March 8 is marked as International Women’s Day across the world. This particular year, for various reasons—both global and local—it’s being observed as more of a day of protest.
At The Daily Gopher, we’d like to observe the day by celebrating the exceptional athletic skills of women who proudly wore a University of Minnesota uniform and represented the school and community on the field of play and off.
The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, and as always, we welcome disagreement and discussion.
5. Barbora Špotáková (Track and Field)
A native of the Czech Republic, Barbora Špotáková was a student-athlete at Minnesota in 2001-02. Although her tenure in maroon-and-gold was short, she was the 2002 Big Ten heptathlon champion and was named a first-team All American in the javelin throw following a fifth place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships that year. Špotáková’s biggest successes came after she left Minneapolis, however. She took gold in javelin at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and then repeated the feat in 2012 in London. Špotáková took home bronze at the 2016 Rio Games. She’s a former world champion in both indoor and outdoor events, and also the current world record holder in javelin (72.28m; Stuttgart (2008)).
4. Marie Roethlisberger (Gymnastics)
Gymnastics runs in Marie Roethlisberger’s family. Her father was an Olympic gymnast in 1968 and her brother was an Olympian in 1992, 1996, and 2000. Roethlisberger herself represented the United States as an alternate in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, although she could not compete due to injury. Shortly after the Olympics, she enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where she won a national title in 1990 on the uneven bars. She was also a four-time All American and a seven-time Big Ten champion. She was Big Ten Gymnast of the Year every year from 1987 to 1989.
Roethlisberger was the first Minnesota Golden Gophers athlete to be named to the NCAA Top VI list as one of the top student-athletes in the country. In 1991, she also won the Walter Byers Scholarship, an honor given to the NCAA’s top-student athlete.
3. Natalie Darwitz (Hockey)
Natalie Darwitz probably needs no introduction to the Gopher faithful. She played 99 games for Minnesota and made 246 points (102 goals; 144 assists) and is the NCAA record holder for points in a season (114). She was voted Most Outstanding Player at the 2005 Frozen Four, and she scored the game-winning goal against Harvard in the Championship game with just 1:08 left on the clock. She is a three-time first-team All American, a three-time All-WCHA selection, and a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist. She has also been a member of Team USA in three Olympic Games (2002, 2006, and 2010), winning two silver medals and a bronze.
2. Lindsay Whalen (Basketball)
If you’ve never heard of Lindsay Whalen, you’re either not from Minnesota or you live under a rock of substantial size. Since her debut for the Gophers way back in the 2000-01 season, Whalen has been the biggest name in women’s basektball in the state. Whalen was part of an unexpected and epic run to the Final Four in 2004 and was the NCAA Mideast Region MVP for the 2004 NCAA Tournament. Whalen was Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer with 2,285 points until Rachel Banham broke the record in 2015. In 2005, Minnesota retired Whalen’s #13 jersey.
Whalen was drafted fourth overall by the Connecticut Sun in the 2004 WNBA draft. She would ultimately lead the Sun to two WNBA Championships finals. In 2010, she was traded to the Minnesota Lynx, and the next season, she marked her homecoming by helping the Lynx to the WNBA title, the first of three titles in five years for the team.
Whalen is only the second player in WNBA history to record 4,000 points, 1,500 assists, and 1,000 rebounds in her career, and in 2016, was included in the WNBA Top 20@20, a list of the best players in league history since inception.
1.Patty Berg (Golf)
Minneapolis native Patty Berg was a student-athlete at Minnesota and played golf for the Gophers way back in 1939. Incidentally, her first sport was football and she played quarterback on a local team that included a guy named Bud Wilkinson.
After her time in Minneapolis, she played golf professionally, but took a two-year break to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps where she served as a recruiter during World War II. From 1941 to her retirement in 1962, she won 57 pro events including 15 majors, still a record in the sport. After retirement, she helped found the LPGA and was the organization’s first president.
She was subsequently inducted into several Halls of Fame including by the LPGA, American Golf, Minnesota, Florida, the PGA, and the USMC Sports Hal of Fame, among others.
Berg died in 2006 of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. In her honor, the school awards a Patty Berg Scholar-Athlete Award annually to the best female student-athlete.