Arguing over who’s better than who in the wide world of sports has been going on for decades. It’s a difficult and often sticky situation because trying to compare athletes from different sports is like comparing apples and oranges. ESPN put together one of the most compelling arguments by assembling the SportsCentury: Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century, but that was just a bunch of people giving their opinions on the matter.
Why can’t there be a more scientific approach? Well, now there is; thanks to The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal sought to identify the world’s greatest athlete with an approach that, while not completely scientific, took a number of measures into account. A panel of five sports scientists and exercise physiologists was given a list drawn up by the Journal of 79 male athletes. Candidates had to be active in their sport and among the all-time best. (Women will be featured separately in a future article.)
The panel weighed individual performance stats, along with their subjective judgments about the relative difficulty of each sport, to give an overall grade to the athletes. (See “How We Did It” for details.) The judges graded athletes on speed, reflexes, stamina, coordination, as well as power, strength and size. The finalists, they said, exhibited a wide range of athletic skill in highly competitive environments.
There were some surprises. Tiger Woods, a dominant figure in professional sports, didn’t crack the Top 10. Panelists said they didn’t give golfers much weight when assessing overall athletic ability. Michael Phelps, one of the greatest U.S. swimmers of all time, also missed the top tier because, the judges said, swimmers generally don’t perform well out of the water. Such endurance athletes as marathoners and Tour de France cyclists also failed to impress. Too one-dimensional, the panel said.
Based on their findings, here are the Journal’s Top 10:
10. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
9. Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, FC Barcelons
8. Jeremy Wariner, 400-meter sprinter
7. Liu Xiang, 110-meter hurdler
6. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Roger Federer, tennis
4. LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
3. Floyd Mayweather, boxer
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
1. Roman Sebrie, decathlete
You probably haven’t ever heard of the guy, but it’s hard to argue against someone who can “jump over Shaquille O’Neal,” “throw a 16-pound ball the length of a 53-foot yacht” and “leap over a two-lane highway.” Oh, and he’s run a mile in 4:21.