Anky Van Grunsven at the 2012 Olympics.
The equestrian events are some of the few where women compete against men (the other is sailing), and women have medalled in all three individual categories — show-jumping, eventing, and dressage. In Beijing, Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands took the gold in dressage. So far this year, women have taken silver and bronze in individual eventing. Female jockeys have also beat men in racing — Julie Krone won the Belmont Stakes in 1993.
Billie Jean King famously beat Bobby Riggs in a 1973 match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.” King was 26 and Riggs was 55, but her victory was still hailed as a blow to sexism: New York Times reporter Neil Amdur wrote that “she convinced skeptics that a female athlete can survive pressure-filled situations and that men are as susceptible to nerves as women.” The trappings of the match might strike fans today as slightly odd: King was carried out on a Cleopatra-style litter supported by men dressed like “ancient slaves,” while Riggs was wheeled in on a rickshaw by scantily-clad models dubbed “Bobby’s Bosom Buddies.”
In 2006, Michaela Hutchison became the first girl to win a state title against boys in high school wrestling. Said one boy who lost to her, “I expected it. She’s good.” She tried out for the Olympics this year but was eliminated in the trial semifinals.
In 2010, Kelly Kulick became the first women to win a national tournament on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, when she took first prize in the Tournament of Champions. She beat out 62 of the country’s top male bowlers to win the title. She also impressed Billie Jean King, who called her win “a motivational and inspirational event for girls and women competing at all levels all around the world.”
Kelly Kulick in 2012.
Danica Patrick in 2012.
Lynn Hill became the first person to free-climb the Nose Route on the mountain El Capitan in Yosemite, in 1993. Hill was reportedly annoyed that women’s climbing competitions were easier than men’s, with less prize money. And up-and-coming 11-year-old climber Ashima Shiraishi routinely scales routes many adults can’t do, male or female.
Pamela Reed was the first woman to win the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, coming in first in both 2002 and 2003. She was also the first person ever to run 300 miles without sleeping.