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Looking out for No. 1 in century 21

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Anyone could identify the top athletes of the 20th century -- ESPN did just that, and the network is down to a final four of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Jim Brown and Babe Ruth.

The better question is, who will be the most influential sports figures of the 21st century? To fully prepare you for life after Y2K, we've compiled a little list:

Zoe Swift, gold-medal figure skater. First to achieve the "spin-my-age" feat, performing a quintuple lutz at the age of 5 at the 2034 Winter Olympics in Reykjavik, Iceland -- the last place on earth with an average daily temperature below 60 degrees.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, still in power after the Tibetan Bribery Scandal of 2028, institutes a minimum-age requirement after the California-born Swift proves unable to talk at her gold-medal news conference.

"We wanted her to skate, not speak," her parents protest.

Don King III and Vince McMahon IV, founders of World Boxing-Wrestling Federation. After decades of negotiations between their proud families, the two finally achieve in 2061 what was once thought impossible -- the merger of the World Boxing Association and World Wrestling Federation.

While seen as a blow to the WWF's credibility, the merger enables McMahon to gain control of the boxer he coveted, Tina "Tyson" Thompson, the first female heavyweight champion. He immediately matches her against WWF champ Buff Daddy Badness on "Friday Frantic," the most watched of the nightly 8-11 p.m. wrestling broadcasts on ABC.

Rick "Rubber Arm" Robinson, pitcher, Budapest Barons. The National League Cy Young winner in 2040, '41 and '42, he shocks the world in '43 by throwing 126 innings -- the most by a major-league starting pitcher in three decades.

Robinson averages a whopping 4 1/3 innings a start, crediting his newfound durability to a rigorous training regimen in which he plays catch for 10 minutes every day.

Also in 2043, the Orioles' Andro Johnson breaks Graham Salaam's record of 112 home runs in a season, taking advantage of the 245-foot fence in left-center at the new Canton Yards in Baltimore.

Mars, Marcia, Jupiter and Jennifer Smith. The first sisters to claim every spot in the Wimbledon semifinals, the Smiths take particular delight when Marcia defeats Serena Williams and Mars takes out Venus during the 2009 fortnight.

The Smiths, orphans from the unlikely tennis hotbed of Bismarck, N.D., appear at a news conference together on the eve of the semifinals, and vow not to return to Centre Court until their parents are identified. Richard Williams tells the New York Times he is the father, laying claim to six of the eight women's quarterfinalists.

DNA results refute his contention.

Buster "Double" Click, computer hacker/sports writer. Major-league baseball changes forever in 2023 when this 16-year-old wunderkind from Woodstock, N.Y., completes an eight-player trade between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, then breaks the news on America Online under his byline.

Yankees and Red Sox officials are appalled to learn that Click swapped the contracts electronically, then shifted funds from Bank of America to each player's checking account to buy out their no-trade clauses.

The trade is such an immediate hit, the teams fire their general managers and enter a bidding war to hire Click, who spurns their offers to join Microsoft.

"Joystick" Johnny Jones. Along with Click, this 17-year-old from Liverpool, England, is credited with triggering the interactive revolution in first quarter of the century that changes sports forever.

The New York Giants, monitoring entrants in the NFL's "You make the call" online competition, become so enamored with Jones' offensive mind, they name him to replace coach Brian Billick, who left the Ravens after defeating the Washington Snyders (formerly the Redskins) in Super Bowl LXII.

Jones, speaking in a Cockney accent, vows to restore imagination to the Giants' offense. Billick, once celebrated for keeping 5,000 plays in his computer, is deemed "as useless as a Pentium III processor" by Giants owner Steven Mara.

John Benson, Canadian sprinter. The darker side of the Computer Age is revealed when Benson loses his gold medal after winning the men's 100 meters in a world-record time of 7.9 seconds at the 2020 Olympics in Nairobi, Kenya.

Controversy erupts when Benson is spiked as he crosses the finish line, and a microchip pops out of a gash above his right ankle. Benson later admits to receiving microchip implants in both legs in an illegal attempt to "boot up" his fast-twitch muscles.

Granger Lee, president, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Time's Person of the Year in 2096, he achieves worldwide celebrity after devising a Division I-A college football playoff system.

"Lee's shockingly fan-friendly formula could have been adopted a century earlier," Time proclaims, portraying Lee as the right man at the right time for a sport reeling from the Florida State/Wal-Mart merger and Notre Dame's record 18th probation.

Dick Vitale, broadcaster. Through the wonders of cryogenics, Vitale returns every March for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which expands to a 1,024-team quadruple-elimination format that includes select elementary schools in 2018.

"You can't get rid of me, bay-bee!" he shouts at the 2093 Final Four, declaring himself right at home at the Ben and Jerry's Antarctica Polar Dome.

"Joystick" Jones, Andro Johnson and Dickie V.

What more could you ask from the 21st century?

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