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Friday, July 11, 2008

Venus Williams, 28

Venus Williams made history when she won her fourth Wimbledon last July: She became the first woman in the 123-year-old event to earn the same prize money as the guys. (The year before, the pay gap was nearly $60,000). Williams, who had been seeded twenty-third in the tournament, was thrilled. "It wasn't about the money," she says. "It was just about being treated as equals." Heading into Beijing, she's playing as strong as ever--last year she set a new record with a 128.8 mph serve. "I'm glad I never had to play Venus," tennis legend Martina Navratilova once said. "She's just too long, too fast."

Allyson Felix, 22

Allyson Felix can run 200 meters in 21.81 seconds--that's about 20 mph. Though she's a two-time world champion at that distance and is widely considered the favorite to win gold in the event, insiders' real hope for her is that she will help redeem track and field. The sport stumbled badly after the Marion Jones steroid scandal and subsequent reports of rampant cheating. Felix is "best positioned to save track," Sports Illustrated said when it nominated her for its Sportsman of the Year award in 2007, and she has no problem with these high expectations. "We can't get so wrapped up in winning that it becomes the only thing we're about," Felix says. "I want to give younger people someone to look up to."

Serena Williams, 26

She's won eight Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold, but Serena Williams believes she hasn't "accomplished all that much" in tennis. "I feel like I'm just getting started," she says. After an injury forced her to pull out of the 2004 Olympics, she publicly vowed not to miss Beijing. But by 2006 her ranking had plummeted due to injuries. Still, Williams never gave up. Now she's ranked fifth and headed to Beijing. "What defines a person's character is not how you are when you're on top. It's how you are when you're on the bottom and working your way back," she says. Besides, she adds, "I love proving people wrong."

Photos: Christopher Griffith

Posted by Shelia

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