Ignore everything she did last year except for five seconds in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 27, and the striker would still deserve a place on this list. In Brazil's 4--0 dismantling of the U.S. in the semifinals of the Women's World Cup, she took a pass with her back to the goal, flicked the ball behind herself, spun around Tina Ellertson, regained possession, juked Cat Whitehill and slotted the ball past goalkeeper Briana Scurry. It was the prettiest goal anyone, man or woman, scored in 2007. Of course, Marta did more—she had seven goals in the tournament—but it was how she did it that was so impressive. Led by Marta, Brazil played with a flair heretofore unseen in the women's game. All she's missing is a World Cup—Brazil lost to Germany 2--0 in the final—and an Olympic gold. Give her time, though. She's only 21.
Walking through airports in her Tennessee warmups, the 6'3" Abbott was often mistaken for a member of the Lady Vols basketball team. She doesn't dunk, but Abbott, 22, whips a mean, 72-mph rise ball down the pipe and was arguably the most dominant pitcher in NCAA history. With Abbott as their ace, the Lady Vols went to the Women's College World Series for the first time, advancing to the semifinals in '05 and '06 and then the title game last spring. As a senior she made 52 starts and won 50 times, ringing up 29 shutouts, an 0.68 ERA and a Division I--record 724 strikeouts. In August, Abbott led the U.S. to its sixth straight Pan Am Games gold medal; next summer, with Abbott on the mound, the Americans will be favored to win their fourth straight Olympic gold.
Tsu Mie, Japan
There's one surefire way an athlete can end a debate over who is the best in his or her sport: never lose. That's been the argument made by Yoshida, 25, from the time she won a Japanese national title in 2002 through her fifth straight world championship, at 55 kilograms (121 pounds), in September—a 115-match winning streak. What's more, Yoshida has won every international competition she has entered, beginning in 1998 and including the Olympic gold medal in '04. Competitors have begun to assume a defensive stance to avoid Yoshida's aggressive double-leg tackle, so she has been honing new moves for the Beijing Olympics. Her goal: "I want to stay undefeated until I retire," she says.
How charmed was this 15-year-old's season? After breaking five world records and winning nine gold medals at the paralympic world championships in December 2006, Long went on to beat, among others, a decorated Olympian (Michael Phelps), an NCAA basketball champion (Joakim Noah) and a Heisman Trophy winner (Troy Smith) for the Sullivan Award, given to the nation's best amateur athlete. Adopted by American parents from a Russian orphanage when she was 13 months old, Long was born without fibulas, ankles and heels, and had her legs amputated before she was two. Growing up, she used sports as physical therapy, pursuing basketball, gymnastics and rock climbing. But it was in the pool where she found the most success. Long, who began swimming competitively in 2002, won three gold medals at the '04 Paralympic Games and will be looking for more in Beijing.
Costa Mesa, Calif.
Santa Clara, Calif.
To find a partnership as successful and enduring as this one, you have to step beyond the world of sports. How far beyond? Well, as May-Treanor (above, right) put it while accepting the AVP Crocs Tour Team of the Year award in October, "I feel like Sonny and Cher." Of course, that duo didn't top the charts nearly as often as the 30-year-old May-Treanor and the 29-year-old Walsh, who extended their dominance in the women's game to seven years by winning 13 of the 15 AVP events they competed in and seven of eight FIVB titles in 2007. Total victories as a team over that span: 83. Moreover, the 2004 Olympic gold medalists each passed Holly McPeak, May-Treanor's partner early in her career, to become No. 1 (May-Treanor, 89) and No. 2 (Walsh, 86) on the beach volleyball alltime wins list.