In my previous post I had written that, much as I admired Michael Phelps, neither he nor anyone else could be acclaimed as the Greatest Athlete Ever. I listed a number of reasons why I felt that way and said that there were a number of athletes all bunched together at the top, each great in their own way.
So who are these rivals to Michael Phelps ? Here is one man’s entirely subjective list. No doubt there are those who will disagree with some of the names on the list and others who will feel that it is incomplete. If that is the case, I invite you to send in your choices.
In compiling this list I have made some arbritary decisions. Firstly, I have not considered anyone who excelled in a team sport because I feel it is impossible to judge individual greatness in such cases, many of the skills having to do with teamwork. Secondly, I have eliminated those who starred in any form of martial arts( Wrestling, boxing, judo, taekwondo etc). Lastly, I have disregarded those who excelled only in sports such as tennis, golf, badminton, table tennis etc. which I feel demand a lesser degree of physicality than track and field or swimming or gymnastics.So, to all you Tiger Woods fans I say: I feel he is already the Greatest Golfer Ever but I don’t think he should be considered in the running for greatest athlete.
This then is my list of the Greatest Athletes Ever and it is in no particular order.
Jim Thorpe who won Olympic gold medals for the Decathlon and Modern Pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympic games in 1912. A supremely talented athlete who excelled in many sports, he was an All-American footbaler who played professional baseball, football and basketball.
Larissa Latynina, the Russian gmnast,who , between 1956 and 1964, won a total of 18 Olympic medals ( including 9 golds) and 15 World Gymnastics medals ( including 9 golds), some of them reputedly while she was pregnant.
Paavo Nurmi , The Flying Finn, a middle and long distance runner who set a total of 25 world records at distances ranging from 1,500 meters to 20 kilometers. In three Olympics between 1920 and 128, he won a total of 12 Olymic medals ( 9 gold, 3 silver). Perhaps his most incredible performance came at the 1924 Paris Olympics when he won 5 gold medals in 6 days , including those for the 1500 meter and 5,000 meter races within one hour of each other ( Shades of Michael Phelps!).
Jesse Owens who overcame incredible pressure to win four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics of 1936. He wongold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and the 4 x100 meter relay, setting Olympic records in three of the events. His long jump record stood for decades before it was finally broken.
Fanny Blankers -Koen of the Netherlands who, as a 30 year old mother of two, won 4 gold medals( 100 meters, 200 meters, 80 meter hurdles and the 4 x100 relay) at the 1948 Olmpics in London. During her career she set 12 world records and competed in the long jump , high jump and shot put in addition to the sprints and the hurdles. In 1999,she was voted the Greatest Female Athlete of the twentieth century.
Mildred (“Babe”)Didrikson Zaharias ,perhaps the most naturally gifted athlete of them all. She has to be considered if only because of her increible versatility. She excelled in track and field ( 80 meter hurdles, long jump, shot put and javelin), basketball, baseball, swimming and diving. In the 1932 Nationals, she won 8 out of 10 events , setting 4 world records in a single afternoon. At the 1932 Olympics, she won gold medals in the 80 meter hurdles and javelin, setting world records in both events in addition to winning a silver. After the Olympics, she became a pro golfer winning 83 events and co-founding the LPGA.
Mark Spitz. Yes I know , Michael phelps broke his record for most golds at a single Olympics but consider this. In Mark Spitz’s time there were not as many swimming events and he retired while still in his prime at age 22.
Other names that might be considered are Carl Lewis and The Czech Locomotive , Emil Zatopek. No doubt, you can think of others.