Eight great female athletes of 2010
Norway's x-country skiier Marit Bjorgen led all athletes with five Olympic medals
Martina Sablikova (Czech Republic) was the year's most dominant distance skater
The USA's Lindsey Vonn established herself as the world's premiere alpine skiier
Here are some of the most outstanding female athletes of the year in Olympic sports, listed in alphabetical order with a nod to the Korean and Chinese whose family names appear first. Next week, we'll look at some of the top males.
Norway, cross-country skiing
The 30-year-old Nordic veteran led athletes across all sports with five Olympic medals in Vancouver. Three were gold -- in the individual sprint, individual pursuit, and 4x5-kilometer relay. Better know for her sprints, Bjorgen nevertheless won silver in the 30k classical and 10k freestyle. It was quite a step up from the 2006 Games where she suffered from bronchitis and won only a silver. In 2010, Bjorgen added to her total of sprint victories and now stands alone at the top of the World Cup circuit with 23 for her career.
South Korea, figure skating
Kim won the ladies title at the Vancouver Winter Games, capturing Korea's first Olympic figure skating medal. She did it by earning the highest marks in both the short program (78.50) and the long (150.06), establishing a new record for highest combined score (228.56) since the sport changed to its current scoring tables. Though she trained primarily in Canada, away from the national spotlight, Kim was under enormous pressure to win gold for her country as the reigning world champion and Korea's most recognized and best-compensated athlete. In her free skate in Vancouver, she landed six triple jumps and skated a stunning routine to Gershwin, living up to her nickname "Queen Yu-na."
Mustafina handily won the all-around title at the World Championships in Rotterdam, besting the field by more than a point. She also took gold in the team event and silver medals in the vault, uneven bars and floor. It was a superb comeback during a season that began poorly for the 16-year-old from Moscow. In March, she had to withdraw from the Russian nationals because of an ankle injury she sustained in training. In Rotterdam, Mustafina showed her consistency in all four events, but has since become recognized for a unique skill on bars: a 1-˝ twisting tucked double-back. Her showing in Rotterdam gave made her the very early favorite for the 2012 London Olympics, where she may one-up her father, Fargat Mustafin, a bronze medalist in wrestling for the former Soviet Union at the 1976 Games.
Czech Republic, long-track speedskating
The 23-year old was the year's most dominant distance skater, winning gold medals in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races at the Vancouver Games, where she also took bronze in the 1,500. Sablikova won the allround title at the European Championships in Hamar, Norway and at the World Championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands, bringing her total of world titles to nine. Since there are no oval skating arenas in her native country, Sablikova has had to import a fair amount of cross-training into her preparation. This past summer, she also won the Czech national road cycling and time-trail championships, and says she harbors thoughts of becoming a summer Olympian one day.
Soni, 23, had a dominant year in the breaststroke. She won national titles at both 100- and 200-meters, taking the second event by nearly a full five seconds. She then captured three gold medals -- two individual and a relay -- at the Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif., setting a championship record each time despite the change to less dynamic swimsuits that the sport required in 2010. At the FINA Short Course World Swimming Championships in Dubai, Soni took home three more golds and a silver, setting four championship records in the process. In November, USA Swimming gave her the Golden Goggles award as national female swimmer of the year.
Croatia, track and field
In February, Vlasic set a personal-best (2.06 meters) to win the high jump at the World Indoor Championships in Arnstadt, Germany. Indoors, she recorded the three best jumps in the world and five of the top six. Outdoors, where she had seven of the highest 11 marks for the year, Vlasic, 27, jumped 2.05, her season's best, to win the Continental Cup at her home stadium in Split. The two-time world champ and 2008 Olympic silver medalist is long past the hyperthyroid malady that first derailed her at the Athens Games. The daughter of Josko Vlasic, Croatia's national record-holder in the decathlon, and Vanera, a basketball player and cross-country skier, Blanka has long been a favorite in her home nation. She was voted its athlete of the year for the sixth time and was also named the IAAF's World Female Athlete of the Year.
USA, alpine skiing
Vonn became the first American woman to win the Olympic downhill and later took bronze in the Super-G despite a severely bruised shin that hampered her training. She later suffered a broken finger during a crash in the fog on the giant slalom run, but still won the overall World Cup title for the third straight season and also placed first in the downhill, super-G and combined events, firmly establishing herself as the world's premier skier in the alpine speed disciplines and passing Bode Miller for the top spot among U.S. skiers in career World Cup titles, a total that now stands at 36 after three more victories this season. The Associated Press chose Vonn, 26, as its female Athlete of the Year.
China, short-track speedskating
Wang became the most decorated Chinese Winter Olympian in history by winning gold medals in the 500-meters, 1,000-meters and 3,000-meter relay at the Vancouver Games. She had also won gold, silver and bronze in 2006 and has 14 world titles to her credit after taking the 500 and 1,000 in Sofia, Bulgaria this year. The 25-year-old was utterly dominant at the Olympics in the shortest sprint, which she led from wire to wire. On a down note, in the 1,500-meters, her weakest individual race, she lost an edge and crashed into the restraining barricade, losing out on a chance for a sweep.
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