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Photos: Athletes who changed the face of pro sports

They didn't just break racial barriers - they smashed through them. While not necessarily the first to defy convention, these seven high-achieving athletes became icons in their respective sports

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This is an undated file photo of Jim Thorpe in a baseball uniform. He was a student at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan., as a young boy. Considered one of America's greatest athletes, he played professional baseball with the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves. He played professional football between 1919 and 1926. A second statue of Thorpe will be unveiled at his burial site in Jim Thorpe, Pa., on May 21, 2011.

The Associated Press/The Associated Press

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US champion "Jesse" (James Cleveland) Owens is airborne during the long jump event, that he won, 09 August 1936 during Olympic Games in Berlin. Grandson of a slave and legendary athlete, "Jesse" Owens established 6 world records in 1935. Jesse Owens retained his 100m world record for 20 years and his long jump world record for 25 years.


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Brooklyn Dodgers' infielder Jackie Robinson is shown in this April 18, 1948 file photo.

The Associated Press/The Associated Press

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Althea Gibson makes a return to Darlene Hard during their title match at Wimbledon, which Gibson won 6-3, 6-2, in this July 6, 1957, file photo. Gibson, a champion tennis player in the 1950s who was the first black to win Wimbledon and U.S. national titles, died Sunday, Sept. 28, 2003. She was 76. Gibson had been seriously ill for years and died at East Orange General Hospital, where she had spent the last week, according to Darryl Jeffries, a spokesman for the city of East Orange, N.J.

The Associated Press/The Associated Press

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Tiger Woods of the USA tees off during the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic tournament at the Emirates Golf Club March 4, 2001.

Jack Dabaghian/Reuters/Jack Dabaghian/Reuters

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Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, from China, scores against the Dallas Mavericks in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Dallas, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008.

Donna McWilliam/The Associated Press/Donna McWilliam/The Associated Press

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Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla celebrates his 500th goal during the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild in Calgary, Alberta, January 7, 2012.

Todd Korol/Reuters/Todd Korol/Reuters

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