WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sandra Baldwin describes her mother as a Southern belle who raised her family away from dirt and sweat.

``She would not live on a farm,'' Baldwin said.

Today, this daughter of Arizona civility is a sports revolutionary, a bit of a bombthrower in Burberry plaid, smashing one glass ceiling after another as she rises toward the top of Olympic power.

Sixteen years ago, she became the first female leader of a widely based American Olympic sport when she was unanimously elected president of U.S. Swimming.

Now, helped by support from athletes and the medal-winning wave of women at the Sydney Games, she is the first woman at the highest spot in the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Baldwin, an English professor-turned-real-estate executive from Phoenix, won a close election Sunday as the USOC's chair, the new name for a job until now known as president _ and occupied by 21 men for 106 consecutive years. All but one of her predecessors was white.

``There were just people who felt that sports should be run by men for a long time,'' Baldwin said.

Promising to focus on homegrown issues, Baldwin was elected 108-96 over Paul George, a Massachusetts lawyer who, like her, has been a USOC vice president for the last four years. The margin of victory came down to roughly five ballots cast among the 115 USOC board members, whose votes are weighted to give more power to athletes and sports federations.

``I think she addressed some domestic concerns,'' said George, later elected to another vice president's term. ``I think she's very capable. I'm pleased that we have a woman in the role. It's a great step forward.''

Baldwin, 61, steps into a tough job. The USOC executive committee, about half its 23 members just chosen, decided Sunday to wait until at least its next meeting in mid-January to decide if the CEO post will go full time to Scott Blackmun, who has held it on an interim basis since Norman Blake resigned last month after a tumultuous nine-month reign.

``I can understand their desire, given this weekend of significant organizational change, to defer a decision on this,'' Blackmun said.

Baldwin said the extra time would help assure the final decision complied with federal law on gender, racial and handicap equity, and clarify the CEO's role.

``Everyone thinks Scott is doing an excellent job,'' she said.

Baldwin said her first priority would be studying the budget for the next four years and changing direction where needed, including athlete and coaches training. She also said she wanted openness in dealing with doping issues, and to find a way of bring paralympic athletes into the USOC mainstream.

She also recognizes that she is a standard-bearer, just as she was in 1984 when a swimming federation icon, Bill Lippman, told her the group wasn't ready to be led by a woman.

``I told him, `Maybe not, Bill, but they're ready for me,''' Baldwin said. ``I didn't know if this organization was ready for a woman, but they were more ready than swimming was.

``I think many felt the need to send a statement to the world. It was important for that statement to come from an organization that has been perceived as very, very conservative.''

Besides George, vice-chair spots went to Alabama-Birmingham athletic director Herman Frazier and Bill Stapleton, an athlete representative and agent for Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

Frank Marshall, producer of ``Indiana Jones'' and ``Back to the Future,'' was elected treasurer, and Marty Mankamyer, a U.S. Soccer executive from Colorado Springs, Colo., was elected secretary. The board also chose eight at-large members, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Sen. Bill Bradley, baseball union chief Donald Fehr and Gordon Gund, owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and NHL's San Jose Sharks.