Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Who is the greatest Olympian ever?

Steve Redgrave
Bradley Wiggins, he of the sideburns and breathtaking pedal power, is the man of the moment on the back of yesterday's Olympic glory which quickly followed his Tour de France success.
But, and I've agonised as long as it took him to win that Time-Trial, much as I like and admire the guy, in my view he's still not the best British Olympian of all time despite now having more Olympic medals (seven) than anyone else in the UK (Chris Hoy could tie him in the coming days) so how could I place Wiggo in the best Olympian of all time top five list?
To me the man who remains Britain's greatest because he won FIVE gold medals (Bradley has four) from 1984 to 2000 is that fella who sits beside the BBC's coolest presenter John Inverdale commentating on the rowing.
Sir Steve Redgrave, who also earned a bronze, stand up and take a bow. Agreed he was helped considerably by Matthew Pinsent and others, but Redgrave stuck around for 16 years in one of the toughest sports of all and won every time he entered the Games.
If Wiggins goes on to Rio 2016, he may overtake the 50-year-old Redgrave, but he hasn't done enough just yet.
Sir Steve is rightly revered in Olympic circles and is a true Lord of the Rings.
Carl Lewis
London 2012 might beat it but to date my favourite Olympic Games has to be Los Angeles 1984. I loved watching Seb Coe, Daley Thompson and Tessa Sanderson win gold.
But most of all I marvelled at Carl Lewis winning gold, gold, gold and gold.
He did it in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay all in that red American vest.
It was awesome to watch with those long legs, once they got going, moving quicker than a cheetah. Well, it seemed that way anyway.
Lewis equalled the feats of Jesse Owens all those years ago, and then in a stunning Olympic career that spanned 12 years he went on to collect another five golds (100m, three in the long jump and 4x100 relay) as well as a silver for the 200m.
One of those golds you may recall came after Lewis, now 51, finished second to a certain Ben Johnson in 1988. Johnson was disqualified for taking drugs and Lewis got a first class upgrade.
There have also been suspicions about Lewis down the years, but nothing has ever been proved, so for those nine golds and that remarkable performance in 1984 he's a contender.
Mind you, if he was chocolate he would eat himself, and if Usain Bolt delivers in London, Carl might struggle to keep his place.
Michael Phelps
Swimming god Michael Phelps has now won more Olympic medals than anyone else in history so obviously he has to be a major contender to be named GOAT (Greatest Olympian of All Time).
The Baltimore Bullet has 19 in total - 15 gold, two silver and two bronze. It's worth noting though that eight of those medals have come in relays, so he has enjoyed some help along the way.
Still, not bad for a kid diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at a young age.
He began swimming at seven and has been winning ever since.
In Athens 2004 as a teenager he made the world sit up and take notice by claiming six golds before going two better in Beijing four years ago.
At 27 his powers may not be what they were but even here in London he has shown he can still be the man for the big occasion.
Such was the roar in the Aquatics Centre when he touched the wall first after the final leg of the 4x200m freestyle relay, you would have thought he was British.
Respected throughout the world some might say he lacks the charisma of other great Olympic heroes, but his astonishing record is unlikely to be beaten for some time - unless by a Chinese swimmer of course.
Nadia Comaneci
Every sportsperson I know strives for perfection. Some get close, but few ever know what it feels like to achieve it.
Torville and Dean have done it. No, not on that desperate show Dancing on Ice, but in the Winter Olympics, and then there is the one, the only Nadia Comaneci.
The Romanian gymnast is a true Olympic icon for what she did in Montreal in 1976 when she created history and essentially changed how scoreboards operated in her sport.
Comaneci was 14 at the time and performing on the uneven bars. It was the greatest display of grace and ability the world had ever seen in the greatest show on earth.
So great, in fact, that for the first time ever at the Games the judges awarded a routine 10 out of 10. The twist, though not as good as Nadia's on the bars, was that when the mark came up on the scoreboard it read 1.00 instead of 10.00 leading to much bemusement in the crowd.
The reason was that the scoreboard wasn't capable of showing four digits with experts feeling they would never have the need.
Nadia, now 50, changed all that, when winning that gold medal.
Oh, and for the record she won four more Olympic golds, three silvers and one bronze.
She was and remains the original perfect 10.
Jesse Owens
Winning four gold medals in track and field in one Olympics is a monumental achievement.
But to do it the way Jesse Owens did defies belief.
Owens was the man who didn't just take on other athletes, he took on an evil regime and for a few amazing days in Berlin in 1936 he won.
The Berlin Olympics wasn't so much a coming together of nations, more a chance for Adolf Hitler to show off his own, using the Games to outline to the world the strength of Nazi Germany.
The propaganda machine was in full swing.
Owens, though, stopped it again and again and again and again.
This black American, competing against a backdrop of supposed Aryan racial superiority, created history and infuriated Hitler by winning four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay.
The verdict
In London 2012 you hear a lot of athletes talking about being mentally tough under pressure.
They should have tried running and jumping in Jesse's skin in 1936.
While the Hitler story is the stuff of legend, what is perhaps less known is that this Olympic hero was often treated like dirt by statesmen in his own country due to his colour.
Owens died in 1980 at the age of 66.
He only competed in one Olympic Games but will never be forgotten.
Jesse Owens is my best Olympian ever.
Under the greatest pressure of all he stood up and showed what Olympic spirit is truly about. You really can’t ask for more than that.

It’s an argument you may never win.

Statistically, of course, it’s Michael Phelps, courtesy of his 19 medals — so far. But can you judge the swimmer’s claims on gongs alone?

Others may have won far fewer, but can still have worthy claims on what must be the ultimate sporting title.

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