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12 historic firsts women have achieved in sports

12 historic firsts women have achieved in sports
  • Florence Griffith-Joyner still holds the title of world's fastest woman from her performance at the 1988 Olympics.
  • Serena Williams has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any tennis player in the open era.
  • At Super Bowl LV, Sarah Thomas became the NFL's first-ever female referee to officiate a Super Bowl.

Toni Stone was the first woman to play professional baseball as a regular in a major men's professional baseball league.

Toni Stone was the first woman to play professional baseball as a regular in a major men's professional baseball league.
Toni Stone with a baseball in 1953. Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Stone took over Hank Aaron's second baseman position in the Negro American League's Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, and was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs for the 1954 season. She was able to run 100 yards in 11 seconds and had a batting average of .243.

Stone was inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.

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Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, even as officials tried to forcibly remove her from the racecourse.

Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, even as officials tried to forcibly remove her from the racecourse.
Kathy Switzer gets roughed up by Jock Semple during Boston Mararthon. Paul J. Connell/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

In 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, even though women were not allowed to compete at the time. As she was running, a race official ran up to her and tried to forcibly remove her from the course, captured in an iconic photo by the Boston Globe.

After the race, Switzer advocated for women's sports to be taken seriously and for the women's marathon to be added to the Olympic Games.

"It changed everything," she told NBC News. "It changed my life and it changed millions of women's lives."

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Florence Griffith-Joyner became the fastest woman in the world at the 1988 Olympics, and still holds the title today.

Florence Griffith-Joyner became the fastest woman in the world at the 1988 Olympics, and still holds the title today.
Florence Griffith-Joyner celebrates winning gold at the XXIV Summer Olympic Games in 1988. Russell Cheyne/Allsport/Getty Images

Griffith-Joyner holds two world records with the fastest times for the 100 meter (10.49 seconds) and 200 meter (21.34 seconds) sprints. She took home three gold medals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

In 1995, she was inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame.

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WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes' basketball career was full of firsts.

WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes' basketball career was full of firsts.
Sheryl Swoopes. Doug Pensinger/Getty

Swoopes was the first woman to be signed to the WNBA, the first three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player, the first three-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, the first to win an NCAA title, WNBA title and Olympic gold medal, and more.

Swoopes was also the first woman to have a signature athletic shoe called the Nike "Air Swoopes."

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Lauryn Williams was the first American woman to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Lauryn Williams was the first American woman to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Lauryn Williams in Sochi, Russia in 2014. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Lauryn Williams is an American sprinter and bobsledder. In the London Summer Olympics in 2012, she won gold in the 100-meter sprint. In the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 she won gold in the two-woman bobsled.

She now owns a financial planning firm called Worth Winning in Houston, Texas. On her website, she explains how she helps young people with their finances: "I am someone who understands where you are coming from and can provide strategies to address your questions and concerns."

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Among Olympic gymnast Simone Biles' many accolades, she is the first person ever to land a double-double dismount and the first woman to land a triple double in competition.

Among Olympic gymnast Simone Biles' many accolades, she is the first person ever to land a double-double dismount and the first woman to land a triple double in competition.
Simone Biles. Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Simone Biles is widely regarded as the best gymnast in history — male or female. Yet, even after winning the gold medal at the 2016 individual all around final in Rio de Janeiro, Biles kept getting compared to male athletes. She famously told Sporting News, "I'm not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I'm the first Simone Biles."

At the 2019 Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City, Missouri, Biles won her sixth all-around title. She also became the first-ever woman to land a triple double in competition on the floor, and the first person ever to land a double-double dismount, Sports Illustrated reported.

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At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first US Olympian to compete in a hijab.

At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first US Olympian to compete in a hijab.
Ibtihaj Muhammad. Vincent Thian/AP

Muhammad is a five-time Senior World medalist and World Champion, and took home a bronze medal in saber fencing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Mattel released the first hijab-wearing Barbie doll modeled after her in 2017.

"I know what it feels like to see someone and see yourself in them, then feeling infinitely more capable because someone else who looks like you are doing it," she told ESPN in 2018. "My journey has been a blessing, and I hope it can impart inspiration onto others."

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Serena Williams has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any tennis player in the open era.

Serena Williams has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any tennis player in the open era.
Serena Williams. Getty/Adam Pretty

A tennis legend, Williams has won a total of 23 Grand Slam singles titles — more than any tennis player, man or woman, in the open era. She has also won four Olympic gold medals.

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The US Women's National Soccer Team made history in 2019 when they won the Women's World Cup for a fourth time.

The US Women's National Soccer Team made history in 2019 when they won the Women's World Cup for a fourth time.
US Women's National Soccer Team. VI-Images / Getty Images

US Women's National Soccer Team holds the record for most Women's World Cup titles with four wins. The team has also won four Olympic gold medals.

The players have used their platform to advocate for equal pay, filing a gender discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation in 2019.

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Katie Sowers became the first female and first openly gay coach at a Super Bowl game in 2020.

Katie Sowers became the first female and first openly gay coach at a Super Bowl game in 2020.
Katie Sowers. Steve Luciano/AP

Sowers was hired by the 49ers in 2017. Before being employed by the NFL, she was a member of the 2013 US Women's National Football Team and played in the Women's Football Alliance (WFA) for eight years.

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Alyssa Nakken is the first female coach in Major League Baseball history.

Alyssa Nakken is the first female coach in Major League Baseball history.
Alyssa Nakken. Jeff Chiu/AP

In MLB's 151-year history, San Francisco Giants assistant coach Alyssa Nakken is the first woman to join a team's coaching staff. She has worked for the Giants since 2014 and became assistant coach in 2020.

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At Super Bowl LV, Sarah Thomas became the NFL's first-ever female referee to officiate a Super Bowl.

At Super Bowl LV, Sarah Thomas became the NFL's first-ever female referee to officiate a Super Bowl.
Sarah Thomas. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Thomas is the first full-time female referee in the NFL's 100-year history. She was also the first woman to referee at an NFL playoff game in 2019, and the first woman to work a major college football game.

"I've always said that if you do something because you love it and not try to prove somebody wrong or get recognition for it, the recognition probably just is going to happen," Thomas told CBS News in 2019.

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