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40 greatest female athletes: Sheryl Swoopes

6/1/2012
In 1997, Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to sign a contract in the new WNBA. Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images

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

Sheryl Swoopes' legendary career began in high school, when she led Brownfield (Texas) to its first girls' basketball state title.

From there, the No. 16 woman in ESPN's countdown went on to win an NCAA championship at Texas Tech, three Olympic gold medals, four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets and three MVP awards.

"In my mind, the thing that always separated her was how she could elevate her game when the pressure was highest," says Marsha Sharp, who coached Swoopes at Texas Tech. "The spotlight spurs her to a different level."

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