Michael Jordan was announced yesterday as ESPN's athlete of the century.

Rounding out the ESPN top 10 were Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Wayne Gretzky, Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, Willie Mays, Jack Nicklaus and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Twenty-five of the 48 people on the panel selecting the top athletes were employees of or contributors to ESPN, ABC or affiliated businesses of the TV networks or their parent, the Walt Disney Co. The list was limited to North Americans.

The top 10 in the Associated Press 100 Athletes of the Century poll were Ruth, Jordan, Thorpe, Ali, Gretzky, Brown, Joe Louis, Owens, Zaharias and Wilt Chamberlain.

They were chosen by 16 experts, including athletes, writers and historians.

The full SportsCentury series profiling the top 50 athletes will run consecutively on ESPN2 on Thursday and Friday.

Horse Racing

Jockey Stevens Rides Into Sunset

Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who rode three Kentucky Derby champions and just missed winning the Triple Crown with Silver Charm in 1997, is retiring.

After going winless yesterday in four races at Santa Anita in Los Angeles, Stevens, 36, said that degenerative arthritis in his right knee is forcing him to end his career, which included six victories in Triple Crown races.

"One hundred yards into the first race I rode, I knew this would be my last day," he said. "Today I was hoping for a Christmas miracle. I was hoping to be able to do my job.

"But it wasn't fun anymore. It was time."

He had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee earlier this month, but the procedure could not clear up the problem.

Stevens's other Kentucky Derby wins came aboard Winning Colors in 1988 and Thunder Gulch in 1995. He won the 1997 Preakness with Silver Charm, and the Belmont with Thunder Gulch. In 1998, he won the Belmont with Victory Gallop.

After winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 1997, Stevens and Silver Charm seemed on the way to becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 when the colt neared the wire at the Belmont. But Touch Gold flashed past him on the outside and won by three-quarters of a length.


Young Team Will Go to Australia

With veterans boycotting for better wages, the United States picked 12 college players for its 18-woman roster for next month's Australia Cup.

Other than defender Thori Bryan, who has 13 international appearances, the rest of the roster has combined for one goal and 21 international appearances. The roster includes three high school players and three who recently graduated from college. Seven have no previous international experience.

Santa Clara midfielder Aly Wagner is the other most experienced player, with six appearance and one goal.

The veterans on the U.S. team, which won last summer's Women's World Cup, said this week they are boycotting the games, saying the USSF refused to negotiate new salaries.

The American women's team travels to Australia on Jan. 2 to play against the Czech Republic (Jan. 7), Sweden (Jan. 10) and Australia (Jan. 13). The first two games are in Melbourne and the third in Adelaide. . . .

Michael Bridges and Lee Bowyer scored for first-place Leeds, which rallied to beat Leicester, 2-1, and remain two points ahead of defending champion Manchester United in England's Premier League.

Manchester United beat visiting Bradford, 4-0, getting all its goals in the final 15 minutes from Quentin Fortune, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Roy Keane.

Leeds reached the season's midpoint with a 14-3-2 record and 44 points. Manchester United (13-2-3) has played one fewer game.


Wiberg Will Rest Knee

Champion skiier Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden will skip two races next week in Austria because of a swollen right knee.

The former Olympic and World Cup overall champion considered surgery after hurting the knee in a pre-Christmas race. But she decided to rest after being examined by a doctor.

Wiberg, who competes in all four Alpine disciplines, has not missed a race this season. She will skip a giant slalom and a slalom at Linz, Austria, on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, but hopes to be back on the circuit for two races at Maribor, Slovenia, Jan. 5-6.


U.S., Czech All Tied Up

The United States blew two leads and had to settle for a 2-2 tie against the Czech Republic in the World Junior Hockey Championships in Stockholm.

Barrett Heisten of the University of Maine and Brooks Orpik of Boston College scored for Team USA, which features 10 NHL draftees.

The Czechs defeated Slovakia, 5-2, in Saturday's opener. Team USA, which outshot the Czechs, 31-29, next plays Slovakia on Tuesday.

Sweden, co-favored with defending champion Russia, beat Switzerland 7-1 in its Group B opener.