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40 greatest female athletes: Bonnie Blair

With five career gold medals at the Winter Olympics -- the most ever for an American woman -- Bonnie Blair revolutionized speedskating in the United States. Mike Powell/Getty Images

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

When Bonnie Blair made her Olympic debut in 1984, at age 19, the East Germans ruled the sport, and they continued their dominance in Sarajevo, sweeping all four speedskating events.

Blair, the No. 6 woman in ESPN's countdown, put an end to that.

Four years later, she arrived at the Calgary Games with a reputation as the most ferocious trainer and the best technician on the women's side. With her long, powerful strides, Blair won gold in the 500 meters in 39.10 seconds, a world record; she also added bronze in the 1,000 meters.

Blair won the 500 and 1,000 meters at the 1992 Albertville Games, then repeated that feat in Lillehammer. In fact, she dominated the 1,000 meters in 1994 -- her final Olympic appearance -- prevailing by the largest margin in the event's history (1.38 seconds). A month later, at a competition in Calgary, she became the first woman to break 39 seconds in the 500 meters, a longtime goal of hers. She would go on to share the cover of Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year issue with Norwegian speedskater and triple gold medalist Johann Olav Koss.

"Bonnie started from humble beginnings and became a legend," says Katherine Reutter, a world champion in short-track speedskating. "Every day, I would look at her photo and think, 'I hope that's me someday.' "

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

No. 14: Figure skater Katarina Witt

No. 13: Basketball player Cheryl Miller

No. 12: Sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner

No. 11: Tennis player Billie Jean King

No. 10: Tennis player Serena Williams

No. 9: Tennis player Steffi Graf

No. 8: Gymnast Nadia Comaneci

No. 7: Tennis player Chris Evert