9 Female Athletes Who Broke Barriers in 2016

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Every year, female athletes get more and more of the respect they deserve. But we still live in a time when you can go on national TV and insult male athletes by saying they play like girls.

In 2015, a University of Southern California TV news media study revealed that the previous year, Sportscenter – ESPN’s flagship highlights and analysis show – devoted just about three percent of its time to women’s sports. This media bias has real-life effects. Women athletes don’t get the recognition they deserve, and audiences continue to think of sports as a strictly male arena. In March, ESPNW Brasil had sports fans look at silhouettes of highlights and guess which athlete they were watching. All of the clips showed female accomplishments, but every single person guesses that they were watching a man.

The Olympics is one of the few times that the media covers women’s sports. But even then, the coverage can be slanted. NBC’s Olympic presentation gave more primetime spots to women than men, according to the New York Times. However, a lot of that coverage went to beach volleyball – where the women wear bikinis.

Then, there was the blatantly sexist coverage. After swimmer Katinka Hosszu and shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein owned their respective sports, the media highlighted the men in their lives. Commentators discussed whether female athletes should wear makeup, they described a judo match between two women as a catfight, and they focused on women’s beauty and their bodies. Unfortunately, fans followed suit. One of the most infuriating moments had a male sports fan mansplaining to an Olympic cyclist how she could get better at her sport.

That trash aside, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize that female athletes are dope and they do dope shit. And there are real moments when you can see that they’re inspiring children of all genders, like this little dude who turned his Neymar jersey into a Marta jersey.

And it wasn’t just at the Olympics, anywhere you can think of women were doing their thing this year. Here are nine amazing athletes and and their accomplishments in 2016:


Amanda Nunes

In the UFC’s history, 11 Brazilian men have won world championships. But until July 9, no woman had accomplished the feat. That changed when Amanda Nunes stopped Miesha Tate in the first round and claimed the Women’s Bantamweight Championship. Nunes also made history by becoming the UFC’s first openly gay champion. Her reward, besides a giant gold belt, is a big money fight headlining the UFC’s end of year card against a returning Ronda Rousey. It’s a tough challenge, but beating the most famous woman in combat sports would set Nunes up for an even bigger 2017.


Mariana Pajón

Pajón medal record summarizes why people nicknamed her the Queen of the BMX. She won gold at six of the last seven BMX World Championships, including the 2016 version which took place in Medellin. For Colombia to have even hosted the event is remarkable, since the country paid the sport very little mind when Pajón was coming up. She then went on to Rio, where she won her second consecutive Olympic gold in Women’s BMX, making her the only Colombian to win two Olympic golds. Pajón’s only 25 years old and in 2020 will have the chance to become the country’s most decorated Olympian ever.


Monica Puig

Puig made history in 2016 when she won Puerto Rico its first-ever Olympic gold. The 32nd ranked tennis player in the world, she upset top-ranked Angelique Kerber in an emotional final match. She then used her platform to write an open letter to the people of her country. “I showed during the Olympics that nothing is impossible,” she said. “When you work hard, stay positive, and never give up, everything is possible. And this doesn’t just apply to sports, but in all areas of life. I know that we, as Puerto Ricans, have been through a lot. But together we’ll return to glory. Together we can do whatever.”


Laurie Hernandez

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Hernandez was one of the true breakout stars of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Puerto Rican gymnast won medals both individually and with her team. Then, she went pro and made herself some paper as the endorsements rained down. Not content to settle with Olympic glory, Hernandez then went on Dancing With the Stars, where she unsurprisingly took home the coveted mirror ball trophy during the 23rd season. Her personality and expressive face, which earned her the Human Emoji nickname, brought an infectious joy to gymnastics and made her a huge fan favorite. Plus, her signature floor routine remains super fun to watch.


Maya Dirado

Argentine-American swimmer DiRado went into the Rio Olympics knowing that she’d be retiring from the sport afterward, no matter her performance. And even after winning four medals and becoming a breakout star of swimming for Team USA, she decided to stick to her guns. With a job at consulting firm McKinsey & Company lined up, DiRado has plans to exercise her mind in the business world from now on. To be honest, her plans for the next Olympics sound pretty dope regardless. “You will find me in Tokyo in 2020 cheering on Team USA and stuffing my face with the best ramen I can find,” she said.


Brayelin Martínez

Although the Dominican Republic’s women’s volleyball team didn’t make it to this year’s Olympics, it still had a nice year. The team took home gold in the Women’s Pan-American Volleyball Cup, which they hosted in Santo Domingo. Martínez led the way, and got rewarded as the tournament’s MVP. The future is bright for for the squad, with the 20-year-old Martínez being joined by 21-year-old Winifer Fernández and 24-year-old Brenda Castillo. Outside of the volleyball world, they may get a lot of attention for their looks, but they’ve all earned accolades for their skills.


Omara Durand

Although Durand didn’t get to participate in the Summer Olympics, she dominated the Paralympic Games in Rio. The Cuban sprinter won gold in the 100 and 200 meters in the T12 category, which is for visually impaired athletes. She broke the world record in the 100 with a time of 11.40 seconds and the Paralympic record in the 200 with a time of 23.05.


Amalia Pérez

Mexico’s Pérez made it to her first Paralympics in 2000, where she claimed a silver medal in powerlifting. She’s been competing in the games ever since, and at 43 years old is still stronger than any of us. Pérez won her fifth medal in Rio while setting a world record by lifting 286 pounds. She now has gold in three straight Paralympics to go along with silvers won in Sydney and Athens. Pérez, who dedicated the win to her daughter, doesn’t plan on quitting anytime soon.


Daniela Rosas

At 13 years old, Daniela Rosas made history by becoming the youngest woman to surf the break at Pico Alto. The fearless young Peruvian impressively conquered the 15-foot waves with skills she learned from two of the country’s surfing legends, Sofia Mulanovich and Gabriel Villarán, who now coach 10 to 15 year olds at Proyecto Sofia Mulanovich.