U.S. female athletes' guts and glory
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Balancing Act2 of 12
Cathy Rigby was the first U.S. woman to win a medal in the world gymnastics competition, charming audiences with her sweet blond pigtails and acrobatic skills on the balance beam. After helping to popularize gymnastics in the U.S., Rigby went on to become a Tony-nominated theater actress. At 59, the spritely gymnast shows no signs of slowing down: She’s currently touring with a new production of Peter Pan.
Winning wisdom: "I once thought that you have to be the best, or you're not any good. That's not true. But you do have to get better and better and better."
Icon on Ice3 of 12
Dorothy Hamill skated her way to a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Austria and into America’s hearts with her signature bob and girl-next-door demeanor. After her pro career, Hamill toured with the Ice Capades from 1977 to 1984 and continues to skate today as a regular performer on Broadway on Ice. The big-hearted Hamill founded I-Skate with the Kennedy Krieger Institute, which teaches disabled kids to skate.
Winning wisdom: "Every time you go out on the ice, there are slight flaws. You can always think of something you should have done better."
Great Heights4 of 12
At 6'2", iconic basketball forward Cheryl Miller helped the U.S. team win the gold in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Miller entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in its inaugural year, 1999. The statuesque athlete broke the sports-reporting glass ceiling in 1996 by being the first female to call an NBA game on national TV.
Winning wisdom: "My dad said that there's a seed of greatness in all of us and it was up to him and my mom to provide a healthy environment, but it was my responsibility to make it grow."
Blond Ambition5 of 12
At just 15, the all-American Chris Evert—with her winning ponytail and two-handed backhand—shot to stardom after beating world No. 1 player Margaret Court. Nicknamed "Cinderella in Sneakers" by the press, Evert had a long career, spanning 1970 to 1989. She went on to win the Australian Open twice, Wimbledon three times, the U.S. Open six, and the French Open seven times. With a winning percentage of 90, Evert's success on the court remains unmatched.
Winning wisdom: "If you can react the same way to winning and losing, that's a big accomplishment."
Winged Woman6 of 12
The first lady of track and field, Jackie Joyner-Kersee dominated the heptathlon, a demanding seven-event competition that measures speed, strength and stamina through sports such as hurdles, the long jump, the high jump and the 200- and 800-meter races. Her explosive, graceful athleticism helped her win six medals. Since retiring from the sport in 2000, she has worked to give back, creating a youth center in her hometown of St. Louis.
Winning wisdom: "It's better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret."
Strong & Sexy7 of 12
Few athletes have enjoyed success in sports and fashion modeling as volleyball player Gabrielle Reece has. The 6'3" stunner, who is married to pro surfer Laird Hamilton, has racked up wins on the sand as a professional athlete and graced the covers of ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar and Self.
Winning wisdom: "You slam the bottom and either walk away or suck it up and get through it."
Kick Starter8 of 12
Hailed as the world's top women's soccer player, Mia Hamm helped put the sport on the map, leading her team to Olympic gold at the 1996 games in Athens, Georgia—a match that drew more spectators than any women's sporting event in history. Mia retired in 2004 after 17 years, two world championships and two Olympic golds. In 1999, she began a foundation: It helps those in need of marrow or cord-blood transplants; it also helps young women athletes.
Winning wisdom: "Take your victories, whatever they are, cherish them, use them, but don't settle for them."
In Fine Figure9 of 12
A two-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion, Michelle Kwan’s grace and skill on the ice (she competed from 1996 to 2005) made her one of the most popular figure skaters in American history. Kwan recently graduated with a master's degree from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Winning wisdom: "I've learned that it's not about the gold. It's about the spirit of it and about the sport itself. It's beautiful."
Slope Star10 of 12
Ski-racing star Lindsey Vonn has been shining on and off the slopes since 1999. In addition to being the first U.S. woman to win Olympic gold in the downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Games, she has won 53 World Cup races, 4 overall championships, and an Olympic bronze, making her the most successful American in the history of Alpine skiing. Off the slopes, the blond beauty has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and guest-starred on her favorite show, Law & Order.
Winning wisdom: "It's easier and more fun to be positive than it is to be negative—it's served me well."
Making a Splash11 of 12
Natalie Coughlin is an 11-time Olympic-medal-winning swimmer who became the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals, at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Coughlin, who's been competing since 2001, is also the first woman to swim the 100-meter backstroke in under a minute. As for this year’s games, Natalie won her 12th medal (a bronze for 4x100-meter freestyle relay); she is now tied with two other women with 12 total medals.
Winning wisdom: "Leading a healthy, active lifestyle is all about momentum."
High Flyer12 of 12
A fresh face in gymnastics (she's only been competing since 2010), 16-year-old Gabrielle Douglas turned heads in March when she earned the highest score as a U.S. team alternate at the American Cup. Douglas was dubbed "Flying Squirrel" for her gravity-defying skill on the uneven bars. In London, she helped her team gain its first gold medal since 1996 and won the all-around gold.
Winning wisdom: "I kept hearing that I have great potential and that I could be on top. I didn't believe it, but everyone kept telling me to believe in myself. I finally did believe it, and it's amazing."