The Greatest Sportsperson in History

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A New Contender?

Usain Bolt encountered a new experience in Beijing, something alien in his explosive yet relatively short career to date. For perhaps the first time, Bolt was not the odds-on favourite – his recent sub-par performances (by his own metronomic standards) casting him in the unfamiliar role of underdog to the controversial yet not insignificant talents of Justin Gatlin for the title of fastest man on earth. In claiming the narrowest of victories in that enthralling showpiece final, Bolt cemented his legend by claiming his ninth World Championship gold medal, a number that subsequently rose to eleven after victories in the 200m and 4x100m relay finals. Add to that haul six Olympic gold medals, and by running 9.58 seconds in Berlin in 2009, the 100m world record, Bolt can clearly be regarded as one of, if not the finest athlete to grace the sporting stage. Here we review some of the contenders for that particular mantel.

Muhammad Ali / Cassius Clay

Iconic American magazine Sports Illustrated honoured the boxer as Sportsman of the Century in their millennium edition, and if the award was based on contributions outside the sporting arena, it would be hard to argue that there is a more influential figure or indeed a figure who transcended his age more than The Louisville Lip. Yet an Olympic gold medal and the record of being the only three time lineal World Champion, not to mention his role as main protagonist in some of the most iconic fights in boxing history, place Ali firmly in the echelons of greatness. An undisputed World Champion and undisputed member of any list naming sporting greats.

Michael Jordan

A list of MJ’s records would cause envious glances from any other athlete, let alone basketball player, but 6 x NBA championships and 6 x NBA Finals MVPs just about sums up the career of the doyen of the court. Jordan became a true global icon and marketing sensation during his 19-year pro career, and don’t forget those two Olympic gold medals too!


1281 career goals and the only footballer to win three World Cup winner’s medals. All-time top scorer for the Selecao, listed in the Guinness World Records for most career goals scored and a hero in his native Brazil for his championing of the rights of the poor. A true footballing and sporting legend.

Missing Anybody?

A list such as this, encompassing different eras and sports, will only ever be subjective, and there are many who would argue the merits of such greats as Tiger Woods, Diego Maradona, Ayrton Senna, Roger Federer, AP McCoy, Don Bradman, Martina Navratilova, Carl Lewis, Babe Ruth, Joe Montana et al. Send your thoughts to the Blog page.