High-SchoolGirl: Los Angeles Olympics

Tracy CaulkinsGetty ImagesTracy Caulkins won 48 national titles, set 63 American records and conquered five world marks.
ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.

When swimmer Tracy Caulkins was just 15, she won five gold medals at the 1978 world championships, helping her to become the youngest-ever winner of the Sullivan Award as America's outstanding amateur athlete.

Imagine her disappointment when the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics when she was 17 and in her prime.

But, Caulkins, No. 23 in ESPN's countdown, refocused her training while competing for the University of Florida, where she won 12 NCAA titles, and came back to win gold in the 400-meter individual medley, the 200-meter IM and the medley relay, where she swam the breaststroke leg, at the 1984 Olympics.

"She was the most amazing all-around swimmer I've ever seen," Rowdy Gaines says. "Think about it: She set American records in every stroke."

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
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
Joan BenoitAP Photo/Lennox McLendonPrior to Joan Benoit's gold-medal performance in 1984, the longest Olympic event for female runners was the 1,500 meters.
ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years

The next time you're struggling with a training run, think of Joan Benoit.

In 1984, she won the U.S. Olympic marathon trials a mere 17 days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

Benoit then went on to capture gold in the inaugural women's Olympic marathon at the Los Angeles Games and introduced elite women's distance running to a global audience. A few hundred meters from the finish line, the typically reserved Benoit took off her cap and waved it to acknowledge the crowd. She finished nearly a minute and a half ahead of the second-place finisher, with a time of 2:24:52, a mark that stood as an Olympic record until 2000.

She is No. 31 in ESPN's countdown.

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
Mary Lou RettonAP Photo/Lionel CirroneauWhen she was just 16, Mary Lou Retton delivered a performance at the Olympics that inspired thousands of girls.
ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.

Mary Lou Retton was only 16 when she not only captivated the gymnastics world, but also transformed it.

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the Fairmont, W.Va., native scored two perfect 10s to win gold in the all-around competition. She left the Games with a total of five medals and the darling of the Olympics. She is No. 38 in ESPN's countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years.

"After Mary Lou, we had to create a new type of gymnast who could impress with her sturdiness, energy and the physicality of her performance," Bela Karolyi says.

Her performance inspired future U.S. all-around medalists Shannon Miller, Carly Patterson and Shawn Johnson. Each of those women was at some point labeled The Next Mary Lou.

"It was an honor to be called that," says Johnson, the 2007 world champion and 2008 Olympic all-around silver medalist. "I mean, she's Mary Lou."

Read the complete story from espnW here.

Earlier in this series:
No. 40: Diver Fu Mingxia
No. 39: Jockey Julie Krone

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