Friday, August 22, 2008

The G.O.A.T.

Frank Deford on one of the silliest arguments to emerge from the Beijing Games:

First, how do you even begin to rate any team athlete against an individual sport athlete? What is the basis of comparison between a shortstop and a golfer? It's hard enough judging two shortstops. None of this nonsense takes place anywhere else.
I spent, probably, a good three or four hours arguing with friends over e-mail the other day whether or not Michael Phelps was the greatest Olympian of all time (I think not). To me, it's a question without an answer. What's more, does Phelps have to be the greatest? Isn't it enough to be on the short list?

But here's a few reasons why I won't entertain the suggestion:

1. ESPN's Tim Keown points out that the gold pile Phelps has amassed shouldn't be the deciding factor because "I'm thinking Carl Lewis would have won a few more gold medals if track and field included the sideways 100 and 200, the backward 100 and 200, and the 100 and 200 individual medley (forward, sideways, backward)."

2. It should be telling that before Phelps, the previous owner of the most Olympic gold medals was also a swimmer, Mark Spitz. It's a terrific accomplishment but I imagine that few people would have considered swimmers to be the two greatest athletes in the Games' history.

3. The Jim Thorpe Factor. In the Stockholm Games of 1912, Thorpe won gold medals in the decathlon, pentathlon, long jump and high jump. Of the 15 total events in the decathlon and pentathlon, Thorpe won eight of them. Not to mention, Thorpe went on to play professional football, baseball and basketball. I find it hard to believe that Phelps is that well-rounded out of the pool.

4. Usain Bolt. Three events, three gold medals, three world records. I might be biased as a track enthusiast but being the "World's Fastest Human" seems a bit more prominent than being the world's best swimmer. Every able-bodied human can run. Not everyone can swim, you know?


John P. Araujo said...

I have to agree with you that it's really pointless trying to compare who among athletes of different sports is the best. It's like comparing who's the best writer among a novelist, a short story author, someone who writes for comic books, and an opinion columnist. Each field has different demands and expectations, so it's not really helpful to try to cross-compare.

blackink said...

Absolutely. I mean, who was better - Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth or Barry Sanders or Carl Lewis? It's a pointless argument.

Wish I had seen that the other day before wasting so much time.