Throughout the sporting calendar there are opportunities for the greatest athletes to show off a little and prove to the world why they're the best, whether that be in one of the four-yearly events like the Summer and Winter Olympics or Commonwealth games, or in annual championships like Wimbledon and the Grand National (see, it's not just humans who are recognised in the sporting world). It's always been that way, ever since some ancient Greeks (who may well have been merely middle-aged) decided to throw a bunch of slaves into an amphitheatre and told them to run. This then, is a call to commemorate those who have achieved so much in the world of sport.
Having already collated a great entry on great footballers, we felt it was time to open the park to sportsmen and women and animals of other fields. And here are the results of the h2g2 jury...
Wheels on Fire
Michael Schumacher - Racing Driver
Michael Schumacher is most definitely one of the greatest sportsmen of our time, having completely dominated his sport for the past few years to the point where many people have stopped watching Formula One because they knew before the event who would win. Not only is he the best driver in the sport at the moment, he has also managed to completely mould the team (Ferrari) around him so he can dictate who he is working with to give him the best chance of winning. We might not be able to accurately say who was the greatest F1 driver ever, because you can't compare drivers of different eras due to all the changes in the sport, but he has to be the best all-round man in Formula One at the moment, and probably across all motor sports.
Hmm, not really sure if you can even call him the greatest driver today. OK, he is definitely very good at his job, but how good would he be if put in an identical car to any of half-a-dozen other Formula One drivers? All last season actually proved was that he was better than Reubens Barricello (but not head and shoulders better). This year he's already made a few almost elementary mistakes - he hasn't exactly proven himself invincible in the championship.
Maybe one should say the Ferrari team as a whole is one of the world's best sporting teams?
For some, in the world of Motorcycle racing it's Carl Fogarty who should be hailed as a national treasure. He has more determination in his (many times broken) little finger than those earning £70,000 a week in the premiership. He has raced with broken bones, in many times against the odds, battled with the Isle of Man and won, managed to become a recognised short circuit racer even though he was a great IOM TT winner (something the equally talented Steve Hislop hasn't really managed even though he has multiple British titles). More than that he raced for the fans not for himself. Nobody else in British sport can have 120,000 people turning up just to see him as we did at Brands Hatch in the Foggy heyday. The man has caused water shortages in Kent!
Mike Hailwood racked up 14 wins on the Isle of Mann, a record that stood for many years. More remarkable was that he had a long break in the middle for his fairly successful car racing career. His two comeback years underlined the huge ability of the man.
His record was broken by the greatest road racer of all time, Joey Dunlop. Dunlop won 26 titles on the Isle of Man - a record - the last of which was won just three weeks before his untimely death while racing in Estonia.
Greg Lemond - Cyclist
In a list of great cyclists, names such as Merckx, Indurain, Hinualt, Delgado, Armstrong and Fignon would all undoubtedly figure. But here we look at just one other great - Greg Lemond - who revolutionised the sport of cycling, bringing in big wages and many technical innovations. He won his first tour battling against one of the all time greats, Hinault, in his own back yard. He was accidentally shot by his brother in law while hunting, had a lung collapse and had two years out recovering.
1989 marked his comeback year. No major team would risk him, so he was left with ADR, a team that to be fair were not top class. The Tour de France relies on teams, the top riders need team mates to help collect water, swap bikes in the event of a puncture, chase down breaks and to protect and pace him on the mountains. Lemond lost most of his team, and was not as good a climber as Delgardo (pre-race favourite and 1988 winner) or Fignon. Fignon had a better team and however much the French press hated him, he was a French rider in the French tour, so had much more help.
It was possibly the first and almost certainly last time that they had an individual time trial against the clock on the last day. Some people had feared it would make for a boring finish, however Fignon started the day 45 seconds ahead of Lemond in the race. The riders each started two minutes apart, so Fignon had to arrive no later than 165 seconds after Lemond has arrived. In his heyday, Fignon was one of the best time trialist in the world, however he refused to use the modern more aerodynamic bike, handlebars and headgear that Lemond used. In the end Fignon was just a few seconds short and Lemond became one of the least expected winners of the tour.
He won again the following year. However, he eventually succumbed to blood disorders caused by the amount of lead shot still in his body, and retired after just two more years.
Graeme Obree - Cyclist
To some extent, the achievements of Obree seem to have been completely forgotten about. He was certainly overshadowed by Chris Boardman (who, it should be noted, had lots of sponsorship money and knew the right people). Yet Obree got the cycling hour record1 in 1993 and 1994. He's also renowned for making his own bike:
The steel X-frame had been built by himself, the cranks contained a piece of metal found roadside, for the custom half-width bottom bracket he used parts of a washing machine, the handlebar was from a BMX bike. His unique, compact riding position allowed him to rest his torso on his tucked forearms. In this way, folding his arms under his chest, he eliminated them from the aerodynamic equation. Because of the narrow bottom bracket (68mm), he rode almost knock-kneed which reduced the drag also.
A quote that first appeared here.
More than just a cyclist, he's a designer, engineer, mechanic, and, like all of our great sporting heroes, his achievements deserve not to be forgotten.
Stars of Cricket
It's a day so many cricket fans will never forget. Ian Botham came to Leeds for the Third Test having just lost the captaincy, with England one down. He came to the wicket in the second innings with England following on, still a hundred adrift, half the side back in the pavilion. He responded with 145 not out. The pulls off Lillee remain the most exhilarating batting butchery many have ever seen.
Let's not forget Bob Willis though, on that final day when the supposedly unflappable Australians lost their nerve. Charles and Diana were the sideshow that summer. It was this match that truly stopped the country. And then on to Birmingham. Facing apparently certain defeat once again, he took 5 for 1 with the ball. By Manchester, Australia were in shreds. Another marvellous and brutal century.
There is a generation who've never seen Australia humiliated. We have to get back there. Those of us who can, remember Kim Hughes in tears. Remember the world's most feared pace attack reduced to hapless apoplexy by the antics of Randall, Gower and in particular this demi-God of English cricket. Remember Botham.
We're also asked to remember Sir Donald Bradman's last innings at the Oval in 1948:
For those who don't know, Australia's most prolific batsman ever! Out for a duck! Everyone (including the English!) stunned and he only needed another four runs for a career batting average of over 100. I don't think anyone would have denied him that!!
Meanwhile, here's a rather salacious description of the achievements of our next contender:
If scoring a hat-trick in test cricket is like having sex with all of Bananarama at once, then knocking over a whole team is like Bo Derrick - a perfect 10. And it's only been done twice out of around 1700 test matches played to date.
Yorkshireman Jim Laker (1922-1986) did it first in July 1956, somewhat satisfyingly for followers of English cricket, against the Australians. His return of ten for 53 in the second innings at Old Trafford remains the best test bowling analysis of all time. In fact Laker took 19 wickets in the test, his opportunity for a complete clean sweep of the Aussies having been scuppered early in the first innings by his Surrey spin-twin Tony Lock. Interestingly, Laker had previously in the same year performed his ten-wicket feat, also against the touring Australians, while playing for Surrey at the Oval.
Laker's effort was matched at Delhi's Feroz Shaw Kotla Stadium on 8 February, 1999, by Indian Anil Kumble, against old enemy Pakistan. Kumble's analysis of ten for 74 masks the fact that he took all ten Pakistani wickets in one 21.3 over spell, conceding only 49 runs in the process.
The New York Yankees are one of the most successful baseball teams in the history of the world. They play at Yankee Stadium, often against the other New York team, The Mets. Lou Gehrig was best known for his farewell to baseball speech at a Yankee game on 4 July, 1939. He had to leave due to his development of a rare disease that was later named after him. Aside from that, Lou Gehrig's achievements on the field were worthy of our recognition. He still holds the second place record for consecutive games played, at 2130, while his lifetime batting average was .340, 15th all-time highest. Gehrig held a lot of records during his time, including highest RBI rating and most bases in a season. Though many of these records have subsequently been broken, he is still recognised as an all-around great player.
Cal Ripken, who played for the Baltimore Orioles, holds the impressive number of most games consecutively played. He broke Lou Gehrig's record on 6 September, 1995. The record stands at 2632 games played. When he broke this record it was voted to be the greatest moment in Baseball history (according to Mastercard's '10 Greatest Moments in Baseball History'.)
Babe Ruth was another all-around great. Traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees in 1920, he achieved many 'firsts', such as hitting a home run out of Yankee Stadium. Only recently have his records for home runs and batting averages been broken, by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.
Bob Euchre was a major league baseball player (and later announcer) who sometimes wore a cap that read '0 for June and July'. He said the high point of his career was getting an intentional walk from Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. Euchre recently was inducted into the Hall of Fame... as an announcer.
Heather Pamela McKay - Squash Player
Heather Pamela McKay (nee Blundell), MBE AM, is possibly the most peerless sportsperson of all. Consider, she won the British open, squash's supreme event, consecutively from 1962 to 1977, a staggering 16 years unbeaten. She dominated the physically gruelling women's squash circuit, losing only two matches in her entire career, one which spanned almost two decades. She was also successful at racquetball in the USA and Canada after her retirement from squash, winning USA and Canadian national titles. She won her first Australian squash title (and the ensuing 13 after this) just a year after her first game!
Born in Queanbeyan, Australia (right beside the national capital, Canberra2), one of 13 sports-minded children, she played tennis and hockey before playing squash 'to improve her fitness'. She won amateur titles for a 13 years from 1960, dominating in Australia and across the globe.
She was awarded an MBE and an AM for her services to the sport and returned to squash to impart her undoubted prowess as a coach at Australia's Institute of Sport after her return from the US. And she is a down to earth, unassuming wonder and an Australian national treasure. Two decades plus of domination of such a physical sport as squash surely places her among the very few at the pinnacle of all sportspersons and she gets my vote...
Martina Navratilova - Tennis Star
Statuesque Czech-born Martina completed an impressive cycle in January 2003, when aged 46 she won the Australian Open Tennis Mixed-Doubles crown, beating Todd Woodbridge and Eleni Daniilidou 6-4, 7-5 with partner India's Leander Paes. It had been the one Grand Slam title to elude her. As a result, she now holds at least one title each in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at all four major tournaments.
Jack Nicklaus - Golfer
1986, The Masters, Augusta, Georgia. Jack Nicklaus, as a five-time winner in the 1960s and 1970s was guaranteed to be invited back for life, but in 1986 was thought to be finally past his best. At the age of 46, his drives were falling short, and his iron nerve around the greens was become increasingly rusty, forcing him to give way to the 1980s breed of longer-hitting stronger golfers.
A first-round 74 looked ominous. Most thought that Nicklaus would miss the cut and go home a defeated man. A better round of 71 on a wind-hit Friday meant he slipped inside the cut margin by a stroke. A round of 69 on the third day left him some five strokes back from the leaders, Greg Norman and Nick Price; the latter shot a course-record 63 in the still Saturday conditions.
Huge crowds gathered to cheer on Nicklaus on his final day. At best, they hoped to see him post a good respectable score of 67 and leave with a top-ten placing. Instead, they were treated to one of the most phenomenal rounds in golfing history. Nicklaus reached the turn in 35, one under par, and promptly set about demolishing Amen Corner and one of the toughest back nine holes in golf, cheered all the way by an increasingly frenzied crowd, for a 65 total, seven under par, and victory by one stroked over Norman and Tom Kite. It was his sixth Masters victory, a record that may never be equalled.
Nicklaus continued to believe he could play with the best at Augusta, and this was borne out as late as 1998. A memorial plaque to Nicklaus' achievements was placed between the 16th and 17th holes this day, at Nicklaus celebrated the achievement by, at the age of 58, finishing in the top six with a 68 on the final day.
Just a few achievements as recommended by our panel:
Steve Davis hit the first televised 147 at the Lada Classic in January 1982.
In 1997, Ronnie O'Sullivan cleared the table in a whirlwind 5 minutes 20 seconds for the fastest 147 break in snooker history.
Stephen Hendry - seven-times World Champion, including a five-year run from 1992-96.
Michael Jordan - Basketball Player and Advertiser's Dream
Perhaps the greatest moment in basketball is when Michael Jordan won the last championship for the Chicago Bulls against the Utah Jazz with one shot, leaving his arm up in a follow through. Perhaps it was when he unretired twice. Perhaps it was when he stopped playing baseball. All in all, he might have been the best basketball player in the world, and the best known athlete in the USA. He won six championships with the Chicago Bulls and has since come back to play for the Washington Wizards.
Bobby Orr - Hockey Player
Bobby Orr is, according to one Reseracher, the greatest player in NHL3 history. Not only did he captain the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cups, he won the Art Ross trophy as the leagues leading scorer, even though he played defence. The man scored 50 goals and 100 points a season, while never setting foot in the forward lines. Talk about Gretzky all you want, but Orr scored goals in bunches while protecting his own goal as well.
Olympians and Other Athletes
Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards - Ski Jumper
No question about Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards' qualifications - from plasterer to Britain's first (and only) Olympic ski jumper. True, he was comically inept and didn't come close to winning any medals. True, he did finish last (by a long way) in both the 70- and 90-metre jumps in the 1988 Calgary Games. But it was the very fact that he had a complete lack of skill in his chosen sport that led to him becoming easily the most popular British athlete of his time.
After Calgary, the International Olympic Committee subsequently instituted what is known as the 'Eddie the Eagle Rule', which requires Olympic hopefuls to finish in the top half of an international competition. This effectively eliminated our hero from future Games and denied him the opportunity to compete for top-class medals - although some would say that his lack of talent had already denied him that opportunity anyway.
I can't fault his courage: jumping off the side of a mountain without a parachute goes against every instinct of self-preservation there is. It's just a pity he was never any good at it.
It is odd though, that the Summer Olympic organisers seem to be taking the opposite approach to their Winter counterparts. In the Summer Games, places in certain events are reserved for representatives of smaller countries without regard for qualifying times, to uphold the ideal that 'It's not the winning, but the taking part', the very ethic that had allowed Eddie to be involved in the first place.
Steve Redgrave - Rower
Five consecutive Olympic Gold Medals in rowing - one of the most physically intense sports there is.
It defies belief that a man could win gold medals at five consecutive Olympics in a discipline which is so specifically focussed on power delivery and aerobic fitness. People have won widely spaced medals before, but only in events like equestrianism, sailing and shooting. To be able to produce a world-best performance consistently over a period of 16 years is incredible. That the person doing so is diabetic just compounds the 'you're kidding' factor. Certainly it's an inspiration to anyone who's informed they have the illness to realise that your life doesn't come to an end just because of diabetes.
Additionally, though he's slightly overshadowed by Redgrave, the feats of his rowing partner Matthew Pinsent must recognised, with currently three Olympic golds to his name - and he's still going!
Mark Spitz - Swimmer
US swimmer Mark Spitz's seven golds at the Olympics in Munich must take some beating for greatest sporting achievement. Across a wide range of events (100m freestyle and 200m butterfly, for example) he won every final he got to and broke every world record along the way. All this after a disappointing Olympics in 1968 too!
Paula Radcliffe - Runner
She's just had a brilliant run (excuse the unintentional pun) at the London Marathon, smashing her own record and is bound for even greater things, as she is improving all the time, it seems.
I think Paula Radcliffe is the most inspiring sports person I have ever come across. In recent years she's just exploded into brilliance with her European record breaking 10km run and then her two World record Marathon runs. I can see her doing even better and she's certainly Britain's best long-distance runner in history.
Jesse Owens - Athlete
The afternoon in 1935 when Jesse Owens broke six world records in a space of 45 minutes must rate highly in any list of sporting magnificence. For an athlete to break one in a career is a fantastic achievement, but to be able to break that many in under an hour is beyond belief - especially when we remember that his long jump world record of that day stood for 25 years...
Owens' achievements are made greater by the context in which he broke them. The 1936 Olympics were held in Germany, and were intended by the hosts to serve as a major work of propaganda for the Nazi party. For a black man to win so much was a great social achievement, in both America (whose history was not exactly unblemished by racism), and Germany, which was dominated at the time by the ideas of Nazism and the Aryan master race.
Jonathan Edwards - Triple Jumper
Jonathan Edwards' 1995 world-record triple jump of 18m 29cm has to be one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time. At the beginning of his career he also stood up by refusing to compete on Sundays as it conflicted with his Christian beliefs, but he was in the end persuaded to. He has remained the world's best triple jumper for the past ten years and has also succeeded in graduating with a physics degree from Durham University.
Gothenburg 1995... I remember it well! A virtual unknown then too who shot onto the world stage. Now, if I'm not mistaken, he is the reigning European, World and Olympic champion! Amazing what you can do with a little bit of faith!
And now a section that would be unfair to dismiss merely as containing 'the rest'. Here are just a few greats from further afield. Our first nomination is fairly unique - in this list at least - as he has the slight advantage of an additional pair of legs...
Red Rum - Racing Legend
Why is Red Rum so special? Because he not only won the Grand National three times, but for five years he was either first or second. The National, it should be noted, was a much stiffer test of stamina and jumping ability in the 1970s.
He won back-to-back Nationals in 1973 and 1974, but in 1975 he was beaten into second place by the Gold Cup winner L'Escargot. In 1976 he was second again to Rag Trade. By 1977 he was 12 years old and his trainer, Ginger McCain realised that this was one last chance to do the triple. But what a horse! It didn't matter who you backed that year, everyone wanted only one winner and there wasn't any one on the course at Aintree who wasn't cheering themselves hoarse as they watched Rummy come home. He might have won the following year too but he always had had dodgy legs and he was retired because of an injury in 1978.
Rummy was also the only equine winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Many people would dispute whether a horse should be classed as a personality, but Rummy was a legend. There are very few people who don't know who he was and what he achieved. His retirement was spent opening betting shops and making personal appearances. I saw him once at a local point to point. He was surrounded by huge crowds, kids crawling all over him, but he never batted an eyelid. He loved the attention and he knew he was a star.
John Lowe scored the first nine-dart finish in a competitive match, while Eric Bristow - aside from being one of the greatest darts players of all time, has managed to be a famous Cockney despite hailing from Stoke-On-Trent. But one of the best-loved of all darts players has to be Jocky Wilson. Jocky won the World Championships, but his greatest achievements are still being able to stand up, let alone hit the dart board with the amount he drinks before a match and also having a picture of him as the background to Dexy's Midnight Runners on Top of the Pops after one of the programme's researchers misheard the song title 'Jackie Wilson Says'.
Strangest Win by a Country in a Water-based Sport
If you'll accept yacht racing as a sport (I do), I think it would be the America's Cup4 which the USA held for over a century. And now its owned by ... land-locked Switzerland.
Terje Haakonsen - Snowboarder
Quite simply the best snowboarder in the world. Tournaments in snowboarding break down into two types - the ones where he wins, and the ones where he doesn't turn up. It's pretty much that simple. He takes complex technical tricks that other people struggle to land, and makes it look like there was nothing else he could have done. Where a professional, technical rider will drive hard and leap four or five metres out of a quarter pipe and aggressively grab the board and stomp a landing, Haakonsen seems to glide in, float an easy seven metres up, casually reach down and stroke his board and return to earth like a dandelion seed.
Robby Naish - Windsurfer
Winner of the World Professional Windsurfing Championships - at the age of 12, Naish continued winning, every year, for the next ten years, during a time of huge change in the design and capabilities of the equipment - the sport changed almost beyond recognition while he remained the best in the world. He remains one of the best dozen or so sailors in the world in all disciplines - course racing, slalom, but especially wave sailing. If you've seen a magazine photograph of a windsurfer, chances are it's Robby Naish. He's usually easily recognised by his pink sail with the number US1111 on it.
And Finally... The Great Ali
Certainly the BBC think so as he was Sports Personality of the Century!
That cool suave self-confidence dancing around the boxing ring coming up with the right penetrative punch and the right time. A charisma and flamboyance virtually unique to his sport, and a great symbol against racism in sport too; such is the respect and adoration of the man that he was recently given another honorary Olympic Gold Medal to replace one that he threw into a lake as a protest against his nation.
Of course, there is the school of thought that suggests politics and sport should not be mixed. But, to be fair, some sporting platforms offer the audience to make particular movements heard.
What is the greatest achievement in sport of all time? Well the debate rages on. Many of the contributions to this entry continue to provoke debate below, so feel free to nominate your own favourites by posting to the Conversations or creating your own.