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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Female athletes have shifted from being the "first" in their sport to reinventing what it means to excel as an athlete.

The big picture: The fight for equal pay and recognition has moved to the forefront of the sports conversation, as female athletes continue to prove themselves on the playing field and use their platforms to push for change off of it.

  • The names of all the female athletes who are redefining excellence in sport can never be compiled in one list or story, but here are a few examples.
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sabrina Ionescu, a point guard, finished her Oregon basketball career with 26 triple-doubles, more than twice as many as anyone else, male or female. She's the only player in NCAA history to accumulate 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds, Axios' Kendall Baker writes.

  • Ionescu was mentored by the late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, receiving tips and advice after they first met in January 2019, USA Today notes.

Driving the news: Ionescu was drafted to the New York Liberty as the No. 1 pick Friday night.

Photo: Maddie Meyer/FIFA/FIFA/Getty Images

The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team won the 2019 Women's World Cup, bringing the trophy to the U.S. for the fourth time. The men's team has yet to win a World Cup.

  • The women successfully reignited a debate about equal pay and what equal pay should look like for female athletes.
  • The women's team has not lost a single game in 14 months, and they haven't allowed a team to score against them.

The state of play: A judge granted the women players class status in their lawsuit against U.S. soccer for gender discrimination and equal pay, The New York Times reports. A trial date for the case has been set for May 5.

  • U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro tweeted on March 7 the federation "offered to provide identical compensation to our women's and men's players for all matches controlled by U.S. Soccer."
  • Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, told Reuters the letter is "riddled with falsehoods" and it "included the smallest number of games possible, designed to leave out all tournaments, including the SheBelieves Cup," which was held in March.
Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Allyson Felix is easily one of the most decorated track and field stars. And if breaking Usain Bolt's record during the 2019 World Championships isn't enough to showcase her athleticism, she did so 10 months after giving birth.

  • Felix also holds the record for most world titles, male or female, with 12, NBC Sports reports.

Yes, but: "Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete,” Phoebe Wright told the New York Times. Felix's experience was similar when she discussed her sponsorship troubles with Nike, and how the company wanted to pay her 70% less after she came back from having a baby.

  • Following the backlash, Nike changed its policy to ensure all of its female athletes are not financially penalized 12 months after giving birth.

The bottom line: A plethora of female athletes deserve a shoutout, but the future of athletics is definitely female.

Go deeper

8 hours ago - World

Biden seeks to reboot U.S. sanctions policy

Sanctions increased under Obama and dramatically under Trump. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Biden administration is rethinking the U.S. approach to sanctions after four years of Donald Trump imposing and escalating them.

The big picture: Sanctions are among the most powerful tools the U.S. has to influence its adversaries’ behavior without using force. But they frequently fail to bring down regimes or moderate their behavior, and they can increase the suffering of civilians and resentment of the U.S.

8 hours ago - World

Merkel's farewell spoiled by Poland crisis at EU summit

One last awkward EU "family photo." Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Angela Merkel took up her vaunted mantle as Europe's crisis manager for what could be the last time tonight, as she urged the EU to find compromise in its showdown with Poland.

Why it matters: The European Commission has threatened to withhold over $40 billion in pandemic recovery funds after Poland's constitutional tribunal — stacked with loyalists from the ruling right-wing populist party — rejected the principle that EU law has primacy over national law.

Republicans who put it all on the line

Rep. Nancy Mace speaks with reporters after voting to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A small contingent of House Republicans risked their political futures on Thursday, they say, in the name of constitutional responsibility.

Why it matters: The nine Republicans who voted to hold former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress are now in peril of becoming political pariahs. They've opened themselves up to potential primary challengers and public attacks from their party's kingmaker — former President Trump.

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