Female Olympic athletes who broke barriers and inspired the world

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 06:  Yusra Mardini of the Refugee Olympic Team competes in heat one of the Women's 100m Butterfly on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 06: Yusra Mardini of the Refugee Olympic Team competes in heat one of the Women's 100m Butterfly on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Take a look at these inspiring women who’ve contributed to the Olympic movement and beyond.

Not only do they break barriers within sport but they also help to tackle stigmas on what women can do. Their strength and determination serves as an example to women all over the world.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 13:  Ibtihaj Muhammad of the United States reacts against Sofya Velikaya of Russia during the Women's Sabre Team Semifinal 1 Russia vs United States at Carioca Arena 3 on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 13: Ibtihaj Muhammad of the United States reacts against Sofya Velikaya of Russia during the Women's Sabre Team Semifinal 1 Russia vs United States at Carioca Arena 3 on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Ibtihaj Muhammad - Breaking new ground

The American fencer has been a trailblazer for Muslim women in sport.

At Rio 2016 the Team Sabre bronze medallist became the first US athlete to wear a hijab at the Olympics and one year later she had a Barbie designed after her.

Time Magazine has named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2016. The 34-year-old has become a public speaker and serves as a sports ambassador with the U.S. Department of State's Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative.

In 2018 she released her debut memoir 'PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream' and openly voices her opinion on social media.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: Serena Williams of the United States reacts during a Women's Singles Third Round match against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Tennis Centre on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: Serena Williams of the United States reacts during a Women's Singles Third Round match against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Tennis Centre on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Serena Williams - Wind of Change

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Serena Williams reputation has surpassed the remits of tennis - she has become an icon for women all over the world.

Under the WTA's new rules, players returning from pregnancy or long-term injury will be able to use their special ranking at additional tournaments and for seeding purposes. For pregnancy, that time period now begins at the birth of the child, and players can use that special ranking for three years.

These changes were prompted in part by Williams's pregnancy when she took a break in 2017 while she was ranked No. 1 in the world. When she returned to play in March after giving birth to her daughter, she was unseeded at both Indian Wells and Miami, losing early in both tournaments. “I think having gone through the experience myself really opened my eyes up to me and, would I have done it sooner had there been different rule changes? I don't know," Williams told CNN.

Williams also shares her views openly on many other issues, including breastfeeding.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 29:  Ramla Ali(red) in action against Chloe Jade Pearce in their 54kg fight during day one of the Boxing Elite National Championships at Echo Arena on April 29, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 29: Ramla Ali(red) in action against Chloe Jade Pearce in their 54kg fight during day one of the Boxing Elite National Championships at Echo Arena on April 29, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

Ramla Ali - Hit like a girl

Ali moved to England from Somalia as a war refugee. She won the 2015 Novice National Championships and then the 2016 England Boxing Elite National Championship. For a long time her family didn’t know she was boxing and her parents didn’t even know when she won the national title! Being the first Muslim boxing champion was not exactly the future Ramla’s parents had imagined for her.

"My mum… in her eyes to be a good Muslim girl you have to be fully covered. But I think just different things work for different people. It was the fear of community my mother had. For her it would mostly be: ‘What would people think?"

She started boxing by chance, as a result of feeling overweight and being bullied at school.

“I started going to the gym. Back then there was no Instagram to tell you that these are workouts you should do so you just kind of had to guess what you are doing and to me it wasn’t fun as a kid. I did boxing class and I was like: ‘Wow, this is amazing, I love it."

“I didn’t have friends in school, but I made friends in boxing. It gave me community, it gave me a second family.”

Raising awareness for the Somali community as well as raising awareness for sport and women in Africa, she hits like a girl.

Chloe Anderson – Be Who You Are

In 2016 the International Olympic Committee advised that transgender athletes can compete without undergoing surgery. This made history in the sports world.

While Chloe Anderson made her own history, becoming the first transgender athlete on the inaugural sand volleyball team in the University of Santa Cruz in the US, finding her place in life was not easy. But as Chloe reveals in 'Identify' the documentary, she “finally became the person she always wanted to be.”

I always wanted to be feminine, I always wanted to be a girl.

I realised what I was feeling was being transgender.

BADEN-BADEN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 16:  Kristina Vogel poses with her Sparkassen award after the 'Sportler des Jahres 2018' Gala ( German athlete of the year ) at Kurhaus Baden-Baden on December 16, 2018 in Baden-Baden, Germany.
BADEN-BADEN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 16: Kristina Vogel poses with her Sparkassen award after the 'Sportler des Jahres 2018' Gala ( German athlete of the year ) at Kurhaus Baden-Baden on December 16, 2018 in Baden-Baden, Germany.
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Kristina Vogel – Never Give Up

The German cyclist was in a training accident four months after she became World Champion for the 11th time. Her acceptance of her condition won the respect of many but it’s her lack of anger which is most surprising.

“I don’t need to forgive (the person with whom I collided) because I have no anger about him,” Vogel said.

Vogel’s absence is a huge loss for Germany.

“One of the things that hurts me the most is that I am not there for the people.”

But the two-time Olympic champion remains optimistic about being on-hand to give advice to teammates who may need it in Japan.

“I think I will travel to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I’m not a competing athlete. But I am not away from the world of cycling.”

Refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini charms fans
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Yusra Mardini – Courage Has No Age

At only 22 she has already left her mark in the history of sports and human rights. Syrian refugee and swimmer Yusra Mardini was given a standing ovation at the Rio 2016 Games just one year after helping a sinking boat carrying refugees in the Mediterranean to safety.

Yusra shared her incredible story in a book called ‘Butterfly’ and a movie will be released about the young inspirational swimmer. The film will tell the true story of Mardini, who fled Syria in 2015, traveling first to Lebanon and then to Turkey where her family took a small boat intended for the Greek island Lesbos. During the journey the boat’s motor failed, prompting Mardini and her younger sister Sara to get into the sea and swim the boat to safety, a grueling endeavor which took more than three hours.

Yusra, her sister, and her parents eventually reached Germany where she could get back to training.

Later she became a member of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team, and was then appointed as the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. Her determination to make the world a better place teaches us that courage transcends the boundaries of age.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11:  Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during the Women's Individual All Around Final on Day 6 of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Rio Olympic Arena on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11: Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during the Women's Individual All Around Final on Day 6 of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Rio Olympic Arena on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Simone Biles - Defying gravity

The four-time Olympic gymnastics champion is currently the most decorated gymnast in World Championships and the first African American to win an all world all-around title.

“But I've also worked really hard to get here.”

She is widely expected to make a medal sweep in Tokyo 2020 just like she did in Rio.

“It's kind of crazy because in 2016, I wouldn't imagine that I would be back doing this process again,” she said.

If she makes a repeat of her World championships performance in Tokyo, it would give Biles a total of nine Olympic golds, tying her with the Soviet Union's Larissa Latynina for most all time in gymnastics.

“If it looks like 2019 worlds, I'd be very pleased,” she said.

50 per cent – Paving the way for equality

Did you know that the number of female athletes at the Olympic Games is approaching 50 per cent?

Since 2012, women have participated in every Olympic sport at the Games and all new sports to be included in the Games must now contain women’s events. The IOC has increased the number of women’s events on the Olympic programme with the aim of fostering gender equality. Encouraging women’s involvement in sport is a priority set by the Olympic Agenda for Tokyo 2020.

Over the last year, the IOC has picked up the pace in advancing gender equality not just at the Games but also throughout the Olympic Movement and beyond. The Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires 2018 became the first IOC event with an even split of men and women.

Change takes time, but it is happening.