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Despite the gender biases that still prevail today, women's representation in sports has come a long way. The stories of women earning accolades that we celebrate today would not have been possible without the trailblazers who not only broke the social barriers laid in their paths but also paved the way for generations to come. - By Nikita Arya
1. Kathrine Switzer, Who Ran the Boston Marathon When Women Weren’t Allowed
When Kathrine Switzer registered her participation in 1967, Boston Marathon was an all-male event. In those times, it was believed that long-distance running could cause harm to a woman’s health and feminity. Switzer debunked the myth and openly ran throughout the marathon even when an official tried to eject her. She registered as K.V Switzer, a name that helped hide her gender until the day of the marathon.
2. Serena Williams, A Legendary Tennis Player Who Broke through the Racial Barriers
At the tender age of 19, Serena Williams, the former World No.1 in Tennis, had to face one of the most controversial attacks of her life. In 2001 Serena and her sister Venus were booed by the white audience throughout the match in the Indian Wells tournament ( aka the 5th Grand Slam in tennis). In response to the racist behavior, she boycotted the event for 13 years between the years 2001-2015.
Since then, she has voiced her opinion against racial discrimination across the world. She was an active supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and also advocates equal pay for women in tennis.
3. Ibtihaj Muhammad, the First Woman to Wear Hijab While Competing in Olympics
Ibtihaj Muhammad, an African-American fencer who converted to Islam, set an example for all the Muslim aspirants as she embraced her ethnic identity by wearing a hijab while competing for the US fencing team at the Olympics in 2016, and fought off the stigma attached to her ethnicity in sports. She also became the first female Muslim-American athlete to have won a medal in Olympics.
4. Caster Semenya, Who had to Undergo a Gender Test to testify her Athletic Skills as a Runner
It is one of the most remarkable events in the history of women's sports. Caster Semenya, a South African middle-distance runner, and a World Champion, was subjected to a gender test for her exceptional skills at running at the 2009 World Championship. Her testosterone levels were more than the permissible levels set by World Athletics, which seemed unnatural for a woman as per se. The gender test seemed to question her abilities as a woman. Seeking justice, she has been constantly involved in a legal fight ever since. Recently in 2020, she lost the case at the highest court of Switzerland, however, she hasn’t given up on it yet.
5. Renee Richards, the early Transgender Woman Athlete to Compete Against Woman
Renee Richards was assigned male sex at birth but always identified herself as a woman. After living half of her life as a male, she successfully transitioned herself in 1975 and began her first journey as an American tennis player in 1977 in the US. Ever since she entered the sport, there were arguments regarding her presence being unfair to other women athletes as she seemed to have the physical advantages of being born as a male. However, Richards insisted on her being a female bodily, psychologically, and socially. As one of the early athletes to identify as transgender, she became the face of transgender people in sports.
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