You’ve seen the lists, you’ve read the stats, you’ve seen the performances. But who really is the greatest sports person of all time? Is it Michael Jordan, for his world beating seasons at the heart of the Chicago Bulls basketball squad? What about Roger Bannister, the first human to run the mile in under four minutes? Take a look at some of these contenders, and let us know what you think…
Bannister is the perfect example of amateur athletic determination. His actual profession was medical – when he broke the four minute mile he was a junior doctor. Bannister had practically no professional training, and his impetus for achieving the fastest mile ever run by a human being to that point (1954) was simple desire. While the record only stood for 49 days, Bannister assured his place forever in the athletic halls of fame. And he went on to become an extremely successful neurosurgeon. Some people have all the talent…
Here’s the thing about baseball: it’s the only sport in the history of sport where you can match modern day statistics against historic players. That’s because whenever it looks like athletic development is surpassing the sport, they change the rules. True. The height of the pitching mound, the length and weight of the bat, the size of the diamond and even the size of the ball have all been changed over the years to keep the statistics steady. So why is the Babe (whose record of 714 homers has been broken by Barry Bonds and Hank Aarons) still the greatest? Because he had the swagger, the crowd-pleasing factor that makes the difference between a workman and a star. Still the most famous name in the sport.
Should we really vaunt a sports person whose drive literally killed him? Depends on the sport. F1 is extraordinarily dangerous, and the greatest drivers have all had brushes with death or been killed in the practice of their craft. Senna’s natural talent and daring earned him the love not only of his fellow Brazilians, but of race fans all over the world. Senna also won a record six Monaco victories, and while he is again not statistically top of his discipline he is the embodiment of the passion and power of F1 cars.
Billie Jean King
Few sports people have as much right to claim greatness as the woman who showed men’s tennis how it ought to be done. In the second of the three famous ‘battle of the sexes’ tennis matches (the first was between Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court), King beat Riggs to become the most famous female player of her time. Her record of 39 Grand Slam wins is still a high water mark in the sport, and her career undoubtedly inspired a whole new generation of female tennis players.
Before she became famous for doing her business by the side of the road, Paula Radcliffe epitomised the skill and determination of a new era of female runners. Her trademark stomach, sunglasses and tick-tocking head won her legions of fans all over the country, and paved the way for athletes like Jessica Ennis – raising the profile of women’s athletics and bringing in a new injection of investment and enthusiasm. Despite never winning an Olympic medal (check out http://www.trophiesplusmedals.co.uk for medals of your own!), Radcliffe still holds the world record for the women’s Marathon.
The Author is a professional sports writer, whose work has been published on some of the most visited home pages in the business. His articles are often syndicated to appear on the home pages for international email carriers and news services, and his own network of sports blogs is regularly visited by more than half a million people every day.