Top 10 Female Athletes Who Competed Against Men

Tags: #GirlPower ,   #femaleempowerment ,   #WomenEmpowerment ,   #womenpower

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-06-28 10:23:50

Whenever women compete against men, that brings a lot of attention. Yet, this rarely happens, and it's often limited to an exhibition event. Sorry Billie Jean King, but your beating of 55-year-old Bobby Riggs is totally worthless. Instead of celebrating these pointless achievements, we'll focus on women who contested against men in actual, official events and still managed to hold on their own. In some cases, they've been able to do it for years or even decades! Therefore, let's give them a proper tribute on our top ten list.

10. Eri Yoshida

Yoshida had an excellent debut in America
Nationality: Japanese
Pro career span: 2008-2012
Competed against men in: Many leagues in Japan and the USA
Biggest success: Becoming the first female professional baseball after a decade in the United States
Athlete info

Baseball is extremely popular in Japan, so reaching the professional level is hard. Yet, not only Eri Yoshida became the first woman drafted into Japan's pro league, but she also did it when only 16! At 17, she had already played her first game and was impressive in her team's win. Yoshida changed several leagues and clubs in the following seasons hoping to reach the top level in Japan and the USA. Unfortunately, that never happened, as she rarely played many games. Despite that, coaches praised her work ethic and ability for competing against men.

This was especially impressive, as Yoshida is just 5'1" (155 cm), but her pitches travel over 60 mph (100 km/h). Although other women also played in minor professional baseball leagues, Yoshida is the best among them. Furthermore, the incredible hype may have put too much pressure on her. Unfortunately, she quickly declined well before her 25th birthday. Yet, many believe it's a matter of time before a female debuts in MLB, probably as a pitcher. 

9. Ellen MacArthur

It takes something special to do this
Nationality: British
Pro career span: 2001 - 2009
Competed against men in: Setting sailing records
Biggest success: Breaking the world record for the fastest solo sail around the world
Athlete info

Sailing around the world is incredibly tough and sounds impossible to do alone. Yet, Ellen MacArthur did it. Since 2001, she has continually chased world records, despite her small stature (5'2"/157 cm). Yet, they eluded her for years despite her best efforts. Finally, in 2005, it happened! In 71 days, she sailed the globe alone, setting a new world record by more than 32 hours. During that time, she covered over 27,000 nautical miles (slightly more than 50,000 km) and never slept more than 20 minutes!

Her performance earned her top honors in the United Kingdom and France, and the record stood for three years. MacArthur also set several women's records, with some standing for decades. At 33, she retired and is now leading the Cancer Trust and Foundation named after her.

8. Kelly Kulick

Still the most significant moment for women in bowling
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 2001-
Competed against men in: Pro Bowling Association
Biggest success: Winning the PBA Tournament of Champions
Athlete info

While American professional bowling has a women's division, females can still compete against men. While many did use this opportunity, Kelly Kulick was the first to generate success. As the Professional Women's Bowling Association dissolved in 2003, Professional Bowling Association has enabled women to compete since 2004. Once she joined the series two years later, Kulick wasn't the first woman to do it. However, she was the first to regularly compete and beat men. Still, after an awful season in 2007, she was out, and many thought it was all over for her. 

Yet, in 2010, she was back, competing in the famous PBA Tournament of Champions, as an invitational event for the best among the best. Kulick was impressive in qualifying before destroying 12-time champion Chris Barnes with 10 strikes in the final! Of course, she also continued competing in the women's division, winning numerous medals and trophies. While in 2018, Liz Johnson won a PBA Chameleon Championship, this is still a non-major tournament.   

7. Chyna

Chyna was adored for her incredible physics
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 1995-2002
Competed against men in: WWE, New Japan Pro-Wrestling 
Biggest success: Winning the Intercontinental WWF (WWE) title 
Athlete info

Yes, professional wrestling isn't a traditional sport, as the match results are predetermined. However, these athletes work hard, as their job is way more dangerous than many "real" sports. Therefore, injuries and even death are common. Furthermore, becoming successful in WWE means you must be a top athlete with great charisma. Yet, while we've seen a few intersex exhibition matches, Chyna moved things to another level!

Chyna broke ground when she became the first female in the Royal Rumble and regularly fought against men. Her physic and appeal made her a fan-favorite, as she made history by winning WWF Intercontinental Championship in 1999! Chyna was also close to challenging for the WWF Championship, nearly becoming the number one contender. Despite her later shift to the adult movie industry, Chyna was posthumously introduced to the WWE Hall of Fame. No other female wrestler could nearly match her achievements against men.

6. Zhang Shan

Zhang Shan was unstoppable in 1992
Nationality: Chinese
Pro career span: 1989-2017
Competed against men in: Olympic skeet shooting
Biggest success: Winning the Olympic gold in 1992
Athlete info

In 1968, skeet shooting had its debut at the Olympic games. Furthermore, it was a rare mixed sport, so men and women competed together. Yet, men dominated the competition, winning every medal. Still, that didn't discourage Zhang Shan in 1992. The Chinese athlete won the qualification round and was the only woman to progress. Furthermore, she did the same in the semifinals, breaking the Olympic record! Finally, in the medals round, Shan held her first position, setting another Olympic record! Therefore, she became the first woman to win the competition.

Unfortunately, her triumph changed things, but not in a good way. In 1996, women were banned from competing before returning in 2000, but in the segregated contest. Therefore, Shan couldn't defend her title. While segregation gives women more exposure, mixed competition would help them improve faster. As for Shan, she continued competing even after her 50th birthday, but her last Olympics appearance was in 2000. 

5. Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick at her best
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 1998-2018
Competed against men in: IndyCar, NASCAR, Toyota Atlantic Championship 
Biggest success: Winning an IndyCar race
Athlete info

While there are always stories about sexism in motorsport, the truth might differ. Many team owners would love to have a woman in the cockpit, as that would give them enormous exposure. Therefore, sometimes they are hired even when their driving abilities are limited. However, Danica Patrick could always hold her own. After finishing third in the Toyota Atlantic Championship in 2004, Patrick transferred to the IndyCar Series. There she immediately proved her potential with three pole positions in her debut season!

Patrick competed in the championship until 2011, always finishing inside the top 10 overall. Finally, in 2008, she made history by triumphing in the Indy Japan 300 race, becoming the first woman to win at the top level of the American open-wheeler series. While her NASCAR years weren't nearly as successful, she still won a pole position at the famous Daytona 500. Patrick was even connected with F1 teams, but unfortunately, she never got a chance to test.

4. Julie Krone

No one expected Krone to win this one
Nationality: American
Pro career span: 1981-2004
Competed against men in: Every race of her career 
Biggest success: Winning a Triple Crown race
Athlete info

While women have smaller builds than men, only a few could build a successful jockey career. Yet, Julie Krone won her first race at only 18 (1981), and several years later, she was among the top jockeys in the world. Therefore, she conquered some of the most prestigious races and kept winning until her 2004 retirement. Yet, her top moment came in 1993, when she triumphed at the Triple Crown race as the first and only woman to do it. During her long career, she won 3704 events – an average of 150 per season!

Krone is also well-respected for her durability and mindset. She suffered a few massive injuries and always returned to win more. As horse racing is among the most dangerous sports, she belongs to the most formidable female athletes ever. Luckily, her achievements are celebrated long after retirement, and she even got a bronze statue in New York.

3. Jutta Kleinschmidt

No other female endurance racer can compare to her
Nationality: German
Pro career span: 1988-2022
Competed against men in: Endurance racing
Biggest success: Winning the Dakar Rally in 2001
Athlete info

The Dakar Rally is the most formidable challenge in motorsport. Still, Jutta Kleinschmidt has enjoyed it since her early days in racing. Yet, with almost no success in the motorcycle category, she switched to cars. That was a fantastic choice, as Kleinschmidt soon became one of the top title contenders. In 2001, she won the competition, which remains the best Dakar result for women. Furthermore, she finished second the following year with a few more top-five rankings.

Kleinschmidt also raced in many other endurance championships, and her ability to win against men remains unrivaled. Often the only female in the competition, she had a tough road to prove her worth. Yet, like with many other women on our list, that only served to motivate her. Unfortunately, only a few other women followed even decades later, illustrating how good she was.

2. Michele Mouton

Now it's hard to imagine a woman in WRC at all
Nationality: Michele Mouton
Pro career span: 1973-1986
Competed against men in: WRC, various rally events
Biggest success: WRC vice-champion in 1982
Athlete info

The World Rally Championship is one of the most demanding types of racing and was even more challenging in the eighties. Yet, that never stopped Michèle Mouton. However, she appeared in only 13 races in her first seven seasons. Finally, in 1981 she became a part of the Audi Sport racing team, sensationally winning her first rally in Italy. This victory gave her more confidence as she made the following season the most spectacular! With three wins, Mouton was second in the championship as she entered her last two races. Even better, she was way ahead of her closest rivals in the Ivory Coast rally. Yet, luck wasn't on her side. 

With a ton of car problems, she was forced to retire, which effectively ended her championship dreams. Nevertheless, she finished the next rally in second place, becoming a vice-champion. While the rest of her career wasn't nearly as successful, there's no doubt that Mouton is the most outstanding female race driver ever. The fact that she could hold onto her own in the most brutal era of rally racing is incredible, as no other woman came close to it!

1. Judit Polgár

Polgar won against the best, including Kasparov
Nationality: Hungarian
Pro career span: 1988-2014
Competed against men in: Every tournament of her career
Biggest success: Ranked 8th in the world overall
Athlete info

In 1987, Judit Polgár was only 12, but she still became one of the top 100 top-rated chess players. She earned the Grandmaster title two years later, so everyone expected a lot from her. Despite the enormous pressure, Polgár delivered by winning numerous titles and beating current and former world champions. In 2004 she was ranked eighth in the world. A year later, she reached the final qualification rounds for the World Chess Champion. However, she finished last among eight competitors.

Unlike most women on the list, Polgár rarely played against women, as none were near her level. Therefore, from 1989 to her retirement in 2014, she was the number-one-ranked female player in the world! Her biggest rivals were often her sisters Susan Polgar, a former Women's World Champion, and Sofia Polgar, a winner of two Chess Olympiad gold medals.

While women have more opportunities now than a few decades ago, only a few choose to compete against men. Furthermore, even fewer are successful at it. That's a shame, but we still hope it will happen. While it's almost impossible to see a female in the NBA (yes, it's allowed), we don't see why it shouldn't happen in motorsports, horse racing, or even wrestling. Let's hope it will happen soon!

Would you rank these ten women differently? Would you allow women to compete against men in every sport?

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Dan Says:

Mouton was incredible. I just recently read about her career, and no woman came ever close in any motorsport. Hell, what was the last time a female competed in WRC on regular basis, let alone won some points?

June 28 at 10:23:50 AM

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