Women first participated in the Summer Olympics for the U.S. in 1900. There were few opportunities for them to do so, though, at the Games held before World War I. This started to change in 1920, and saw American women earn many of the medals awarded in diving, swimming, and track and field through 1936.
With the resumption of the Summer Olympics after World War II in 1948, the number of sports for women has gradually increased into the 21st century. Not surprisingly, there have been many top Olympians from the U.S. during the time period.
The following list takes a look at the American women that I regard as the best in the Summer Olympics from 1948:
Shirley Babashoff: Babashoff was an eight-time medalist in freestyle swimming events between the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Although she never won an individual gold, her claims of performance-enhancing drug use by East German rivals were later validated.
Natalie Coughlin: Coughlin put together an impressive list of accomplishments at the three Olympics spanning 2004-2012. The winner of 12 medals overall, her most important victories were back-to-back golds in the 100-meter backstroke in 2004 and 2008.
Janet Evans: Evans was a star in the 400 and 800-meter freestyles in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Four of her five podium finishes were golds, and she held the world record in the 400/800/1500 meter freestyles for about two decades each.
Allyson Felix: At just 26 years of age, track star Felix already has six Olympic medals to her credit, including her long-coveted gold in the 200 meters earned last year at the London Games. Look for more podium finishes from her in Rio in 2016.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Joyner-Kersee is recognized by many as one of the greatest women’s athletes in history-regardless of the sport. In a long, illustrious Olympic career stretching from 1984-1996, Joyner-Kersee captured six medals, with heptathlon golds in 1988 and 1992.
Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh-Jennings: The legendary beach volleyball duo reigned supreme for a decade in the sport, with their three straight Olympic golds from 2004-2012 at the top of their many achievements.
Pat McCormick: McCormick continued the tradition of great women’s divers for the U.S. with four golds earned in the 1950s. She swept the available diving medals at both the Helsinki and Melbourne Games.
Shannon Miller: Miller had a tremendous career in gymnastics in the 1990s. The winner of nine medals at the World Championships during the decade, she was just as impressive at the Olympics with a tally of seven medals, including a pair of golds.
Kim Rhode: Rhode is the most decorated women’s shooter in Olympic history. She has five medals so far-including three golds-and will look to add to her collection four years from now at the Rio Games.
Wilma Rudolph: At a time when expanding television coverage brought the 1960 Olympics to many millions worldwide, Rudolph won four medals on the track, with golds in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and the 4×100 meter relay.
All statistics and other athlete information courtesy of: www.sports-reference.com/olympics/