- Nadia Nadim, Afghanistan-Denmark
Heading our athletes’ chart is a top player for clubs like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. Nadim’s journey from being a fatherless refugee to one of the most celebrated individuals in football is awe-inspiring. She’s the first player of colour of either gender to make Denmark’s national team. Also a doctor in training, this female powerhouse is well-versed in a good number of languages, including (but not lQimited to) Danish, English, German, Persian, Dari, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, and French. Talk about shattering the glass ceiling
- Mithali Raj,India
Raj is the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket and the only female cricketer to surpass the 7,000 run mark in a Women’s One Day International (ODI) match. She’s the first player to score seven consecutive 50s in ODIs and is now one of the most recognisable faces in Indian cricket Thanks to her own prodigious skills with the bat, and the timing of her career, Raj has been able to raise the profile of women’s cricket like no one before her. Debuting at the age of 16, Raj is the recipient of several national and international awards, including the Wisden Leading Woman Cricketer in the World (2017); the Arjuna Award ( 2003); and the Padma Shri (2015).
- Maria Sharapova, Russia
Maria Sharapova has done it all in tennis. She’s won each of the four Grand Slams, the Tour Finals, the Fed Cup. The only thing she hasn’t won is the Olympics, where she had to settle for a silver medal. She has been dogged with injuries throughout her time in the game, and the odd controversy, but is still third on the list of female players when it comes to prize money won. Sharapova became the World No. 1 for the first time on 22 August 2005, at the age of 18, becoming the first Russian female tennis player to top the singles rankings. She last held the ranking for a fifth time for four weeks in June 2011 (11 June 2012 to 8 July 2012). She was named one of the “30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present and Future” by Time and in March 2012 was named one of the “100 Greatest of All Time” by the Tennis Channel. According to Forbes, she has been named the highest-paid female athlete in the world for 11 consecutive years and earned US$285 million (including prize money) since she turned pro in 2001. She has been acing the sports world and is considered to be one of the greatest.
- Stephanie Kurlow, Australia
Known to many as the “World’s First Hijabi Ballerina,” this 16 year old has caught the attention of Swedish fashion brand Björn Borg, which awarded her the Game Changer Scholarship. After converting to Islam in 2010, Kudlow stopped dancing after struggling to find an appropriate school that catered to Muslim girls. Her enduring ability and dedication gained validation last summer, however, when she won a scholarship to the esteemed Royal Danish Ballet Summer School in Denmark. What really sets apart this teenager from most girls of her age is her unyielding determination to follow her dreams and her reverent devotion to her Islamic faith. Her decision to adorn traditional Islamic headwear and modest dance clothing while training and performing has caught the world’s attention.
- Nafissatou Thiam, Belgium
Heptathlon and Javelin
Thiam holds the Belgian record in women’s heptathlon, javelin, and long jump. She set a new world record for the high jump discipline within a women’s heptathlon competition in 2019. For nearly two decades, there has been an unbroken string of heptathlon superstars. Thiam officially joined the pantheon after winning gold at the 2018 European Championships. Born in Brussels, Belgium to a Senegalese father and Belgian mother, Thiam started participating in athletics when she was seven years old, winning her first national age-group titles in 2009, by which time she was already specializing in the heptathlon.
- Diana Taurasi, USA
Diana Taurasi keeps adding to her status as one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time. At 36, she shows no signs of slowing down, having led the Phoenix Mercury to the WNBA semifinals in 2018. Her penchant for scoring in crucial situations has earned her the nickname “White Mamba”, first coined by Kobe Bryant. Taurasi has won the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award (2004), three WNBA championships (2007, 2009, and 2014), one WNBA Most Valuable Player Award (2009), two WNBA Finals MVP Awards, four Olympic gold medals, five scoring titles, and three FIBA World Cups. In 2011, she was voted by fans as one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time. On June 18, 2017, Taurasi became the WNBA all-time leading scorer
- Saina Nehwal, India
Nehwal has won over 24 international titles, which includes eleven Superseries titles. Although she became the World No.2 in 2009, it was only in 2015 that she became No.1, thereby becoming the only female player from India and overall the second Indian player – after Prakash Padukone – to achieve this feat. She is the only Indian to have won at least one medal in every BWF major individual event, namely the Olympics, the BWF World Championships, and the BWF World Junior Championships. She is the first Indian badminton player to have won an Olympic medal, the first Indian to have reached the final of the BWF World Championships, along with being the only Indian to have won the BWF World Junior Championships. In 2016, the Government of India (GoI) conferred the Padma Bhushan – India’s third highest civilian award – on her. Previously, the nation’s top two sporting honours, namely the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award, were also conferred on her by the Government of India.
- Hailie Deegan, USA
Deegan grew up racing off-road and on dirt, but transitioned to competing on asphalt in 2016 to pursue a career in stock car racing. She began her career in NASCAR in 2018 in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. She became the first female driver to have won races in the West Series, doing so in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. She’s been making waves in stock car racing in recent years, but it wasn’t until she sealed her maiden victory in NASCAR’s developmental K&N Pro Series West in October that she officially exploded onto the international scene. The California native’s historic win in Idaho showed her true grit and skill behind the wheel as she seeks to fill the void left by trailblazer Danica Patrick, who retired in 2018. Deegan’s rise to the top has been swift and the 17-year-old knows she must be patient to optimise her chances of long-term success. She had 12 Top10s and five Top 5s in 14 races in 2018 – with plans to venture into the Camping World Truck series, the Xfinity Series, and the Monster Energy Cup Series in the near future. If she can build on her huge potential, then expect Deegan to be a superstar for years to come.
- Portia Woodman, New Zealand
Portia Woodman is one of the most recognisable faces in the women’s game. She has won a 15s World Cup, a Sevens World Cup, a Commonwealth Games gold medal, and an Olympic Sevens silver medal. She is the top try-scorer in Women’s World Sevens Series history with 195, and both her father Kawhena and uncle Fred represented the All Blacks. Woodman was also ninth in Rugby World magazine’s list of the 50 Most Influential People in Rugby in 2018 – the highest-ranked woman – because she speaks out about issues in the game too. The Kiwi flyer is of Maori descent and has lit up the world scene with her blistering pace and all-action performances. She has been clocked at more than 30kmph during games and is the all-time leading scorer in the Sevens World Series – not bad for someone who has been playing the game since 2013 – and that was after calling time on a pro netball career.
- Inbee Park, South Korea
She has been the number one ranked player in the Women’s World Golf Rankings for four separate runs: April 2013 to June 2014, October 2014 to February 2015, June 2015 to October 2015, and from April to July 2018. Park has won seven major championships in her career, including three consecutive major wins during the 2013 season, becoming only the fourth LPGA Tour player to win three majors in a calendar year. She is the youngest player to win the U.S. Women’s Open and the second player, after Annika Sorenstam, to win the Women’s PGA Championship three years in a row. Park is only the seventh player to win four different majors during her career and capture a career Grand Slam. The 30-year-old returned to World No.1 status last year for a brief spell and was so close to clinching her eighth major but for a sudden death play-off defeat – on the eighth hole – to Pernilla Lindberg at the ANA Inspiration. As long as both mind and body hold up, doubtless more majors will follow.