Are there any women poised to break onto this list after Athens? Possibly Deena Drossin Kastor, the American record-holder in both the 10K (30:52.32 in 2002) and marathon. At the Olympic trials, she won by a huge margin in one of the fastest 10K times in the world this year. But she's forgoing the 10K in Athens for the marathon. Her American record of 2:21:16 last year in London, combined with her track speed, puts her in a position to medal -- and possibly win gold.
|Greatest male runners|
|Click here for Jeff's list of the best U.S. male runners of all time.|
10. Lynn Jennings
Jennings, the best female long-distance runner in U.S. history, was a nine-time national champ and three-time world champion in cross country. She won Olympic bronze while setting an American record of 31:19 in the 10K at Barcelona, and also holds the U.S. road records in the 8K and 10K. Between 1990 and 1993, Jennings was among the world's top 10 in the 3K, 5K, and 10K.
9. Valerie Brisco
Think Michael Johnson was the first to win the 200/400 double at the Olympics? Thing again. Bricso achieved the feat in 1984, taking golds in both events in Olympic record times, and adding another in the 4 x 100 meter relay.
8. Joan Benoit
The first time Benoit ran the Boston Marathon, in 1979, she won and set a new American record of 2:35. Four years later, after being sidelined by operations on her Achilles tendons, she set the distance running world on fire, setting American records in events from the 10K to the marathon, and winning the Boston Marathon with a world mark of 2:22:43. (This record was more extraordinary than most, as Boston's course is notoriously slow.).
Then, in 1984, Benoit crushed the field in the first women's Olympic Marathon, finishing far ahead of the great Grete Waitz. She ran the third-fastest marathon of all time, 2:24.52, running alone pretty much the whole way but still captivating TV viewers and spectators lining the route.
7. Evelyn Ashford
Ashford's longevity in the sprints in unmatched; 13 times between 1976 and 1992 she was ranked among the world's best 100-meter runners (including four years in the top spot); seven times she achieved a top-10 ranking in the 200. She was on every U.S. Olympic team between 1976 and 1992, and won four golds overall, including the 100-meter title in 1984. Shortly after ascending to the top of the podium in L.A., she set a world record of 10.76 in the 100.
6. Mary Decker Slaney
She remains the biggest phenom in American track history -- little Mary Decker ran a 4:55 mile at age 13, and 11 years later, in 1982, was the best middle and long-distance runner in the world, running the fastest times in every track distance from 800 to 10K.
Decker enjoyed her greatest years in the early 1980s, setting world marks in the half-mile and mile. Her utter dominance of the middle distances was exemplified by her 1500/3000 double at the 1983 World Championships, which won her a cover spot as Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year.
But the Olympics were not kind to her: injuries kept her off the track in Montreal, a boycott did the job in 1980, and in 1984 she had her famous run-in with Zola Budd. She competed again in both 1988 and 1996, but was not a medal contender.
5. Gail Devers
Devers overcame Graves' Disease and its debilitating treatment (she came close to having both feet amputated) to win photo-finish golds in the 100 meters in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. Though she placed out of the money in the 100-meter hurdles, her best event, in four straight Olympics, she did win world championships in the hurdles three times, and was the top-ranked 100-meter hurdler in the world six times between 1992 and 2001.
Devers will get another change at Olympic gold this year; at age 37, she'll compete in her fifth Olympics, and has a good shot a winning the 100 hurdles.
4. Wilma Rudolph
At age 9, Rudolph, who had suffered from polio, tossed away the leg braces everyone thought she needed; seven years later, she stood on the medal podium in Melbourne, collecting a bronze medal as part of the 4 x 100 relay team. But the best was yet to come: in the 1960 Games, she became the first woman ever to win three golds in one Olympics. She tied the world record in the 100, set an American record in the 200, and anchored the gold-medal 400-meter relay team that set a world record in the semifinals.
3. Wyomia Tyus
Tyus made her national debut in 1962, when as a high-schooler she set an American record in the 100-yard dash at the AAU championships. In the 1964 Tokyo Games, the 19-year-old Tyus blew away the field in the 100 meters, winning gold in 11.2 seconds and tying Wilma Rudolph's world record. In 1968, up against a 100-meter field that included four co-world-record holders, she won and set a new standard of 11.08, becoming the first sprinter, male or female, ever to win back-to-back Olympic 100s.
2. Marion Jones
For six consecutive years, beginning in 1997, Jones enjoyed the No. 1-ranking in the world in both the 100 and 200 meters, an extraordinary achievement in the sprints, where the margin for error is tiny and injuries are common. Jones was dominant as a high school sprinter, and even qualified, as a 16-year-old, for the 1992 Olympic team as an alternate on the 4 x 100 relay team. But she bypassed Barcelona, then missed Atlanta due to a broken left foot.
In 2000, Jones said she was going for five golds, but "only" came home with three -- in the 100, 200, and 4 x 400 relay. (She also picked up bronze medals in the 4 x 100 and long jump.)
1. Florence Griffith Joyner
FloJo looked spectacular on the track, with her one-legger, long hair, and red, white, and blue-painted nails, but once she got moving, all you saw was a blur. She was among the best in the world in the sprints as early as 1982, and won a silver in the 1984 Games, but it wasn't until 1988 that she really burst into the pantheon of greats.
In the Olympic trials leading up to the 1988 games, she shattered the 100-meter world record by .27 seconds, running a staggering 10.49. In Seoul, she captured golds in the 100 and 200 (setting another world record in the latter), won a third gold as anchor of the 4 x 100 relay team, and added a silver anchoring the 4 x 400 relay team.
Also receiving votes:
Regina Jacobs (recently tested positive for THG and suspended)
Francine Larrieu Smith