For many years in the past, sports has been a predominantly male orientated field. It has often been the male stars that have drawn the TV audiences, attracted the big sponsors, and had the razzmatazz that goes along with that. Thankfully that has been slowly changing over the years, although perhaps not quickly enough. Since the 1970s there have been female athletes that have managed to force their way to the front, through their power, determination and grit, and inspire a new generation of girls, and boys, alike. We thought we would take a look down memory lane and take a look at some of the most inspirational women in sport through the last five decades.

Tennis, it has to be said, is arguably the sport that has had the most global impact by its female stars. Women’s tennis attracts huge audiences and some of its female players are among the most famous in the world. Despite this, there is sadly still a pay gap in tennis between its male and female stars. But if it wasn’t for one woman it may have been a lot worse. Billie Jean King was instrumental in the rise of women’s tennis, being brave enough to start a women’s tour called the Virginia Slims Circuit in 1970. Pay inequalities still persisted but it was a hugely important first step in a journey for equality in the sport of tennis. Since then, following in Billie Jean’s footsteps, there have been a myriad of names on the Women’s circuit who inspire total awe in terms of their skill, professionalism and attitude, such as Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Gabriele Sabatini, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and many, many more. Obviously in more recent years Maria Sharapova and in particular Venus and Serena Williams have achieved global stardom. Tennis continues to be a sport where women are viewed, in the eyes of the audience at least, as equals to the men. Often the women’s games are more exciting to watch. And in recent years many competitions pay the same prize money to male and female players which has massively helped with the tennis pay gap.

I would say that Athletics is another area where women have very much been seen as equals by the majority of the viewing audience. I distinctly remember watching Zola Budd running without shoes on, Florence Griffith Joyner’s flamboyance, Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s huge range of skills and many other incredible female athletes, when I was growing up. One perhaps unlikely track and field sport that had a surprising impact in the UK was the female javelin, and that was because of the two inspirational stars, Fatima Whitbread and Tessa Sanderson. Whitbread became a household name in the mid 80s, having a particularly successful run from 1984-1988, medalling at both Olympics, breaking the world record and winning the World Championships. She had a strong rivalry with Tessa Sanderson who won gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and attended an incredible 6 Olympics overall. This was one of the great UK rivalries that captured the public’s imagination and made stars out of both of them.

Other great UK athletes I enjoyed watching in the 80s and 90s include Liz McColgan, Sally Gunnell, Denise Lewis and Kelly Holmes. Sally Gunnell really was amazing and won everything that could be won, including the world record in 1993.

These amazing athletes set the template for the future British athletics stars such as Paula Radcliffe, Jessica-Ennis Hill, Christine Ohuruogo and Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

British swimming also has had some great household names, with Sharron Davies in the 80s who later became a TV presenter and went on to inspire Rebecca Adlington in the 2000s.

Another British star who went on to become a TV presenter was Suzanne Dando, British gymnast in the early 80s. Obviously when you think of female gymnastics you think of Nadia Comăneci’s perfect 10 score at the Montreal Winter Olympics in 1976, which is often cited as one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time.

Staying on the Winter Olympics, the next sport that comes to mind is figure skating. If you are British, when you think of figure skating and sporting legends you immediately think of Torvill and Dean. Jane Torvill, with partner Christopher Dean, also achieved a perfect score with their famous rendition of “The Bolero” which has gone down in sporting history. Jane Torvill still skates mesmerisingly, nearly 40 years later, with Christoper Dean, when they skate on their TV show Dancing on Ice.

And then when you think of figure skating there is also the infamous scandal and rivalry between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, where Kerrigan was attacked in a corridor, in an attack allegedly orchestrated by Harding’s ex-husband and her former bodyguard. The remarkable turn of events are dramatised in the movie I, Tanya. But there is no doubt that both Kerrigan and Harding were outstanding skaters.

It’s also great to see women achieving more fame now for sports that generally wouldn’t have received as much female limelight. Nicola Adams has achieved many great things in the female boxing world, including winning gold in both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, and boldly putting female professional boxing on the map, retiring undefeated. In recent years women have been able to show their equality with their male counterparts in various male dominated sports too. Some of the best female poker players are just as good as the men, and in Darts there were several female players competing against the men in the World Championships these days such as Fallon Sherrock, Lisa Ashton and Deta Hedman.

And who can mention female sports stars without mentioning Ronda Rousey. An Olympic medallist in Judo, Rousey went on to absolutely dominate the Mixed Martial Arts circuit and bring the female division of the UFC to the fore. She became such a superstar that the WWE and then Hollywood came calling and she has appeared in such movie franchises as Fast & Furious and The Expendables.

Other British female sports celebrities that have to be mentioned include Sue Barker, initially known as a tennis player but arguably now better known as a BBC TV presenter and the anchor of the iconic show A Question of Sport, taking over from the equally iconic David Coleman.

And speaking of A Question of Sport it was always pretty cool when the Queen’s daughter, HRH Princess Anne, made several appearances on the show, herself having participated at the 1976 Olympics in the equestrian event. She suffered a concussion during the course but got back on her horse and finished the event. She is also a patron of the Scottish Rugby Union and attends all the games. An honourable mention also has to go to Judy Murray, mother and coach to Andy Murray, and who has a fascinating story about how she not only helped coach her two sons to stardom but also helped pushed British tennis and female tennis to the forefront.

All the above names should inspire generations to come, no matter their gender. While equality in sport still has a long way to go, the signs in many sports are there and the stars mentioned here have all made the path for future female athletes that little bit easier.