When it comes to choosing the best sportsmen of all time, it is a subject that is bound to spark debate. It’s almost an impossible task to narrow it down to a list of ten and there is no fair way to place these in order due to the range of different sports and their individual demands. With so many factors to consider, the list changed numerous times before publishing. The overall impact, the era that they competed in, the sport they were involved in and the number of accolades they won all played a part but in the end I had to go with my gut feeling on the levels I believe these competitors have achieved. By no means am I proclaiming this is a definite list, but rather, I would like to use this opportunity to remind our visitors of just how skilful these athletes were.
Nicknamed “The Greatest”, how could we not include Ali in the list? The man is the biggest personality the sport of boxing has ever known and he was crowned ‘The Sportsman of the Century’ by Times Illustrated. Known for his Ali-Shuffle, and his unique way-with-words, Ali could more than back up his trash talk in the ring. A tactical genius who could absorb punches like no-one else, Ali was stripped of his titles and banned from boxing for his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, just as he was entering the prime of his career. Despite losing four crucial years, Ali returned to boxing and became world heavyweight boxing champion. Ali rightly deserves his title as the greatest boxer of all time.
Probably the most versatile athlete that ever lived, Jim Thorpe was a professional American footballer, basketball player and baseball player. He was also pretty decent at athletics, bagging himself an Olympic Gold in both the Pentathlon and Decathlon for good measure!
Simply put, Michael Jordan was a phenomenon. The most decorated player in the history of basketball, Jordan was the perfect professional and an absolute machine who even turned his hand to professional baseball for a while. Jordan’s last shot was the fairytale ending that other sporting greats such as Zinedine Zidane narrowly missed out on at the biggest stage. Jordan stole the ball and in true movie-like fashion hit the jumper to win NBA Championship number 6.
This one is controversial to say the least. Some say Pele, some say Best, some say Maradona, but I say Messi. Granted, I wasn’t alive to watch Pele in his pomp and I was probably too young to fully appreciate the greatness of Maradona, but given what Messi has achieved at this young age already, I honestly think he will surpass the both of them and be remembered as the greatest ever. Whether he has to win a World Cup to truly cement his place as the best ever is open to debate, but his class and natural ability, in an era where fitness, training and nutrition levels are considerably higher, is surely unquestionable.
A few years ago, I think most would confidently have said that Tiger Woods would have gone down in the history books as the greatest golfer of all time. That was before the string of alleged affairs and subsequent loss of form that Tiger seems to have only recently regained. Tiger’s form over the next few years will likely determine this for definite and many would argue that the consistency of Jack Nicklaus puts him at the top of the pile, but for me, it is simply too hard to look past the way Woods has dominated the sport over the years.
Jesse Owens/Carl Lewis
Admittedly a bit of a cop-out choosing both here but both genuinely deserve their place in the list.The debate about different eras will go on but these two will forever remain on a very small list of athletes who have won 4 gold medals in track and field events at the same Olympics.
Nicknamed ‘The Don’, Bradman is widely regarded as the best batsman of all time. Bradman’s career average of 99.94 is a truly outrageous figure. A true Australian hero, Bradman will surely go down in history as one of the greatest sportsmen who ever lived.
Often not afforded the praise he deserves, Ellery Hanley was a true British sporting great. A rugby league sensation, Hanley was awarded an MBE for his services to rugby league, with a truly glittering rugby league career.
Another toss-up but in the month that Federer surpassed Sampras’ record for consecutive weeks at No.1 in the rankings, it seemed fitting to include the Swiss great in this list. Although the modest Federer doesn’t consider himself to be the greatest ever, there is no doubt in our minds that this incredible sportsman, who continues to surprise us even as he ages past his prime, will cement his position as the finest tennis player the wolrd has ever seen.
Widely regarded as the best rugby union player ever, Gareth Edwards was the standout player in the awesome Welsh team of the 60s and 70s. Viewed as the complete player, Edwards was described by former England Captain Will Carling as a man who ‘sits astride the whole world of rugby as the ultimate athlete on the pitch.’ An impressive complement for an outstanding sportsman!
So that's our list. Do you agree with it? Who do you feel we missed out? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!
Author: David Rowse