So ESPN is currently conducting an online poll to see who the greatest athlete is of all time. And before I became a runner, I would have agreed with many of the selections that were on this list. How could you disagree with athletes like Jordan, Ali, Bo, Brown, Gretzky, and Robinson.
Growing up as a Bulls fan, I watched Jordan dominate the sport of basketball for almost the entirety of his career. He was not just a high flyer, he came to dominate on both ends of the floor in a way that few players have been able to do. But even more impressive about Jordan was the way that he always seemed to come up big in the biggest situations. Everybody knew that Jordan was going to get the ball and take the last shot and yet he still dominated the game and the sport.
And most of the athletes on the list dominated their sports in the same way. In fact, Bo Jackson dominated two sports professionally. What is even more impressive are the feats that some of these athletes accomplished while they were still in college. Jim Brown lettered three times in lacrosse while he attended Syracuse. Jackie Robinson lettered in multiple sports while he attended UCLA, though these achievements are often overlooked when we look back at the careers of these athletes.
However, more shocking to me is that there were no track and field athletes that made the list. No Jim Thorpe. No Jesse Owens. No Roger Bannister. No Edwin Moses. No Steve Prefontaine. No Ashton Eaton. Now I know that in today’s sports culture most casual fans would have no idea as to who some of these track and field stars are, but that would have been the beauty of educating some people. I know that they would not have won over more popular athletes, but we need to be educated as to some of the great feats that have been accomplished.
Jim Thorpe won the Olympic decathlon only to be stripped of his medal. Edwin Moses who won 122 consecutive races in the hurdles while winning two Olympic gold medals in the 400m hurdles. Jesse Owens turning Hitler’s regime over on its ear while winning Olympic gold in Germany did not make the list. None of these great athletes or other great track and field athletes made the final list of sixteen.
Now I know in my mind that there is truly no way to truly determine who the greatest athlete is or that there will be multiple opinions as to who the greatest is. But somehow, there are a few greats that have been eliminated from the conversation based on their sport.