| ||Thursday, December 23|
|10. 1926: Swimming into history|
Lloyd's of London gave 19-year-old Gertrude Ederle only 7-1 odds that she would become the first woman to complete the 21-mile swim across the English Channel, something only five men had previously done. During the last few hours, Ederle had to overcome a rough tide running strongly against her, but she finishes the swim in 14 hours, 31 minutes -- nearly two hours faster than the previous best. When she returns to New York, the city throws its largest ticker-tape parade ever. 9. 1998: Lady Vols go 39-0
On March 29, 1998, Tennessee's women's college basketball team wrapped up a perfect 39-0 season with their third consecutive national championship. The Lady Vols, who spent 18 straight weeks as the No. 1-ranked team during the season, became the first team to win three NCAA titles in a row. 8. 1960: Poverty, polio and gold
Wilma Rudolph's inspiring story helped show that poverty and illness can't keep women down. After being born premature and weighing just 4½ pounds, Rudolph was diagnosed with polio when she was 4, a disease that later left her left leg paralyzed. Over time, Rudolph overcame all the odds, and at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, sprinted to three gold medals (flirting with Olympic and World records in winning the 100- and 200-meter races and anchoring the gold-medal winning 400-meter relay) and became known as the "fastest woman in the world." 7. 1988: FloJo sprints to gold
With her brightly-painted fingernails and one-legged unitard, Florence Griffith Joyner shattered the world record in the 100 meters at the Olympic trials with a time of 10.49 seconds. She proved it was no fluke at the Seoul Olympics, with an Olympic-record 10.62. She then won gold in the 200 with a world-record 21.34 (both records still stand). FloJo also won a gold medal in the 400-meter relay and took the silver in the 1600-meter relay. 6. 1932: A dominating Babe
At the 1932 AAU national championships (which served as the Olympic qualifying tournament), Babe Didrikson won six gold medals and broke four world records. In a span of three hours, the 21-year-old competed in eight events, winning five outright and tying for first in another. At the Olympics that year, she won two golds and a silver. Although Didrikson "performed at a time when female athletes were considered freakish at best, downright unacceptable at worst," as ESPN.com's Larry Schwartz wrote, Didrikson was voted the Greatest Female Athlete of the first half of the 20th century by The Associated Press. The "First Lady of Sports" also dominated the golf world, posting 55 tournament victories, including three U.S. Women's Opens, before helping found the LPGA in 1949. 5. 1988: Grand Slam plus one
Although some tennis players are known for dominating a decade, Steffi Graf dominated a single year like no other. In 1988, the German tennis player swept all four Grand Slam titles -- and won an Olympic gold medal. In the Australian Open, Graf beat Chris Evert 6-1, 7-6. She then beat Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 to win the French open, Martina Navratilova 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 to win Wimbledon, and Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to win the U.S. Open.
Just as Nadia Comaneci helped introduce millions of little girls to gymnastics after her performance -- and first perfect score -- at the 1976 Olympics, Mary Lou Retton's perfect-10 vault in 1984 produced a similar gymnastics frenzy. Retton, 16 at the time, became the first American woman to win the Olympic gold medal in the All-Around competition and also won more medals (five) than any other athlete at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Even more amazing, Retton needed a 9.95 to tie for the All-Around gold medal. And after landing the perfect vault -- a full back somersault in layout position with a full twist -- the 4-foot-9, 94-pound Retton and her toothy smile also landed on a box of Wheaties. 3. 1988: The great Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Although Joyner-Kersee won her second gold medal in the heptathlon at the 1992 Olympics, her performance four years earlier was even better, when she set the still-standing world record of 7,291 points (she holds the next five-best scores as well) at the Seoul Olympics. Five days after winning gold, Joyner-Kersee won another after leaping an Olympic record 24-3½ in the long jump. As Bruce Jenner, who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Games, said, Joyner-Kersee is the "greatest multi-sport athlete ever, man or woman." 2. 1973: Battle of the Sexes
Although Billie Jean King beat Navratilova, Evert and other all-time great female tennis players, she is best known for her victory over a man. On Sept. 20, 1973, King beat ex-pro Bobby Riggs in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) in the Battle of the Sexes at the Astrodome. Never mind that Riggs was 55; the fact that a woman beat a former male Wimbledon champion helped convince "skeptics that a female athlete can survive pressure-filled situations and that men are as susceptible to nerves as women," Neil Amdur wrote in The New York Times. As women struggled for equality, wrote Grace Lichtenstein, King's win also "helped validate the idea that women could hang in there, not just on the tennis court, but on the job or in the home. It was proof not so much of physical prowess, but of mental toughness." 1. 1999: U.S. captures the World Cup
King's victory was a made-for-TV spectacle. This was a real event. On July 10, 1999, the U.S. women's soccer team beat China 5-4 in penalty kicks after 120 scoreless, but riveting, minutes to win the Women's World Cup title. With the world's all-time leading scorer -- man or woman -- on the field (Mia Hamm); the world's all-time leader in international appearances -- man or woman (Kristine Lilly) -- playing; and several of the world's top female players, the World Cup final at the Rose Bowl drew 90,185 fans, the largest crowd ever at a women's sporting event. Brandi Chastain's penalty kick to win the trophy capped off a game and tournament for the ages.
Smith: One wild ride