"The Greatest" is a label you often hear put on athletes, usually without any clear evidence to support the claims. Clay Parker is one person who wants to know who is the greatest. As a fun exercise, he created a mock athletic competition to determine the 'greatest athlete', conducted in 2011. There was a similar format competition to determine the World's Greatest Athlete run by ESPN Sport Science in 2012.
Clay Parker selected 32 athletes from a variety of sports - American football, basketball, baseball, soccer, track & field, rugby, cricket, boxing, mixed martial arts, swimming, tennis, and many more. The competition format was to focus on two athletes at a time in a fictional head-to-head athletic competition over 15 events. There was a range of events, some taken from other greatest athlete competitions, such as for the Superstars and Rexona competitions. To determine each winner, he had a small panel of experts (of which I was one!) analyze the athletes' careers and accomplishments and judge who would win in each event - the winner of the most events would be declared the better athlete. Each winner went on to challenge other winners in a round-robin type contest until only one remained - the world's greatest athlete!
The greatest athletes are not just the fittest (we have a spearate list for the fittest athletes). To excel in this competition the judges needed to think that the athlete could adapt their skills and excel in a range of sports and activities, and win in a competitive situation.
The 15 events were selected to cover all the primary forms of athletic requirements - upper/lower body strength, balance, agility, throwing ability, hand/eye and foot/eye coordination, balance, stamina, foot speed and skill. They were also selected to represent a variety of sports and not show bias towards one country/region.
- American football combine (Vertical jump), Three-cone drill and bench press for reps contest, the athlete who wins 2 of the 3 events is winner)
- One-on-one tennis game to 6 points.
- 100 meter swimming event (using the stroke of choice)
- Cricket hitting competition (like the Rexona version points awarded for hit distance)
- Weight lifting/power-lifting contest combining clean & jerk and dead lift
- 10km (6.2 miles) cycling race on an open road – fastest time wins
- One-on-one basketball game to 21 points (game is officiated with fouls, free throws and 3 point baskets)
- Strongman/Athletics event (farmer's walk and shot put events with combined point totals)
- Baseball catch and throw – point scored on balls caught and accuracy/speed of throws to different targets.
- Athletics running competition (100m & 1500m run with point scoring using the decathlon tables)
- One-on-one rugby try (like Rexona version, each athlete takes 3 turns running & defending)
- Gym test - 1 minute tests for pushups, pull-ups, parallel bar dips and squat thrusts.
- One 5 minute round of mixed martial arts (MMA) under UFC rules.
- Soccer/football goalie kick competition (kicking 5 and defending 5)
- Obstacle Course (similar to Superstars version) with wall, hurdles, high jump, water jump, sand pit, tires, blocking sled and final sprint.
There were 32 challengers, who matched up one-on-one with another athlete. The winners continued in the competition, until only one remained. The semi finals were between Bryan Clay and Randy Moss, Trey Hardee and Michael Vick. The final, between the two decathletes Clay and Hardee was won by ?? (really, I don't know). It was won by a decathlete, which is really not a surprise.
All 32 Athletes
- Alexander Ovechkin (Russian professional ice hockey player)
- Albert Pujols (Dominican Baseball First Basemen)
- Anderson Silva (Brazilian MMA fighter/boxer)
- Billy Slater (Aussie rugby league player)
- Bode Miller (American Downhill Skier)
- Brock Lesnar (American professional wrestler)
- Bryan Clay (American Decathlete)
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugese footballer/soccer player)
- Dwight Howard (American basketball player)
- Fedor Emelianenko (Russian MMA, judo & sambo fighter)
- Floyd Mayweather (American professional boxer)
- Gary Ablett Jr (Australia Aussie rules midfielder/forward)
- Georges St Pierre (Mixed Martial Artist From Canada)
- Jeff Wilson (New Zealander, player rugby union and cricket)
- Julius Peppers (American football defensive end for the Chicago Bears)
- Lance Armstrong (American cyclist)
- Lebron James (American Basketball Player)
- Lionel Messi (Argentine Football/Soccer Player)
- Manny Pacquiao (Filipino professional boxer)
- Mariusz Pudzianowski (Polish strongman/MMA fighter)
- Michael Phelps (American Swimmer)
- Michael Vick (American football quarterback)
- Rafael Nadal (Spanish Tennis Player)
- Randy Moss (American football wide receiver)
- Roger Federer (Swiss tennis player)
- Shani Davis (American speed skater)
- Shaun White (American professional snowboarder and skateboarder)
- Tiger Woods (American golfer)
- Tony Azevedo (American water polo player)
- Trey Hardee (American Decathlete)
- Usain Bolt (Jamaican sprinter)
- Yang Wei (Chinese Gymnast)
- A similar competition run in 2012 by ESPN Sport Science.
- Other lists of the fittest athletes in the world
- Who really is the greatest athlete of all time?
- have your say of the greatest athlete
Commenting is not active on this page, though some may be added. You can read some of the interesting previous comments below.
- (from WorldWary 2014)
After a days searching leading me to American list after American list and all manner of crazy claims (though not all manner of sports) I believe you are the closest to nailing down the real question and giving it the semblance of a format.
I'd question some of the events though some of that is personal bias. I'm fairly sure a consultation process could fine tune this easily enough.
For one I'd like to see it extended to 20 events and I'd like some of those events to be multi-discipline, ie swim, cycle, run or a mini cross fit type challenge. I'd also like it to have more events so we can isolate and quantify some generic mainstream standards, ie Bench Press, Squat & other lifting, or standard fitness tests such as the Beep Test or last man standing shuttles. In addition it would be necessary to have events that benchmark the upper echelons of certain areas that humans achieve (strength, speed, endurance etc). I say this because whilst we are looking for the best 'All Round' athlete we are by the very nature of it defining the scope of that, so if we are not covering everything then we have to give some weighting to those who could only archive Superhuman results in one category by ignoring others...ie, a strongman just blowing the Bench Press competition away deserves a recognition of this, he's probably not gonna win the cycling or vertical jump but he may place ok in some other events, and if we are looking at an overall score then he deserves his prowess reflected...otherwise it's just who best approximates a crossfitter.
Apart from that I think you'd need to be a bit ruthless and define the scope of it better. Personally I'm looking for the Greatest 'Athlete' from amongst sportspeople of different sports...I'm NOT looking for the Greatest 'Sportsperson', that's a different discussion and I doubt criteria like these are suitable for it as both what constitutes a sport, it's importance/weighting and which sports are included would need to be assessed, as well as the fact that subjective judgements by necessity need to be made.
Here I believe we can purely test the physical and as such I'd nix both the 'Tennis' event (the hand/eye & organisation skills are tested elsewhere) and Tennis Players. They simply aren't going to be competitive here. They certainly aren't topping any event without a Racquet. I admire their skill, I realise it's a major sport (more so than many others on the list), and I'm sure they are very fit, but just like Jockeys and Formula 1 drivers they're just not going to be in the upper benchmarks of these multi-disciplines, and except for curiosity about their placing I'm not interested in 'Middle Rankers'. Therefore there is no reason to include them for any other reason than to scientifically 'rule them out'.
As to the structure I fail to see what's achieved by a one on one knock out. Each athlete needs to be able to compete INDIVIDUALLY at EACH event and a score for ranking needs to be given. Granted there are a few disciplines where they'd need to compete with or against each other but this should be kept to a minimum, or an outside 'dummy player' (ex pro?) should be brought in.
The only other point is to the selection of the Athletes. For one I don't see the need for more than one player representing a particular sport where their roles don't vastly differ, ie why 2 Soccer & Basketball Players? I'd be more inclined to allow multiple players from one sport if the physical profile and roles vastly differed within the sport, ie Lock/Prop & Winger/Back in Rugby, or WR & DT in the NFL. There simply has to be a better 'Athlete Selection Process'.
I'm not sure how you do this but I can also see some glaring deficiency's in the selection of some up there that don't allow that sport to be represented fairly (and let's face it, a whole huge part of it for us as a spectator is that 'our' Sport kicks ass). For instance how did Jeff Wilson (Rugby Union) and Billy Slater (Rugby League) manage to be there? They simply aren't even close to the best Athletic specimens their sport could offer for a competition like this! Esp when Basketball gets LeBron, Swimming gets Phelps and Football gets Vick & Moss. There has to be parity!
Like I say I'm not sure how you do this, obviously public voting is an absolute waste of time (and more so for sports they don't know). Perhaps the best way would be for the criteria to be defined and then for the players of each particular sport vote on who they best think would represent them from amongst their peers?