The last century, from the Suffragettes to the Spice Girls to the #metoo movement, has seen women fighting tirelessly for their social and political rights. At times, these injustices have played out on the fields, courts and lanes of our favourite sports. However, in the last couple of years Australia's female athletes have frequently outshone their male counterparts and the importance of women's sport is now firmly enshrined in the Australian pysche. Without the pioneering efforts of those who preceded them however, and their struggle against the discriminatory rules which for so long kept women from full participation, that success would not be possible.
With International Women’s Day just around the corner we thought we’d celebrate by sharing our top five inspirational women in sport who changed history. Get ready to be inspired!
In 1912 Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie fought their way to the Olympics at a time when women were banned from swimming competitively. After campaigning for years to swimming associations and the authorities they became the first Australian women to not only participate in the Olympics, but to come home with gold and silver medals.
The NSW Ladies Swimming Association initially refused the women permission to attend. However, finally, after compiling a petition, they were allowed to compete. They nevertheless had to pay for their own travel and living expenses for the Olympics in Stockholm. Fanny went on to win gold in the 100m freestyle event, and Mina won silver. In the late 1910s, Fanny held every world record in women's swimming.
Betty Cuthbert is famously known as the Golden Girl. The source of the nickname wasn't her blonde hair but her three sprinting gold medals in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. She was only 18 at the time. Betty added a fourth gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Faith Thomas was the first Aboriginal woman to play international cricket for Australia. In fact, she was the first indigenous woman to be selected to play any sport for Australia. Until 2004, she was still the only Aboriginal woman to have represented Australia in cricket. Thomas was selected to join the South Australian cricket team after playing only two grade games, and was selected for the Australian team in 1958.
Margaret Court was the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon. She went on to win 10 Wimbledon titles overall between 1963 and 1975. That included 3 singles titles, 2 doubles titles, and 5 mixed doubles titles.
How could we complete a list like this without mentioning Cathy? Cathy was only 16 when she first represented Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland. She was the first Aboriginal runner to win a Commonwealth gold medal and she went on to have an extremely successful career, including winning gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In 2007 she established the Cathy Freeman Foundation to provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged Indigenous children.
This International Women’s Day let’s celebrate these courageous women not only for their sporting contribution, but for their lasting impact on women's sport.
In this article we talk about the often forgotten Australian female legends who paved the way and changed history.
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