Black women have achieved enormous success in various sports from track and field and gymnastics to tennis and wrestling. Our list of the best Black female athletes will introduce you to the top talent in athletics.
Born in Texas and raised by her grandmother, Sha’Carri Richardson is an American track and field athlete. She competes in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints.
At the age of 19, she became one of the ten fastest women of all time by running the 100-meter sprint in 10.75 seconds. Richardson has said she was inspired by Florence Griffith Joyner and Wilma Rudolph, two other Black female track and field athletes.
In April 2021, she ran the 100-meter sprint in 10.72 seconds, making her the sixth fastest woman in the world.
Illinois-born Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a retired track and field athlete. She competed in the Olympics in both the heptathlon and long jump. In 1984, Joyner-Kersee won her first Olympic medal. She won a total of five medals, including three gold, throughout her career.
Joyner-Kersee has held the world record for the heptathlon since 1986. She was named the Greatest Female Athlete of All-Time by Sports Illustrated for Women.
Today, Joyner-Kersee runs a foundation that promotes youth engagement in sports and academics.
Foluke Atinuke Gunderson
Born in Canada, Foluke Atinuke Gunderson is a Nigerian athlete based out of Florida. As a volleyball player, Gunderson has been part of the Hisamitsu Springs team since 2017.
Gunderson made her Olympic debut in 2012 in London, England where she won a silver medal. In 2016, she won bronze at the Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil.
Most recently, Gunderson attended the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Her team defeated Brazil to win the gold medal.
American track and field athlete Tidye Pickett was born and raised in Chicago. At the age of 21, she became the first Black woman to compete in the Olympics.
She took part in the 1936 Summer Olympics. This was in Berlin. She made it to the semi-finals in the 80-meter hurdles but was injured when her foot hit a hurdle.
After her Olympic career, Pickett became a teacher and principal. She had a school in Chicago named after her in the 1980s.
Florida-born Ashleigh Johnson is a goalkeeper in water polo. In 2015, she won gold with the United States team at the World Aquatics Championships in Russia.
Johnson was the first Black woman on the United States Olympic water polo team. At the age of 21, she won gold with the team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil. She won gold again at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Along with her sister Chelsea, Johnson runs a swimming program for low-income students in Miami, Florida. She was named to the 2022 Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.
Swimmer Simone Manuel was born in Texas. She is an advocate for making swimming lessons available to children who are from under-resourced families.
In 2016, Manuel won four medals at the Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil, including a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle. She won a bronze medal in the 4 by 100-meter freestyle relay at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Manuel is the first Black female from the United States to win gold as an individual swimmer, setting both an Olympic and American record.
Basketball player and track and field athlete Marion Jones was born in California. In 1994 she won the NCAA championship with the University of North Carolina basketball team. Jones later played for a brief time with the WBNA.
In 1997, she won the 100-meter sprint at the World Championships in Greece. Two years later, Jones won gold again in the 100-meter sprint at the World Championships in Spain.
Though she won a total of five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, these were later stripped from her after she admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.
Born in New Jersey, Sydney McLaughin is an Olympic athlete who competes in hurdles. At the age of 16, she became the youngest person since 1980 to be named to the United States Olympic track and field team.
McLaughlin came in first in the 400-meter hurdles at the World Youth Championships in Columbia in 2015. The following year she set the world record for 400-meter hurdles for athletes under 18.
In 2020, McLaughlin won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. She set the world record for 400-meter hurdles in 2021.
Hailing from New York, Dalilah Muhammad is an Olympic hurdler. She won her first gold medal at the age of 17 when she competed in the World Youth Championships.
In 2016, Muhammad won gold in the 400-meter hurdles at the Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil. She also won gold in 2019 at the World Championships.
At the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Muhammad won the silver medal for the 400-meter hurdles.
Born in Japan and raised in the United States, Naomi Osaka is a professional tennis player. She won her first Grand Slam tournament in 2018.
Osaka has won the Australian Open twice, in 2019 and 2021. She won her second US Open in 2020. Osaka has been active in the Black Lives Matter movement and has been involved with protests against police brutality.
Sports Illustrated named Osaka 2020’s Sportsperson of the Year. She was also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2019 and 2020.
Born in the 1920s in West Virginia, Toni Stone was a professional baseball player. She made history by becoming the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues.
During her baseball career, she played for several teams including the San Francisco Sea Lions, New Orleans Creoles, and the Indianapolis Clowns.
Stone was posthumously inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Retired boxer Laila Ali was born in Florida. She did not start boxing until she was 18.
Initially, she gained attention for being Muhammad Ali’s daughter, however, she soon gained a following due to her success in the ring. She made her boxing debut in 1999 against April Fowler in New York.
Ali was undefeated during her eight-year career. Her last fight was against Gwendolyn O’Neil in South Africa in 2007. Ali won BET’s Female Athlete of the Year Award in 2002.
Retired gymnast Dominique Dawes was born in Maryland. She was on the US gymnastics team for ten years beginning in 1992.
She won her first bronze medal in 1992 at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. In the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, Dawes won a gold medal in the team competition and a bronze medal for her floor routine.
In 2000, she won another bronze medal for the team competition at the Sydney Olympics. In 2009, Dawes was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Retired gymnast Gabby Douglas was born in Virginia. She made her Olympic debut in London in 2012 where she won gold in the team event and the individual all-around.
Douglas was the first Black person to win the title of Olympic individual all-around champion in 2012. In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil, Douglas won gold in the team event.
She has also had a book, film, and television show made about her life and career.
Hailing from Michigan, Serena Williams is a professional tennis player. She won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 1999 when she was 17 years old. She has won a total of 23 Grand Slam titles.
In 2019, Williams was named the Female Athlete of the Decade by the Associated Press. She has been called the greatest female tennis player of all time.
Serena has been vocal in her support of the Black Lives Matter movement and women’s equality. Williams received the NAACP President’s Award in 2003.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Elaine Thompson-Herah is an Olympic track and field athlete. She competes in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints.
In 2016, at the Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil, Thompson-Herah won gold in both of her events. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she again received a gold medal for both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints.
Thompson-Herah has also won two Olympic medals–a gold and a silver–for the 4 by 100-meter relay event.
American soccer player Crystal Dunn was born and raised in New York and attended the University of North Carolina.
She started her career with the National Women’s Soccer League in 2014 with the Washington Spirit. She later played for the North Carolina Courage and currently is a member of the Portland Thorns.
In 2015 she won the National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player award. Dunn also competes with the United States national team and won bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
American gymnast Simone Biles was born in Ohio and later raised in Texas. Biles has won a total of 25 World Championship medals, including 19 gold, more than any other gymnast in history.
She has won seven Olympic medals, including five at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Biles won two medals before withdrawing to focus on her health and wellbeing.
She was named to Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list in 2021 for her dedication to mental health.
Born in Florida, Michelle Moultrie is a professional softball player. In 2011, she began playing with the United States women’s national softball team.
Moultrie won two gold medals in the women’s World Championships in 2016 and 2018. She also won two silver medals in 2012 and 2014 in the World Championships.
At the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Moultrie was a silver medalist with the American team.
American gymnast Jordan Chiles was born in Oregon and named after legendary basketball player Michael Jordan.
She joined the United States women’s gymnastic team in 2013. In 2021, she placed third in the Olympic Trials. At the Olympic Games in Tokyo, she replaced Simone Biles in two events and her team won silver.
Chiles is the founder of Melanin Drip Co., a clothing company that she started in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. She wanted to encourage Black women and men to be proud of who they are.
Nicknamed the Pocket Rocket, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was born in Jamaica. Her main event is the 100-meter sprint, though she also competes in the 50-meter and 200-meter events.
In 2008, Fraser-Pryce made her Olympic debut in Beijing, China. She was the first Caribbean female to win a gold medal in the 100-meter sprint. She also won gold for the event at the London Olympics in 2012.
In 2013, the IAAF named her the World Athlete of the Year. She was also listed as one of the most inspiring and influential women in the world by the BBC in 2019.
Born in the 1920s in South Carolina, Althea Gibson was a professional tennis and golf player. She was the first Black tennis player to be invited to the United States National Championships in 1950.
She won her first Grand Slam tennis title in 1956, making her the first Black person to do so. Gibson was recognized by the mayor of New York with the Bronze Medallion.
She has been inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Gibson was the first Black woman to play in the Women’s Professional Golf Tour. She was also the first Black woman to grace the covers of Time magazine and Sports Illustrated.
Florence Griffith Joyner
Nicknamed Flo-Jo, Florence Griffith Joyner was a track and field athlete who specialized in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints.
Born in California, Joyner made her Olympic debut at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles where she won a silver medal in the 200-meter sprint.
In 1988, she won three gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Seoul and retired the following year. She was named the World Athlete of the Year in 1988.
A professional basketball player, Jewell Loyd was born and raised in Illinois and later played for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
In 2015, Loyd was drafted first overall by the Seattle Storm. She was named WBNA’s Rookie of the Year for her first season.
Along with her team, she won the WNBA Championship in 2018 and 2020. Outside of her basketball career, Loyd works to support the inclusion of children with learning disabilities.
Born and raised in Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph was an American sprinter. She contracted polio as a child and temporarily lost full function of her left leg.
She made her Olympic debut in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia where she won a bronze medal in the 4 by 100-meter relay. In the 1960 Rome Olympics, she won gold in the 100-meter sprint, 200-meter sprint, and the 4 by 100-meter relay.
During the 1960s, Rudolph was named the fastest woman in the world. Her story and accomplishments have been featured in multiple books and films.
American wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock was born in Chicago and raised in Texas. In 2009, her father was killed driving home from one of her wrestling matches. His death almost saw Mensah-Stock leave the sport.
She continued to compete, however, and won a bronze medal in the 2018 World Wrestling Championships, followed by a gold medal in 2019.
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Mensah-Stock won gold, becoming the first Black female wrestler to do so.
Olympic sprinter Shericka Jackson was born in Jamaica. In 2015, she won a gold medal in the 4 by 400-meter relay at the World Championships in Beijing. She also won bronze in the 400-meter sprint.
The following year, Jackson competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics where she won silver in the 4 by 400-meter relay and bronze in the 400-meter sprint.
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Jackson won three medals including gold in the 4 by 100-meter relay.
Born in California, tennis player Venus Williams turned pro at the age of 14. In 2002, she became the first Black woman to have a number one ranking since Althea Gibson.
She won her first Grand Slam singles title in 2000 at Wimbledon and has since won six additional times. She has won 14 Grand Slam doubles with her sister Serena.
Williams has degrees in fashion design and business administration. She is the CEO of V Starr Interiors, an interior design company, and also has her own clothing line called EleVen.
Born in Georgia during the 1920s, Alice Coachman was a high jump athlete, sprinter, and basketball player. She faced many barriers as both a woman and a Black person during her career.
In 1948, Coachman made her Olympic debut in London. She won a gold medal, making her the first Black woman to do so.
She was recognized by her hometown of Albany, who named a street and a school after her. She was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.
Top Black Female Athletes, Final Thoughts
From the early 1900s to the present day, the world has seen incredible talent from Black female athletes. The women have overcome challenges to compete on the global stage, setting records and winning medals in many different sports.