Who run the world? Girls. Women have been competing at the Olympic Games since 1900 with 22 women participating in tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian and golf at the Paris Games. Since then, female athletes have earned thousands of medals, with some of Team USA's female athletes among the most decorated in history. Take a look at the 29 female U.S. Olympians with the most medals.
Jenny Thompson, Swimming: 12 medals (8 G, 3 S, 1 B)
Thompson dominated the Olympic scene from 1992-2004. Her swimming career started when she was attending Stanford University, where she won a record 19 NCAA titles. She won a total of 31 world championship medals, including 16 golds, and is now a respected anesthesiologist and surgeon. All eight of her Olympic gold medals came in relay events, as did two of her silver medals. Individually, she earned 100-meter freestyle silver in 1992 and bronze in the same event in 2000.
Dara Torres, Swimming: 12 medals (4 G, 4 S, 4 B)
Torres was the first swimmer to represent the United States at five Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008) and, at age 41 in 2008, became the oldest swimmer ever to earn a spot on a U.S. Olympic team. She was also the oldest member of the 2000 Olympic swimming team at age 33. She won a medal at every Olympics she attended, taking home four of each color. Her four golds came in relay events, as did three silvers and a bronze. Individually, she won 50-meter freestyle silver in 2008; bronze in the same event in 2000; and 100-meter freestyle and butterfly bronzes in 2000.
Natalie Coughlin, Swimming: 12 medals (3 G, 4 S, 5 B)
Coughlin attended the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games, making history in 2008 by becoming the first U.S. female athlete to win six medals at one Games. One of those medals was a gold in the 100-meter backstroke, making her the first woman ever to win the event in two consecutive Olympics. She won one additional gold medal – in the 4x200-meter freestyle in 2004 – plus four silvers and five bronzes.
Allyson Felix, Track and Field: 9 medals (6 G, 3 S)
Felix is the only female track and field athlete to ever win six Olympic gold medals and her nine medals are tied for the most ever won by a female track and field Olympian. She made her Olympic debut in Athens in 2004, winning silver in the 200-meter. She won another silver in the same event in 2008 and gold in 2012. She also has a silver in the 400-meter, won in 2016, and five relay golds won from 2008-2016.
Allison Schmitt, Swimming: 8 medals (4 G, 2 S, 2 S)
Schmitt made her Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008 when she was just a few months out of high school, winning bronze in the 4x200-meter freestyle. She was a breakout star at the London 2012 Olympic Games, with a five-medal haul: in the relays, two golds and a bronze, as well as her first individual Olympic medals, silver in the 400 freestyle and gold in the 200 freestyle, in which she set a new world record. She added to her total with relay gold and silver in Rio.
Shirley Babashoff, Swimming: 8 medals (2 G, 6 S)
Babashoff made a splash at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games, taking gold in the 4x100-meter freestyle and silver in the 100 and 200 freestyles. She proceeded to outdo herself in 1976, earning gold in the same relay and silvers in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles as well as the 4x100 medley. She set six world records during her career and at one time held all national freestyle records from the 100 to the 800.
Dana Vollmer, Swimming: 7 medals (5 G, 1 S, 1 B)
Vollmer won a gold medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in the 4x200-meter freestyle, helping to set a world record in the event. She then missed making the 2008 Olympic team but came back with a vengeance, winning two medals at the 2010 world championships and making the 2012 Olympic team. She won three more gold medals in London – two in relays and one in the 100 butterfly – and one medal of each color in Rio, including a bronze in the 100 fly.
Amanda Beard, Swimming: 7 medals (2 G, 4 S, 1 B)
Beard became the fourth-youngest Olympic swimming medalist in U.S. history when, at the age of 14, she won three medals at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. She returned to win 200-meter breaststroke bronze in 2000 and again made it to the top of the podium in 2004, earning a relay gold and two more silvers. At one time she held the world record in the 200 breaststroke and went on to make her fourth Olympic team in 2008.
Shannon Miller, Gymnastics: 7 medals (2 G, 2 S, 2 B)
Miller is one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time with nine world championship medals to go with her seven Olympic medals. She made her Olympic debut in 1992, winning silver in the all-around and balance beam and bronze on bars, floor and in the team event. She missed winning gold in the all-around by the smallest margin in Olympic history, just 0.012 points. In 1996, she helped lead the Magnificent Seven to team gold and also topped the balance beam podium.
Amy Van Dyken, Swimming: 6 medals (6G)
Not only does Van Dyken have six Olympic medals, she has the distinction of being one of the few Olympians whose medals are all gold. In 1996, she became the first female U.S. Olympian to win four gold medals in a single Games: 50-meter freestyle, 100 butterfly, 4x100 freestyle and 4x100 medley. Plagued by injury in the following years, she staged a comeback to make the 2000 Olympic team. She finished just off the podium in the 50 free, but earned gold in both relays again.
Katie Ledecky, Swimming: 6 medals (5 G, 1 S)
Ledecky finds herself among elite company and, at 20 years old, her career is still just getting started. She burst onto the international scene in London in 2012, winning gold in the 800-meter freestyle. She entered a new stratosphere in the following years, winning nine world championship gold medals in 2013 and 2015. In Rio, she won one relay silver to go with her four gold medals. She smashed her own world records in the 400 and 800 free and managed 200 gold by 0.35 seconds, becoming the first woman to win gold in all three events in 48 years. She was the second-most decorated athlete of the Games behind only Michael Phelps.
Bonnie Blair, Long Track Speedskating: 6 medals (5 G, 1 B)
Blair is tied for the second-most decorated U.S. winter Olympian of all time. She made her Olympic debut in 1984 and went medal-less but hit her stride in 1988, earning bronze in the 1,000-meter and gold in the 500-meter. She was golden from there on out, topping the podium in both events in both 1992 and 1994. She won nine world championship medals and also competed in short track, becoming the overall short track world champion in 1986.
Missy Franklin, Swimming: 6 medals (5 G, 1 B)
Franklin was one of the breakout stars of London 2012 at age 17, taking home five medals, four of which were gold. In addition to two relays, she swept the women’s backstroke events, winning both the 100 and 200-meter. She won 16 world championship medals in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Despite struggling since a 2014 back injury, Franklin made her second Olympic team in 2016 and won gold as part of the 4x200-meter freestyle team.
Rebecca Soni, Swimming: 6 medals (3 G, 3 S)
A breaststroke specialist, Soni made her first Olympic team in 2008 in dramatic fashion; she won the 200-meter breaststroke, but finished fourth in the 100 and only qualified in that event after the second-place finisher withdrew from the team and the third-place finisher missed the entry deadline. In Beijing, Soni won gold in the 200 and silver in the 100 and the 4x100 medley, proving that her place on the team was well-deserved. In 2012, Soni defended her title in the 200 as well as her silver in the 100, and took gold in the 4x100 medley.
Aly Raisman, Gymnastics: 6 medals (3 G, 2 S, 1 B)
A two-time Olympian and two-time Olympic team captain, Raisman is one of two U.S. gymnasts to win back-to-back team gold medals. She was the most decorated U.S. gymnast in London in 2012, winning two golds (the other on floor) and a bronze on the balance beam. Her floor gold made her the first U.S. woman to win the event in Olympic history. After taking several years off from gymnastics, she returned to the sport in dominating fashion to make her second Olympic team in 2016. In Rio, she won her second team gold and added silvers on floor and in the individual all-around. Raisman is the second-most decorated U.S. gymnast at the Games behind Shannon Miller.
Kim Rhode, Shooting: 6 medals (3 G, 1 S, 2 B)
Rhode has been a staple on the Olympic shooting scene for a staggering six Games beginning in 1996. She is only the second American woman to compete at six Games. Rhode won gold in double trap in Atlanta, and followed that up with bronze in 2000 and another gold in 2004. When double trap was removed from the Olympic program, Rhode switched to skeet, winning silver in 2008, gold in 2012 and bronze in 2016, becoming the first woman to medal at six consecutive Olympics.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Track and Field: 6 medals (3 G, 1 S, 2 B)
Joyner-Kersee is recognized as one of the greatest all-time track and field competitors, dominating both the heptathlon and long jump for nearly a decade. She made her Olympic debut in 1984, winning heptathlon silver. In 1988, she won gold in both the heptathlon and the long jump. She defended her heptathlon title in 1992 and added long jump bronze. And in 1996, after sustaining a hamstring injury at the Olympic Trials, she concluded her Olympic career with another bronze in the long jump.
Angel Martino, Swimming: 6 medals (3 G, 3 B)
A two-time Olympian, Martino made her debut in Barcelona in 1992, winning bronze in the 50-meter freestyle and gold in the 4x100 freestyle. In 1996 she was named the captain of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team and won two more bronzes (100-meter butterfly and 100 freestyle) and two golds (4x100 free and 4x100 medley).
Janet Evans, Swimming: 5 medals (4 G, 1 S)
Evans made her Olympic debut in 1988 having already set world records in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyles the year before. She didn’t disappoint in Seoul, winning gold in the 400 and 800 free – setting a new world record in the 400 – as well as the 400-meter individual medley. She went undefeated in all three of her freestyle distances for five years, through 1992, when, in addition to defending her 800 free title, she took 400 silver in Barcelona.
Evelyn Ashford, Track and Field: 5 medals (4 G, 1 S)
Ashford dominated the 100-meter for much of the 1980s. She made her first Olympic appearance in 1976, finishing fifth, and was a potential medalist in 1980 before the Moscow Games were boycotted. When she finally got her opportunity again, she won two golds in 1984, in the 100 and the 4x100. In 1988, she won another relay gold and took silver in the 100 behind Florence Griffith-Joyner. She was eliminated in the 100-meter semifinals in 1992 by one one-hundredth of a second but went on to take another relay gold that year.
Venus Williams, Tennis: 5 medals (4 G, 1 S)
Williams is considered one of the all-time tennis greats, and her Olympic record only adds to her legacy. She debuted in 2000, winning gold in singles as well as in doubles, teaming with sister Serena. Unable to crack the podium in 2004, she and Serena returned to form in 2008, taking another doubles gold and defending their title in 2012. Though she was knocked out in the first round of both singles and doubles in 2016, she teamed with Rajeev Ram in mixed doubles, winning silver. She is one of two women to win an Olympic medal in all three tennis events, and her five medals ties her for the most Olympic medals won in tennis.
Teresa Edwards, Basketball: 5 medals (4 G, 1 B)
Edwards is the first female basketball player to compete in five Olympic Games and was named one of the 100 greatest female athletes of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. She won gold in 1984 at just 20 years old, making her the youngest gold medalist in women’s basketball. When she won gold in 2000, she was 36, making her also the oldest gold medalist in women’s basketball. In between, she also won gold in 1988 and 1996 and added a bronze in 1992.
Sanya Richards-Ross, Track and Field: 5 medals (4 G, 1 B)
Richards-Ross was the best 400-meter runner in the world for the better part of a decade. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from 2005-2009 and again in 2012, and she has four Olympic gold medals to prove it. Her first medal came in 2004, a gold in the 4x400-meter. In 2008, she won bronze in the 400-meter and helped the U.S. defend its relay title. A third relay gold came in 2012, as did her long-awaited 400-meter gold.
Simone Biles, Gymnastics: 5 medals (4 G, 1 B)
With her Olympic and world championship medals combined, Biles is the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history. She went undefeated in world championship and Olympic all-around competitions from 2013-2016 and, in Rio, set a U.S. record for most gold medals won in women’s gymnastics at a single Games. Biles was the overwhelming gold-medal favorite in almost every event in Rio, and she didn’t disappoint: she won bronze on the balance beam and gold in the individual all-around and team competition, as well as on vault and floor.
Florence Griffith-Joyner, Track and Field: 5 medals (3 G, 2 S)
Known as much for her record-setting performances on the track as for her flashy style, “Flo-Jo” is considered to be the fastest woman of all time. She won 200-meter silver in 1984 and 4x400-meter silver in 1988, but was all golden from there on out. She won three of them in 1988, in the 4x100, 100 and 200. She set world records in both distances that year, neither of which have yet been seriously challenged.
Mary T. Meagher, Swimming: 5 medals (3 G, 1 S, 1 B)
Meagher is considered to be the greatest butterfly swimmer of all time, earning the nickname “Madame Butterfly.” Unable to compete in Moscow in 1980 due to the boycott, she won three gold medals in 1984, in the 100 and 200-meter butterfly and the 4x100-meter medley. Past her prime in 1988, she nevertheless won bronze in the 200 fly and silver in the 4x100 medley. The world records she set in the 100 and 200 fly in 1981 are among the most impressive ever set in sport, both standing for nearly two decades.
Gwen Torrence, Track and Field: 5 medals (3 G, 1 S, 1 B)
One of the most versatile female sprinters of all time, Torrence earned top U.S. rankings in the 100, 200 and 400-meter. Despite being shut out of the medals in 1988, she stormed back in 1992 to take gold in the 200-meter and 4x100-meter, as well as silver in the 4x400-meter. She made one more Olympic appearance in 1996, winning 100-meter bronze and gold in the 4x100.
Nastia Liukin, Gymnastics: 5 medals (1 G, 3 S, 1 B)
Known for her graceful routines, Liukin is one of the most decorated U.S. gymnasts of all time. Her five Olympic medals in 2008 are tied for the most gymnastics medals won by a U.S. gymnast at a single Games. One of the prohibitive favorites going into Beijing, Liukin outdueled compatriot Shawn Johnson for individual all-around gold. She earned silvers in the team event, uneven bars and balance beam, and bronze on floor.
Mary Lou Retton, Gymnastics: 5 medals (1 G, 2 S, 2 B)
Retton was the first American ever to win the gymnastics all-around at the Olympics and would be the only one to do so for 20 years. She was the darling of the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, her incredible performance making her one of the country’s most popular athletes. In addition to her all-around gold, she helped lead the team to silver and individually took silver on vault and bronzes on the uneven bars and floor exercise.