I have made a few posts in the past giving expert opinions on who were the greatest in a particular sport. Now I’m going to start giving some of my own verdicts on the all-time greats of sport. I’ll try to mix up the sports a bit for variety’s sake but I’d like to get round to as many as possible.
I’m starting with the sport that I know most about, athletics, and the classic sprint the 100m. The 100m is arguably the most competitive individual event in any sport. More people can run 100m than can do any other sporting event. It has more entries than any other track and field event in the Olympics and from more countries than any event across the whole Olympics. This makes it extremely hard to dominate for a long time. In fact, no man won more than one Olympic 100m title until 1988 (ignoring the 1906 intercalated Games).
People have different criteria which they give more prominence to when deciding these things. I tend to go for sustained periods of dominance rather than short-lived brilliance. In 1987 the IAAF chose their greatest athletes in each event and for the 100m picked Jesse Owens. I haven’t even picked Owens in my Top 10. He had one great year, 1936, but that was the only year in which he was the best in the world at 100m. Many of my choices rely on the annual Merit Rankings which Track and Field News, the respected American magazine has published since 1947. These take into account the performances across the season to give an assessment of the best athletes in each event. Prior to that I have looked at performances in championships, best times and head-to-head clashes to make my own judgement.
Here then are my Top Ten with explanations for my choices.
10) Arthur Duffey (USA) – The dominant sprinter in the world at the start of the 20th century. He equalled the world 100 yards record of 9.8 seconds several times before in 1902 running 9.6, a time that wasn’t beaten for 28 years. He was the USA champion in 1899 and the won races against the best in the USA and Europe in the new century. He was favourite for the 1900 Olympics but was injured when leading in the final and finished 4th. In 1905 he admitted to have taken money from sponsors and his records were expunged by the American authorities but 100 years later was admitted to the USA Hall of Fame.
9) Harold “Hal” Davis (USA) won the AAU (American) 100m title in 1940, 1942 and 1943. His only loss in a major 100m race was when coming 2nd in 1941. He was denied the chance of Olympic glory because of World War Two. He set two World Records, one at 100m with 10.2 in 1941 and one at 100y with 9.4 in 1942.
8) Valeriy Borzov (USSR) – won the 1972 Olympic title and was European champion three times. He also won two Europa Cups and was ranked in the top 5 in the world for seven seasons.
7) Linford Christie (GB) – won the 1992 Olympic gold and the 1993 world title which made him the first man in history to hold the Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles in the 100m. He won the Commonwealth and European titles in 1986, 1990 and 1994.
6) Charley Paddock (US) – the first man to be called “the fastest man alive”. He won the 1919 Inter-Allied Games, the first major sports event after the first world war. He went on to win the Olympic Games 100m and 4x100m in 1920 and remained at or near the top of the world for the first half of the 1920s. In 1921 he took 0.2 seconds off the world 100m record in a time that was unmatched for eight years.
5) Bobby Morrow (US) – the greatest sprinter of the 1950s. He was ranked world number 1 three times by Track and Field News. He won gold medals at the 1956 Olympics at 100m,200m and in the 4x100m relay. He was American champion three times in an era when the USA dominated sprinting and equalled the world record three times.
4) Bob Hayes (US) – the greatest 100m runner of the 1960s and one of the most dominant of all time. He was three times ranked number 1 in the world culminating in 1964 when he won the Olympic title. His run in Tokyo was one of the greatest in history as he equalled the hand timed world record but took an enormous 0.19 of a second from the previous automatically timed world record. This was despite running from lane 1 which was in a bad state from use in other events. He ran a brilliant leg in the relay to win gold in that. He retired in order to play American Football and is the only man to win an Olympic gold medal and the Superbowl.
3) Maurice Greene (US) – the dominant sprinter at the turn of the 21st century. He won the world 100m title three times in 1997,19999 and 2001. He also won the Olympic title in 2000. He took 0.05 seconds from the world record in 1999 and ran under 10 seconds for the distance 53 times, a record at the time. He also won golds in 200m and in the relay at the 1999 world championships, the first man to do so. His four years at the top of the world merit rankings are the second highest total at the 100m.
2) Usain Bolt (Jamaica) – the fastest man in history. Won the 2008 Olympic title in world record time having broken the record earlier in the season. The next year at the world championships he again broke the world record in winning the title and took 0.11 seconds, a huge margin, from the record. He was disqualified for a false start when favourite for the 2011 world championship final but returned to winning ways at the 2012 Olympics to become only the second man to retain the title. He added gold medals in the 200m and 4x100m at both Olympics and the 2009 world championships.
1) Carl Lewis (US) – the first man ever to win the Olympic 100m title twice (in 1984 and 1988). He also won the world title three times (in 1983,1987 and 1991) and set two world records (in 1988 and 1991). He remained at the very top of world sprinting for over a decade. The first of his record six appearances at number one in the rankings was in 1981 and his last in 1991. He was the best in the world every year from 1981 to 1985 and following the disqualification of Ben Johnson regained his number one ranking. At the 1984 Olympics he won four gold medals and in all won 9 golds at four Olympics.