Who is Australia’s greatest athlete? This is a point of discussion that many Aussies have had over a few beers in the past. Who hasn’t argued across the bar about whether league players are fitter than AFL players, or whether ironmen are fitter than swimmers. Or whether V8 supercar drivers are even fit at all.
Billy Slater from the Melbourne Storm rugby league club has dominated the past two seasons of Rexona’s greatest athlete. His versatility proved superior against the other athletes, some of whom amazed me how they actually make a living out of sport.
However, that’s what makes this competition so intriguing: bringing athletes out of their comfort zone and exposing them against athletes that excel at a particular task.
Slater is not competing in this year’s event, and the spot for rugby league player has gone to Newcastle Knight, Kurt Gidley.
Gidley, a 90kg fullback for the Newcastle Knights, is well know for his cardiovascular fitness, often outrunning the beep test in Knights pre-season training.
However, with the absence of Slater the favourite is world ironman champion, Shannon Eckstein.
Eckstein’s ability to excel in the water-based events gives him an immediate advantage over the rest of the competitors. However, I see Eckstein remaining the bridesmaid for at least another year.
Current Olympic K1000 Kayak champion, Ken Wallace, comes into the competition as an underdog and unknown to the majority of the sporting public.
Kayaking not being a mainstream sport in Australia, Wallace carries virtual anonymity when outside the kayak sphere. Most footy fans would stroll past Wallace on the street and not even think twice about his ability as an athlete.
The truth is, Wallace has a number of strings to his bow.
Growing up on the Gold Coast, Wallace – like Eckstein – excelled in Ironman racing. In fact, they competed against each other for many years before Wallace’s ability as a ski paddler was harnessed in the realm of kayaking.
Like many of our former Ironman champions such as Grant Kenny, Clint Robinson and Trevor Hendy, Wallace followed the Olympic dream. Kayaking is a sport that not only displays upper body fitness, but power, speed and endurance in a dynamic fashion.
Kayakers spend hours in the weight room and a considerable time on the running track, not to mention the hours in the canal building their engines.
Funnily enough, this is not what makes Wallace so unique as an athlete.
Unlike the majority of competitors, Ken Wallace’s favourite hobby outside of kayaking is riding his jet ski, which features as one of the events in this season’s show.
His ability in the jet ski event (one which is targeted towards the motor sport competitor, Mark Winterbottom) will surprise people, and I suspect it will be the difference in being crowned as Australia’s greatest athlete.
In my opinion the top three will be Wallace, Eckstein and Gidley. The rest of the competitors will display ability in their chosen event, but lack the versatility to adapt to the other events.