Don’t overlook these dominant athletes in the conversation for the ‘Greatest Of All Time.’
By Alex Holmes
Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl win sparked a conversation that made people ask, “Who really is the GOAT?” Of course, Serena Williams and her 23 Grand Slam titles—including the 2017 Australian Open she won while eight weeks pregnant—was at the center of the discussion. Unsurprisingly, Simone Biles’ name appeared too. With 31 medals between her Olympic and World Championship performances, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast of all time. It would be hard not to include Mia Hamm, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, and Maya Moore—the list could go on.
Let’s face it: certain sports provide bigger platforms than others in American culture. That disparity can influence our ideas of who’s the best, but we can’t forget about the athletes who come on our radar only every once in a while, though they know the weight of gold year round. The GOAT of GOATs ballot needs to include these underrated sport icons.
The criteria for selecting our three nominees was simple. We looked for three things: (1) dominance, (2) consistency, and (3) legacy. Each athlete fought her way to the top and hardly anyone challenged her reign as queen. Their records are loaded with win streaks, world records, and medals. From the beach volleyball court to the swimming pool to the track, here are the nominees for the She Plays’ GOAT of GOATS:
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings (Beach Volleyball)
These two are a packaged deal, and certainly one you could always bet on. The pair was named AVP Team of the Year for five consecutive years from 2003 to 2007. In that time frame, they won three straight FIVB World Championships. From 2004 through 2012, the duo won three straight Olympic gold medals. They owned an unprecedented 21-match Olympic win streak, and did so in dominant fashion—they only lost one set.
May-Treanor was the Olympic tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in 2004 and 2008. When she retired after the 2012 London Olympics, May-Treanor was the winningest beach volleyball player of all time with 112 tournament wins, a record that her partner, Kerri Walsh Jennings, surpassed one year later.
Walsh Jennings has 135 tournament wins. After winning bronze in the 2016 Rio Olympics, she became the most decorated Olympic beach volleyball player of all time with four medals.
While Walsh Jennings is still active in beach volleyball competition, her partnership with May-Treanor remains one of the most successful in the sport’s history.
Katie Ledecky (Swimming)
At 15 years old, Ledecky made a big splash on the world stage when she won gold in the 800-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, where she was the youngest member on the entire U.S. Olympic Team. This victory was just a prelude for the next nine years.
Since 2012, she has competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics and four World Championships. In two Olympic appearances, she won six medals (five gold and one silver). In Rio, She picked up from where she left off in London. As the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team in 2016, she set two world records and was named the U.S. Female Athlete of the Olympic Games.
She doesn’t just perform well in the Olympics. Over her four World Championships, Ledecky won 18 medals—15 gold and three silver. She holds the most individual event world titles among female swimmers.
Currently, she owns the world record in the 400, 800, and 1500-meter freestyle. Of the top 10 fastest times ever recorded in the 400-meter freestyle, Ledecky owns nine of them. She also holds the top four fastest American times in this event, a full five seconds faster than the previous record holder, Allison Schmitt.
Ledecky is all but untouchable in the 800 and 1500-meter freestyle. She owns the top 10 fastest times ever swam in those events. To put this in perspective, if Ledecky were to swim her sixth-slowest time in the 800 against former Olympic great Janet Evans’ fastest time, she would still win.
Ledecky is expected to add to her medal count in the 200, 400, and 800-meter freestyle events in Tokyo this summer.
What’s crazy is that Ledecky could retire from the sport today as the greatest swimmer of all time. At only 23 years old, her age suggests she isn’t even close to being done—there are plenty more medals, titles, and world records coming her way.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Track and Field)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a four-time Olympian who competed in the heptathlon and long jump during the 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996 Olympic Games.
For those wondering, the heptathlon is a brutal two-day competition composed of seven events: 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter run, long jump, javelin, and 800-meter run. It is the epitome of versatility. Whether she was running, jumping, or throwing, Joyner-Kersee excelled. She won silver in her 1984 Olympic debut and then won back-to-back gold medals in 1988 and 1992.
Her mark of 7,291 points in the 1988 Seoul Olympics is still a world record three decades later. This total was also the first time a woman scored over 7,000 points in the event.
In the long jump, Joyner-Kersee took gold in the 1988 Olympics, followed by bronze in 1992 and 1996. She was the first American woman to medal in the long jump.
Apart from winning four gold medals at World Championships, she held a tight grip on the national heptathlon and long jump crowns, winning eight domestic heptathlon titles along with nine long jump titles. Joyner-Kersee was inducted into the U.S.A. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2004.
When talking about who is the ‘Greatest Of All Time,’ Brady is in good company alongside these women. These three nominees certainly earned their right to be called the GOAT. May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings were the best beach volleyball team for over a decade. Ledecky won her first Olympic gold medal before she got her driver’s license, and even after 32 years, no one has topped Joyner-Kersee’s 7,000-point heptathlon feat. These athletes complicate the question of who the GOAT is in the best possible way, and you have to go way beyond football to get the whole picture.
Who is your pick?