10 Famous Female Runners: Celebrating The Greatest Women In Running History

Famous female runners

Female runners have come a long way, from being unable to compete to smashing records. Let’s learn about famous female runners who paved the way and modern icons.

Female runners have been making history for decades, breaking records and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps. From sprinters to long-distance runners, these women have pushed boundaries and shattered expectations in the world of athletics. Their achievements have paved the way for future generations of female athletes to strive for greatness. You can also check out our guide on famous female triathletes.

Some of the most famous female runners in history include Florence Griffith-Joyner, who set the world record in the 100m and 200m sprints at the 1988 Olympics, and Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at the 1960 Olympics.

Today, there are many female runners who continue to inspire and motivate others with their incredible performances. These women are proving that the future of running is bright. Whether they are competing at the highest levels of the sport or simply running for fun, female runners are making their mark on the world and showing that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. 

Pioneering Female Runners

1. Fanny Blankers-Koen

Fanny Blankers-Koen was a Dutch athlete who competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. She was the first woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games. 

Blankers-Koen was known as the “Flying Housewife” because she was a mother of two. Her victories in the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles, and 4x100m relay helped to break down gender barriers in sports and inspire future generations of female athletes.

2. Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph
She was inducted into the Black Sports Hall of Fame

Wilma Rudolph was one of the most celebrated American sprinters. On top of becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games in 1960, she won the bronze medal in the 4×100 relay at the 1956 Games.

She was also inducted into the Black Sports Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

3. Joan Benoit

Joan Benoit is an American marathon runner who won the first women’s Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Benoit was also a two-time winner of the Boston Marathon and won the Chicago Marathon in 1985. She broke multiple records throughout her career, including setting the American record when she finished the Chicago Marathon in 2:21:21. Benoit held the record until 2003 when Deena Kastor won the London Marathon and shaved five seconds off the time. 

4. Kathrine Switzer

The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer, challenged gender barriers when she registered for the race in 1967. At the time, women were not allowed to participate in the marathon. However, Switzer registered using her initials, K.V. Switzer, and successfully completed the race despite attempts by race officials to remove her from the course. 

Contemporary Female Runners

Contemporary female runners
More and more women break records and achieve success in the sport

Female runners have always been inspired by the achievements of their predecessors. As more and more women break records and achieve success in the sport, they serve as role models and inspiration for the next generation of female runners. Here are a few of the most famous contemporary female runners:

5. Florence Griffith-Joyner

Florence Griffith-Joyner
Griffith-Joyner’s unique style and flamboyant outfits made her a fan favorite

Florence Griffith-Joyner, also known as “Flo Jo,” is considered one of the greatest female sprinters of all time. She won three gold medals and a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Her world record in the 100m dash still stands.

Griffith-Joyner’s unique style and flamboyant outfits made her a fan favorite, and her success helped to popularize track and field in the United States.

6. Paula Radcliffe

Paula Radcliffe is a British long-distance runner who is widely considered one of the greatest female marathon runners of all time. She has won numerous major marathons, including the London Marathon, the New York City Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon.

Radcliffe broke the record for the women’s marathon, which she set in 2003 at the London Marathon, finishing the race with a time of 2:15:25. The record stood until 2019 when Brigid Kosgei broke it.

7. Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix is an American sprinter and one of the most decorated female track and field athletes, with 20 World Athletics Championships and 11 Olympic medals under her belt. She is also a vocal advocate for gender equality in sports, having spoken out about issues such as maternity leave for female athletes.

8. Shalane Flanagan 

Running is in Shalane Flanagan’s blood as her mother is Cheryl Bridges, who famously became the first female runner to break 2:50:00 after finishing the 1971 Culver City Marathon in 2:49:40. In 2017, Flanagan became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years. She also won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 

9. Dina Asher-Smith

Dina Asher-Smith is a record-breaking up-and-comer. She set a new record for Great Britain when she finished in the 100m at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in 10.83 seconds, coming in second place. In 2018, she won the 100m at the IAAF Diamond League, which was another record at the time. She also has two Olympic bronze medals.

10. Almaz Ayana

Almaz Ayana is a long-distance runner from Ethiopia who has four World Athletics Championship medals. She set a new record in the 10,000m race at the 2016 Rio Olympics when she finished in 29.17.45; the record stood until 2021. At that same Olympics, she won a bronze medal in the 5,000m.

If you liked this post, you might also be interested in our round-up of famous female cyclists.

This article was researched with the help of OpenAI and fact-checked and edited by our human editor.