Female athletes: The world’s best

I love sports. I really, really do. I played three different sports competitively at different point in my life, and I started attending football games at my dad’s alma mater when I was so young that I barely even knew which team to cheer for. More recently, I’ve lived in the heart of the SEC where the head football coach is the highest paid state employee, and spotting the place kicker on campus is text-all-your-friends type of news.

But even when surrounded by all the over-commercialized glitz and glamour that comes with revenue-generating college sports, my real heart lies with (usually sparsely attended and barely noticed) women’s athletics.

So, imagine my delight at the discovery of MSNBC’s compilation of the best female athletes in 16 different sports. While their inclusion of poker still has me scratching my head, they do include several other under-the-radar sports that always seem to be left out. Additionally, they appear to actually have some knowledge of the sports they select from.

Rather than simply choosing the most popular athlete in each sport, they have done their research in selecting the best from each. Check the list out for yourself for the full rundown, but here are some of my favorites:

Best WNBA player: Lauren Jackson

The blond Aussie — who turns 27 on Sunday — was drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm in 2001 and has remained with them ever since. In those seven years, she’s a two-time MVP award winner, holds the WNBA record for most points (47) in a game, and was declared the Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. So, not only can she shoot, but she can block and rebound as well? Impressive. Oh, and did I mention that she posed for 2005’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition?

Best softball player: Cat Osterman

Osterman is a former Gatorade National Player of the Year, holds more NCAA records from her days at Texas than I care to list, and is a gold medal-winning Olympian for Team USA. At 6’2", she boasts six different pitches and will undoubtedly be one of the deciding factors in whether Team USA can claim its fourth straight Olympic gold. MSNBC’s foresight to select Osterman over the better known Jennie Finch makes it probably their best pick of the bunch (in my mind, anyways).

Best figure skater: Mao Asada

Currently ranked No. 1 in the world (and not even 18 years old yet!), this Japanese skater has won a slew of national and international championships in the past few years. At the ripe old age of 12, she became the first female figure skater to successfully complete a triple flip, triple loop, triple toe loop combination. Yeah, I don’t know what that is either, but it sure sounds impressive.

Best mixed martial artist: Gina Carano

Mixed martial arts (MMA) has been popularized in the past decade because of the UFC, yet still remains more of an underground sport. Carano’s specialty is Muay Thai (Thai boxing), and her reputation as one of the best in the sport earned her an invite to be one of the fighters in the first official female MMA fight. These days, though, she is best known as her alter ego Crush on American Gladiators. (Which, by the way, starts up again on Monday!)

So what did you think of the 16? What sport would you have liked to see represented? What athlete did they overlook? Who do you think will win their poll in their quest to find the best of the best? (Hint: Candace Parker is leading the next closest contender by 10 percentage points.)