the greatest sporting stories ever.

The 20th of 22 siblings, Wilma weighed only 2kgs at premature birth, was struck down with polio when she was four, and wore leg braces until she was nine.


It’s impossible to believe Wilma went on to become the fastest woman track sprinter in the world, winning Olympic gold in the 100m, 200m, and 100m relay in Rome 1960.

The other 17 in chronoligical order:

Sonya Henje (1912-1969), the Norweigian skater, 10 times world champion from 1927 to 1936 who went onto become the bighest paid actress in Hollywood.

Fanny Blankers-Koen, the “Flying Dutchwoman” won four Olympic golds in London 1948 in the 100, 200, hurdles, and relay at 30 and a mother of two. Had the second World War not interfered with her career, there’s no telling what she could have achieved.

Althea Gibson (1927-2003), the first African-American to win a Slam in 1956 with the French, and followed with capturing both the US and Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958.

Marjorie Jackson (1931), Australia’s “Lithgow Flash” with Olympic track gold in Helsinki 1952 in the 100, 200, and relay, broke 10 world records during her short but spectacular career.

Maureen Connolly (1934-1969), American “Little Mo” was the first woman’s tennis Grand Slammer in 1953 among nine Slams, and the youngest at 16 to capture the US.

Larisa Latynina (1934), Soviet gymnast with a record 18 Olympic medals that stood for 48 years until broken by American swimmer Michael Phelps with 22.


Dawn Fraser (1937), won three successive Olympic golds in the 100 freestyle at the 1956, 1960, and 1964 Games, and would have won five straight had she not been unjustly suspended for allegedly nicking the Emperor’s flag in Tokyo. The first woman to crack the 60 seconds barrier.

Betty Cuthbert (1938), the Australian “Golden Girl” of the 1956 Olympics with victory in the 100, 200, and relay, and a fourth gold eight years later in Tokyo 1964 over the 400.. During her spectacular career, Betty held world records in the 60m, 100, 200, 220 yards, and 440 yards.

Margaret Court (1942), Australia’s greatest woman tennis player, and the only one to win three Grand Slams, in the singles, and twice with mixed doubles. All up won 192 tournaments.

Billie Jean King (1943), the American regarded as the matriarch of women’s pro tennis, herself a winner of 12 Slam singles titles, 16 doubles, and 11 mixed.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley (1951), Australian aboriginal who made a record 17 Slam singles final in the 70s. In all won seven Slam singles titles, six doubles, and one mixed.

Chris Evert (1954) American with 157 tournament victories, including 18 Slam singles, and three doubles.

Martina Navratilova (1965), Czech-born American with 18 Slam singles, a record 31 doubles, and 10 nixed, among an Open Era record 177 titles.

Nadia Comaneci (1961), Romanian gymnast, the first to score a perfect 10 in the 1976 Olympics, a feat she achieved five times.


Steffi Graf (1969), Germany’s favourite daughter, with 22 Slam singles to her credit, as well as Olympic gold in 1988 to go with the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and US for the ultimate Grand Slam, the only time it has ever been achieved. All up 107 tournament victories.

Annika Sorenstam (1970), Swedish golfer, the only woman to shoot a 59 in tournament play, won 10 majors.

Karrie Webb (1974), Australia’s greatest woman golfer with seven majors, and already inducted into the International Hall of Fame while still competing.

What do you think Roarers? Will Serene Williams challenge for a spot? Ellyse Perry? Lauren Jackson?