17 Women Who Made Olympic History

© JIM YOUNG/Reuters/Corbis

In 1900, the Olympic Games in Paris were the first to allow women to compete -- although golf and lawn tennis were the only sports to include women's-only events. Since then, the events have attracted an increasing number of incredible female athletes from around the world, with women comprising 44.2 percent of competitors at the 2012 London Olympics, and at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the Nordic combined is the only event in which women don't compete.

Although by no means a comprehensive list of every impressive female Olympic athlete, the following 17 women are meant to highlight the broad range of their achievements regardless of age or sport.

17
Charlotte Cooper
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The 1900 Paris Games were the first to admit female athletes, though few competed. Nonetheless, Britain's Wimbledon-decorated tennis player became the first woman in Olympic history to win a gold medal.

16
Sybil "Queenie" Newall
Courtesy: AARP

In 1908, the 53-year-old British archer became the oldest woman in Olympic history to win a gold medal.

15
Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett
Courtesy: MSN

At the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games, Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett (photographed in the top row) became the first African-American women selected for the U.S. Olympic team for the 400-meter relay. However, due to their race, they were barred to competing and were often segregated from white athletes at the event.

14
Marjorie Gestring
Courtesy: Women's Day

At Berlin's 1936 Games, Marjorie Gestring splashed her way into Olympic history. Only 13 years old, she became the youngest athlete to win a gold medal, which she earned for the springboard dive.

13
Fanny Blankers-Koen
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Fanny Blankers-Koen raked in the gold at the 1948 Games in London. She's the only female athlete to claim four gold medals at a single Summer Olympics.

12
Alice Coachman
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At the 1952 Helsinki Games, track and field star Alice Coachman became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal.

11
Barbara Pearl Jones
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Also at the 1952 Helsinki Games, American Barbara Pearl Jones became the youngest track and field gold medalist in Olympic history. She was only 15 years old. Pictured next to her is Mae Faggs who became the first American woman to compete in three Olympics.

10
Larisa Latynina
Courtesy: The Red List

The then-21-year-old Soviet gymnast debuted at the 1956 Melbourne Games and went on to win 18 medals during her Olympic career. It wasn't until the 2012 London Games that U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps broke Latynina's record.

9
Wilma Rudolph
Courtesy: Aeris Magazine

After beating polio as a child, Rudolph later became known as the fastest woman in the world. During the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, Rudolph claimed three gold medals for the 100, 200 and 400 meter races while setting speed records for each of them at the same time.

8
Lorna Johnstone
Courtesy: AARP

Riding dressage at the 1972 Munich Games, 70-year-old Lorna Johnstone became the oldest female athletes to compete at the Olympics.

7
Nadia Comaneci
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Just 14 years old, Romanian athlete Nadia Comaneci earned a perfect gymnastics score at the 1976 Montreal Games. Not only that, she went on to earn a record-making seven "perfect 10" scores during those Summer Games.

6
Mary Lou Retton
Courtesy: Women's History

At the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, Retton became the first American to the win the women's gymnastics all-around event.

5
Evelyn Ashford
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Ashford began running with her all-male high school track team and went on to compete in five Olympic Games. At age 35, Ashford's 4x100-meter relay team won, making her the oldest female track and field athlete win a gold medal.

4
Kim Soo Nyung
Courtesy: Olympics.org

South Korea's Kim Soo Nyung is considered the greatest female archer of all time. Not surprisingly, she has won four Olympic gold medals for archery, starting at the 1988 Games in Seoul when she was only 17 years old.

3
Tara Lipinski
© Wally McNamee/CORBIS

At the 1998 Games in Nagano, the American figure skater became the youngest gold medalist in Winter Games history and the youngest figure skating gold medalist. Lapinski was 15 years old.

2
Jenny Thompson
Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

Although Michael Phelps gets all the Olympic swimming glory, his American teammate Jenny Thompson deserves praise as well for her aquatic athleticism. With 12 medals to her name, she's the most decorated female swimmer in Olympic history.

1
Birgit Fischer
© Reuters/CORBIS

German kayak legend Birgit Fischer began winning Olympic gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Games. Since then, she has earned a record-making eight medals over six consecutive Olympics.