For this question I'm referring to sports in which men and women can compete together on equal terms (even if they often don't). For example, rock climbing would count (if they climb the same rock and are measured by the same metrics), while the hammer throw would not (since men and women throw different hammers). Competitions where score is given out by a jury count too.

I'm wondering if there is a sport of this kind in which the world's best player is/was female. It doesn't have to be current; I'd also like to know if it has happened at any point in history. I'm aware that determining "the best player" isn't always easy, but looking for something where the best female players in the world are truly competitive with the best male players.

I know it's outside the scope of this site, but the closest I know is in chess, where the greatest female player of all time (Judit Polgar) 1) broke several records for which men also qualify and 2) won individual games against the world champion. However she was never world champion, with a peak world ranking of #8.


13 Answers 13


Equestrian Sports comes to my mind as the only Olympic Sports where men and women face each other in competitions. Dressage, in particular, is dominated by women. Isabell Werth and Anky van Grunsven are possibly the most prominent, having dominated the world class for the last 20 years.

I just came across this ESPN article which argues that in shooting, women are consistently doing better than men.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 10:38

Libby Riddles won the Iditarod in 1985, and then Susan Butcher won it 4 of the next 5 years. So it would be quite fair to say that in the late 1980's women were the world's top mushers.

One could argue I suppose that the dogs have the most athletic part of that sport. However, surviving and doing anything productive in an Alaskan blizzard is more than athletic enough for me, and the dogs (particularly lead dogs) themselves are often as not also female.


The current world record in endurance cycling is held by Amanda Coker.

Endurance sports are definitely something where women perform similar to men, or even outperform them (their bodies are much more economic when it comes to consuming calories).

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    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 10:43

Lynn Hill was arguably the best climber in the world in the late 80s and early 90s.

In 1990, at the final stage of the World Cup Final, she was one of three competitors and the only woman to reach the top of the wall—and the only climber to complete the hardest move.

She was also the first person to free climb The Nose on El Capitan, a famous challenge that had been attempted by many.

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    It would be really interesting to see men and women climb the same routes. With Adam Ondra currently injured it’s conceivable that Janja Garnbret could win the men’s lead climbing world cup this year.
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 12:09

Some sports have historically been played mostly by women, like synchronised swimming. Although it's hard to measure performance of individual swimmers and compare male and female ones, nowadays the top female swimmers are clearly better than the top male ones. That might change (or not) as male synchronised swimming develops.


It's a fairly uk-centric 'sport' but in long distance fell running Jasmin Paris must be one of the worlds best, she holds the outright course record for the Spine Race by a considerable margin and for several years held the outright record for the Ramsey round (both of which attract international competitors/attempts). She has also come second overall in the Dragons back race.

Another long distance fell running legend Nicky Spinks holds the outright record for the double Bob Graham round though somewhat more niche as very few people have (or would!) attempt it.


Women seem to do well in very long-distance swimming.



  • This article mentions that women being better at very long-distance swimming is backed by science: telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/09/17/… “Women have an advantage due to their higher body fat, which provides insulation against the cold and better buoyancy.” Suggest editing into answer.
    – Allure
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 0:00

In aerobatics Patty Wagstaff was the best of the US in the 1990s. I think at world championship level the women and men had separate competitions; I can't quite remember.


Tanya Streeter has held the overall free diving record, albeit for a brief two months.

In 2002, she broke the men's No Limit (NLT) world diving record by diving to a depth of 525 feet (160 m) near the Turks and Caicos Islands, a record which was surpassed later that year by French diver Loïc Leferme (162 m).


I am surprised that no one mentioned ultra-runners Courtney Dauwalter and Camille Herron.

In 2017, Dauwalter won the MOAB 240 race (238 miles!!) beating the 2nd place finisher by over 10 hrs. This race is open to both men and women. She also has won 8 of her last 9 ultra-distance races losing only to Camille Herron who (as of March 2019) currently holds 5 world records involving ultra distance races:

Camille Herron's World Records:

  • 50 miles (80 km) | Road | 5h 38min 41s | 6:46 per mile (4:12 per km)
  • 100 miles (160 km) | Road/Trail | 12h 42min 40s | 7:37 per mile (4:43 per km)
  • 100 miles (160 km) | Track | 13h 25min 00s | 8:03 per mile (5:00 per km)
  • 12 Hours | Track | 92.66 miles (149.12 km) | 7:46 per mile (4:49 per km)
  • 24 Hours | Track | 162.919 miles (262.193 km) | 8:50 per mile (5:29 per km)

Taken from Wikipedia link above sourced from International Association of Ultrarunners and Ultrarunning Magazine


In the summer olympics 1992, Zhang Shan from China won gold in skeet shooting. Back then it was a mixed event.


Drag Racing

There is no men's or women's division. Everyone races everyone.

For years, Shirley Muldowney dominated in the most powerful class. Still today, Angelle Sampay is setting records and beating the men she competes against on a weekly basis. Same is true for the Force Sisters and Leah Pruett, who are all world champions.


Trail Orienteering

It is a sport of pure map reading, with physical racing element removed completely, designed to create an outdoor event available to many, including people using mobility aids like crutches or a wheelchair. To be successful, you need to depend mostly on your brain and somewhat on your eyes, so physical strength difference between men and women (or young and old, or healthy and disabled) doesn't matter much.

This year's World Championships have been held in Portugal two weeks ago. It consisted of 3 individual events (with winners being 2 women and 1 man) and 2 team events (with both winning teams being split 2-1 genderwise, once with more men and once with more women).

All results can be found here: http://wtoc2019.fpo.pt/

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