The athletic glories of the year were all but buried by news from beyond the bleachers. Performance-enhancing drugs tarred the Sydney Olympics; free-agent baseball player Alex Rodriguez became the poster boy for greed when he reportedly demanded private jets and personal flacks in negotiations with the New York Mets; pro-basketball star Allen Iverson was called on the carpet by the NBA commissioner for misogynist imagery in his new hip-hop release; and football player Rae Carruth faced a real rap: he's on trial for ordering the murder of his girlfriend. For all the murk, some splendid performances managed to shine through.
1 CATHY FREEMAN You could argue--and we do--that the women's 400-m run in Sydney was the most sociopolitically burdened footrace since Jesse Owens ran upside Hitler. Under enormous pressure, the Aborigine Freeman came through magnificently in front of her cheering, weeping countrymen. She said she had run for her nation--and for her persecuted people.
2 TIGER WOODS What didn't he do? Well, he didn't win the Masters in April. But he won the U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes, the British Open by eight and the PGA in a playoff, becoming the first to win three of four majors in a season since Ben Hogan in 1953, and the youngest ever to complete a career grand slam.
3 VENUS WILLIAMS Serena's big sister became the first black player to win Wimbledon since Arthur Ashe did it in 1975, then kept the U.S. Open crown in the family. While most U.S. male stars bagged the Olympics, Venus and Serena brought back the gold.
4 MARION JONES She didn't win the five golds she sought, but three and a couple of bronzes aren't bad. In the 100-m sprint, she won by the largest margin since 1952. She bore up gracefully under great stress before and during the Games.
5 VLADIMIR KRAMNIK In the chess world it's flattering to be known as Supernerd, and that is what they call the man who ended fellow Russian and former mentor Garry Kasparov's 15-year reign as world champ. Not a sport, you say? Kramnik, 25, quit smoking and dropped 20 lbs. to prep for the match.
6 KURT WARNER The retired Iowa grocery bagger made the most of his NFL chance: he quarterbacked the St. Louis Rams to a 13-3 record and a 23-16 Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans. Warner threw 41 touchdown passes during the season, only the second QB to top 40.
7 LANCE ARMSTRONG It seemed no less than a miracle when cancer survivor Armstrong won the 1999 Tour de France, cycling's--and perhaps all of sport's--most grueling event. As if to prove his feat real, he repeated in 2000.
8 PEDRO MARTINEZ Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez repeated too: he dominated the competition and won his second consecutive American League Cy Young Award, again by a unanimous vote. Rarely has there been such consensus about the best in baseball.
9 SHAQUILLE O'NEAL In 2000 the big guy broke through, leading the L.A. Lakers to the NBA title in his eighth pro season. As with Martinez, Shaq's the best, and everyone knows it: he was named the league's MVP with 99.2% of the vote.
10 MYLES BRAND In May, the Indiana University president put a "zero tolerance" policy over the head of hoops coach Bob Knight. In September, Brand ended the bully's 29-year I.U. career after reports said Knight grabbed and swore at a student who had dissed him.