By Leaps And Bounds

IN 1900 WOMEN COMPETED IN THE OLYMPICS FOR THE FIRST TIME (BELOW) --BUT ONLY IN THE "GENTEEL" SPORTS OF TENNIS AND GOLF. THAT SET OFF A CENTURY OF RAPID GROWTH IN WOMEN'S SPORTS. SOME HIGH POINTS:

1920 American Ethelda Bleibtrey wins three gold medals as women compete in Olympic swimming for the first time.

1924 Aviator Elinor Smith is the first woman pictured on a Wheaties box.

1927 Introducing choreography into free-skate programs, Sonja Henie wins her first world title.

1932 Babe Didriksen Zaharias wins two golds and a silver in track and field at the Los Angeles Olympics.

1943 The All American Girls Professional Baseball League (of "A League of Their Own'' fame) begins 12 years of play.

1950 Althea Gibson becomes the first black woman to win Wimbledon.

1965 Donna De Varona becomes the first female sportscaster on network TV.

1972 Title IX is passed, banning sex discrimination in federally funded school programs, including sports. At the time, 1 in 27 high-school girls plays sports. Also that year: Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut wins the gold medal at the Olympics. And: Mia Hamm is born.

1973 Fifty million people watch Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match.

1988 Jackie Joyner-Kersee wins two gold medals at the Seoul Olympics, and is called the best female athlete in the world.

1991 The U.S. Women's Soccer team wins the first Women's World Cup.

1995 Tennis player Mary Pierce is the first woman to have a signature Nike shoe, the Air Vitesse.

1996 One in three high-school girls plays sports. At the Atlanta Olympics, the U.S. women's basketball, soccer and softball teams all win gold. The WNBA is launched.

1999 The United States hosts the third Women's World Cup, one of the biggest women's sporting events to date. But pay disparities remain: the U. S. women each get $12,500 if they win; the American men would have nabbed $388,000 each had they won the 1998 Cup.