40 greatest female athletes: Grete Waitz

Grete Waitz was one of the most versatile and accomplished female distance runners in history. David Madison/Getty Images

ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.

When Grete Waitz finished her first marathon in world-record time, she vowed it would be her last.

But the Norwegian with the blond pigtails, who is No. 28 in ESPN's countdown, ended up winning the New York City Marathon nine times, including that debut in 1978, and became the first world-class female marathoner.

In addition to her incredible determination, Waitz had a generous spirit that manifested itself in her charity work and in the "Active Against Cancer" foundation she established in her native country following her own diagnosis in 2005. When she died in 2011, at the age of 57, she was mourned in Norway, where she was a national hero, and also in New York.

Read the complete story from espnW here.

Earlier in this series:

No. 40: Diver Fu Mingxia

No. 39: Jockey Julie Krone

No. 38: Gymnast Mary Lou Retton

No. 37: Hockey player Cammi Granato

No. 36: Soccer player Kristine Lilly

No. 35: Basketball player Diana Taurasi

No 34: Volleyball player Flo Hyman

No. 33: Soccer player Abby Wambach

No. 32: Swimmer Mary T. Meagher

No. 31: Marathoner Joan Benoit

No. 30: Sprinter Gail Devers

No. 29: Basketball player Nancy Lieberman