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40 greatest female athletes: Katarina Witt

6/6/2012
Daniel Janin/AFP/Getty Images

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

Katarina Witt was only 18 when she began winning over global audiences at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. It was there that she upset the favorite, Rosalynn Sumners of the U.S., to win figure skating gold.

By the time she arrived at the Calgary Games to defend her title four years later, Witt had gained international renown -- a glamorous skater whose intrigue was magnified by the fact that she hailed from East Germany, a notoriously drab communist country known more for producing speed skaters and bobsled pilots than camel-spinning supermodels.

Witt triumphed again at the Calgary Games, and she remains one of only two women -- along with three-time gold medalist Sonja Henie -- to have won multiple Olympic titles in ladies' figure skating. She also won four world championships and claimed six straight European crowns from 1983 to 1988. She is No. 14 in ESPN's countdown.

Although there was nothing particularly remarkable about the technical content of her programs, Witt's ability to connect with spectators and judges was unmatched.

"She captivated an audience because she was great at playing the crowd," says Philip Hersh, the longtime Olympics columnist for the Chicago Tribune. "She could reach the 143rd row of an arena."

Read the full 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

No. 28: Marathoner Grete Waitz

No. 27: Soccer player Michelle Akers

No. 26: Basketball player Chamique Holdsclaw

No. 25: Swimmer Dara Torres

No. 24: Golfer Nancy Lopez

No. 23: Swimmer Tracy Caulkins

No. 22: Soccer player Marta Vieira da Silva

No. 21: Tennis player Venus Williams

No. 20: Figure skater Michelle Kwan

No. 19: Skier Lindsey Vonn

No. 18: Softball player Lisa Fernandez

No. 17: Basketball player Ann Meyers Drysdale

No. 16: Basketball player Sheryl Swoopes

No. 15: Swimmer Janet Evans