On the distaff side of world sports achievements, the field is so loaded with magnificent performers that it almost seems as if the goal in 2000 was to put the men to shame. Surely it was not, yet suffice to say this year’s nominees have established their own breathtaking images in the minds of sports fans throughout the world.
Venus Williams (United States), tennis: As a heavenly body in the galaxy, Venus is awesome and unattainable. The same can be said about the Venus who blew away the competition on the women’s tour last year. The 20-year-old Williams captured her first Grand Slam title by winning Wimbledon in July, where she also joined forces with sister Serena to take the doubles title.
Then in September, she beat Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, on successive nights to win the U.S. Open. Rather than rest on those laurels, Williamsadded to them by becoming only the second woman ever to win both the singles and doubles titles in the same Olympiad.
In all, from June to October, she put together a 35-match victory streak.
Marion Jones (United States), athletics: The winner of the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year award for 1999, Jones, 25, made a forceful argument for a repeat in 2000 with her staggering performance in the Sydney Games.
She won three gold medals — in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4 x 400 meter relay — as well as bronze medals in the 4 x 100-meter relay and the long jump. That placed her in rarefied air, since she became the first woman to win three gold medals on the track at a single Olympics since Florence Griffith Joyner did so at Seoul in 1988.
Appropriately, the International Amateur Athletic Federation named her Female Athlete of the Year for 2000.
Inge de Bruijn (the Netherlands), Swimming: Though swimming and the decathlon don’t often pop up in comparisons, Inge de Bruijn makes the association obvious. Achieving four medals across different categories at Sydney can only invite equation to the likes of multi-event athletes such as Bruce Jenner.
De Bruijn did the unusual by capturing a rare Olympic double at Sydney with 100 meter gold-medal victories in both the freestyle and butterfly. As an added flourish, she also snagged gold in the 50-meter freestyle as well as a silver medal in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay.
None of this should have come as a surprise, since de Bruijn, 27, broke seven world records earlier in the year and matched another in one particularly sizzling nine-week stretch of excellence.
Karrie Webb (Australia), Golf: Onlookers have been shaking their heads in awe at Webb ever since she won four tournaments and more than $1 million in earnings during her rookie year of 1994. But last year, the 26-year-old Webb outdid herself. She won her first four events of 2000 en route to 10 titles overall.
Her greatest triumphs came when she etched her name on the trophies of two majors, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Nabisco Championships.
Webb capped the year when she and fellow Aussie Rachel Hetherington won the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Golf in Malaysia.
Cathy Freeman (Australia), athletics: If you ask Freeman, she’ll probably say the highlight of her appearance at the 2000 Sydney Games was lighting the Olympic torch as the chosen representative of the host country. But it was hardly her lone bright moment.
The 27-year-old Freeman had already established herself as the queen of 400 meters by taking the silver in Atlanta in 1996, as well as world championships at that distance in ’97 and ’99. She reached the zenith by winning the Olympic gold medal at Sydney in the 400. She remained unbeaten at that distance and finished 2000 ranked No. 1 in the world.