Skip to main content

Six women who beat the boys

  • Story Highlights
  • Female pitcher Virne Beatrice Mitchell struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
  • Seana Hogan holds the record for the San Francisco to Los Angeles cycling race
  • Sonya Thomas wins eating contests of oysters, chicken wings, Krystal hamburgers
By Kara Kovalchik
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- While the horse racing world is all abuzz over Rachel Alexandra, the amazing three-year-old filly who recently beat Kentucky Derby winner Mine that Bird (along with a field full of other colts) in the Preakness Stakes, we're reminded of some other female athletes of the two-legged variety who also beat the boys at their own game.

Danica Patrick finished third at the 2009 Indianapolis 500 on Saturday.

Danica Patrick finished third at the 2009 Indianapolis 500 on Saturday.

1. Billie Jean King -- tennis

In 1973, Billie Jean King was 29 years old and the reigning queen of women's tennis. In an era when female athletes were paid significantly less than their male counterparts, King still managed to earn $100,000 in 1971.

Bobby Riggs had won Wimbledon back in 1939, but by the 1970s his star was fading. He kept his name in the press by proclaiming himself a male chauvinist pig and declaring that women athletes could never be as good as men. After defeating Margaret Court in May, he proclaimed "I want King!"

The much-hyped "Battle of the Sexes" was held at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973. The idea of a woman beating a man in any sport was so unbelievable at the time that Las Vegas oddsmakers heavily favored the 55-year-old Riggs.

A worldwide television audience watched via satellite as King neatly thrashed Riggs 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3. Billie Jean King not only took home the prize money and several endorsement deals, she also opened up a new playing field for professional sportswomen. Mental Floss: Song Elton John wrote for Billie Jean King

2. Margaret Murdock --shooting

Margaret Murdock's father was a Kansas state rifle champion, so it was logical that both she and her sister took up the sport as children. When Murdock attended Kansas State in the early 1960s, she won her varsity letter by competing on the men's rifle team.

In 1976 she became the first woman to represent the U.S. on its Olympic shooting team.

The small-bore three position competition calls for the shooter to fire off 40 shots each in the standing, kneeling and prone position. The competitors fire from 50 meters away at a target that is a little smaller than a dime.

At the end of the competition, Murdock was tied with Lanny Bassham, the team captain. Bassham requested a tie-breaking shoot-off, but Olympic rules forbade it; instead, Bassham was awarded the gold medal because he had scored three "100s" to Murdock's two.

During the medal ceremony, Lanny pulled Margaret up from the silver pedestal to stand with him during the national anthem to indicate that she deserved the gold as much as he.

3. Jackie Mitchell -- baseball

Virne Beatrice Mitchell, known to her family as "Jackie," entered the world ahead of schedule and weighed only a little over three pounds at birth. As soon as she learned to walk, her father took her to the ballpark.

The Mitchell's next door neighbor in Memphis was future Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance, who was still playing in the minors at the time. He coached Jackie in the art of pitching when she was eight years old and even showed her his trademark "drop pitch," a dazzling throw in which the ball swooped down just before crossing the plate.

When Mitchell was 17 she was offered a contract with the Chattanooga Lookouts, today the AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On April 1, 1931, the New York Yankees were in town to play an exhibition game against the Lookouts. The game was postponed a day due to rain, and there was a crowd of 4,000 on hand when Mitchell finally took the mound.

Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate and southpaw Jackie threw her special pitch. Ruth took the first pitch for a ball, but the next three were strikes. Lou Gehrig, baseball's Iron Man, was up next and similarly struck out. The crowd was on its feet, but some skeptical reporters wrote that the whole thing had been staged, since the game was originally scheduled for April Fool's Day.

Nevertheless, Commissioner Kennesaw Landis was sufficiently threatened by the tiny female dynamo that he had her contract voided, stating that baseball was "too strenuous" for women. Mental Floss: 7 silly products licensed by Major League Baseball

4. Seana Hogan --cycling

To Ultra Cyclists, 100-mile events are kid stuff. Ultra Cyclists consider events like the Race Across America (RAAM) -- a 2,950 mile cross-country jaunt -- to be a real competition.

Seana Hogan of San Jose, California, has won the female division of RAAM an amazing six times, and her finish times in each case usually placed her in the top 15 finishers overall.

Ultra Cycling requires about 20 hours of continuous pedaling per day, up hills (a combined total of about 82,000 feet of climbing), down dales and in all weather.

Hogan holds the record for the San Francisco to Los Angeles race (beating even the best men's time) and was the overall winner of the 1995 Furnace Creek 508, which runs from Valencia through Death Valley to Twentynine Palms.

5. Danica Patrick -- auto racing

Danica Patrick's parents met on a blind date at an auto race, so she felt that racing was her destiny. Patrick started competing on the go-kart circuit at age 10, and moved to England at 16 to participate in various racing events and advance her career. In 2000, she finished second in the Formula Ford Festival, the highest finish by an American in that event.

She moved back to the States where she competed in the Toyota Atlantic series for Rahal Letterman Racing and won her first pole position. Patrick started her Indy career in 2005, making her only the fourth woman to compete in the 500. Three years later she won the Twin Ring Motegi in the Indy Japan 300, the first female driver to win an IndyCar race.

6. Sonya Thomas -- competitive eating

At five feet, five inches tall and just under 100 lbs., Sonya Thomas gives the impression that the slightest breeze could blow her away. But despite her wispy stature, Thomas is known in competitive eating circles for blowing away the competition, including male contestants three times her size.

Thomas remembers being inspired to enter the world of competitive eating after watching Takeru Kobayashi munching his way to the championship at the Nathan's Coney Island hot dog contest in 2002. In 2005 she set a record for female frankfurter consumption in Nathan's annual contest.

That wasn't quite good enough for Sonya, however, and she began a training regimen that included walking two hours per day on an inclined treadmill and eating only one large meal per day. Scientific-types hypothesize that Sonya's slim physique gives her an advantage over her more zaftig competitors -- she lacks a layer of fat around her abdomen, which gives it more room to expand.

Whatever the explanation, Thomas has defeated all-comers in various International Federation of Competitive Eating contests, including "the most" oysters, chicken wings and Krystal hamburgers downed in a prescribed amount of time. Mental Floss: Food challenges for the super competitive

For more mental_floss articles, visit

Entire contents of this article copyright, Mental Floss LLC. All rights reserved.

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print