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She lifted the women's event to a new level with her world-record 2:15:25 in the 2003 London Marathon—three minutes, 17 seconds faster than any other woman has run 26.2 miles—but Radcliffe's race in New York City in November may have been just as impressive. Less than 10 months after giving birth to her first child, daughter Isla, and overcoming a stress fracture in her lower back, the 33-year-old dropped a 4:59 mile 2 that left the pack strewn behind her in the streets of Brooklyn. Radcliffe led the entire race (finishing in 2:23:09) and over the last half mile blew away her closest competitor, Gete Wami, who later said, "It took me three years to recover from [childbirth]." Afterward Radcliffe, who has won all seven marathons she has finished (she dropped out during the 2004 Olympic race), said she felt better than ever. Scary.
The long-hitting 26-year-old was richly rewarded in 2007 for the aggressive way she plays the game: eight LPGA victories, including her first major, the Women's British Open; five runner-up finishes; the Rolex Player of the Year award; the Vare Trophy, for lowest average score; the No. 1 world ranking; and winnings totaling more than $4.36 million, which wiped out the previous single-season record of $2.86 million (set by Annika Sorenstam in '02). Best of all, perhaps, Ochoa's clutch performances—including a stunning 150-yard six-iron that set her up for a birdie putt in the season-ending ADT Championship—should put to rest questions about her past collapses. "There were a lot of people saying I couldn't win a major," said Ochoa after she won the Women's British Open at St. Andrew's with four days of brilliant shotmaking. "I did it, and there's no more to say."
Last March she led the Calgary Oval X-Treme of the Western Women's Hockey League to the senior national championship, scoring 11 goals with six assists to earn tournament MVP honors. So what was the 29-year-old winger going to do for an encore? How about eight goals and six assists at the women's world championships the following month, winning another MVP award and her sixth world title as a member of Team Canada. The only time Wickenheiser wasn't the dominant player on the ice this year was when she played against the men—and even then she got two goals in an exhibition game for Arboga, a men's team in Sweden. (Arboga decided not to sign her.) The next challenge: winning a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Says Wickenheiser, "I feel a responsibility to raise the level of the [women's] game every time I play."
With two Olympic golds and the six highest scores in history, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has stood alone for more than 20 years as the definition of greatness in the heptathlon. But Klüft, 24, is gaining on her. This summer she won her third consecutive world championship in the event to go with her gold medal from the 2004 Olympics. In winning the '07 worlds with 7,032 points, Klüft became the third woman to exceed 7,000 and is the second-highest scorer, behind Joyner-Kersee. The versatile Swede brings a relentlessness to the exhausting event. Although the 5'10", 143-pound Klüft stands out only in the long jump, she does not have a weakness among the other six events. Best of all, she wins with joy and without ego, a whisper of fresh air blowing through any stadium.
She aspires to a place in skiing history alongside champions Janica Kostelic of Croatia and Anja Paerson of Sweden, who between them own five Olympic golds, 12 world championships and five World Cup overall titles. It is a towering goal, and Hosp, 24, took her first major step when she won the World Cup overall championship last March. Hosp began in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom but made the jump to the more harrowing speed events of downhill and Super G. For speed racers, size is an advantage, and Hosp carries an athletic 152 pounds on her 5'8 1/2" frame, while calling on the turning skills developed in slalom and GS. In the 2006--07 season it was a proven formula.