Kelly Slater is the greatest sportsperson of all time
Many sports fans who frequent bars will remember the familiar argument about which player was the best ever in your chosen sport. But what about the best athlete ever, in any sport?
I have compiled a list of who I think are the best athletes to ever grace a sporting field/court/ring.
My first recollection of a fight was in the late 70s when big time boxing was a staple on the Sunday afternoon television. Muhammad Ali was winding up his career, however still could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
His greatest triumphs were well before my time when he overcome the world’s biggest villain in Sonny Liston and then of course the Rumble in Jungle and the Thriller in Manilla. Ali’s footwork was to behold and drew inspiration from Sugar Ray Robinson. His hand speed, power and evasiveness were unparalleled.
One of the most exciting eras of boxing was seeing Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvellous Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hit Man Hearns, and Roberto Duran taking turns in going at each other hammer and tongs.
Make no mistake about it, while a genuine nice guy out of ring, Sugar Ray was as vicious with his hands as he was silky with his moves.
Hagler was a pure pugilist of the highest calibre. Hearns, who later fought in multiple divisions, looked as bad as they come and Roberto Duran was merciless with his hands of stone.
My Dad would also tell me of Jake La Motta who just kept on coming forward and I have seen grainy footage of him doing just this. Lionel Rose conquered the world, leading a path for Jeff Fenech to follow. Kostya Tszyu was at one time the greatest, pound for pound.
Boxing has never recovered since Iron Mike Tyson’s reign as the baddest man on the planet. He was so ferocious and looked like he would never be stopped.
My best: Muhammad Ali, he was the greatest.
First and foremost, no cricket list has any authority without reverence to the Don. I can’t compose anything that has not been written before. Simply, the Don is in another stratosphere.
When it comes to cricket, I am unashamedly patriotic.
Steve Waugh epitomises Australian cricket. Let’s face it, we are the greatest ever cricket nation in the universe and that’s because we play to win and never take a backward step. Yes his breakthrough series may have been against the Poms when he scored century after century, but let’s face it, the Poms weren’t much chop back then.
In my mind, his zenith was the Caribbean tour when he was tougher than a $2 steak. He stared down Curtly Ambrose, who was at his throat demanding he “turn around and bowl”.
It was a 200 that inspired a shirtless (and likely rum fuelled) Greg Ritchie to leave his supporters group on the hill and run onto the ground to shake his hand. Waugh was mentally tough and had such great cognitive powers he could disintegrate his opposition.
He may not have been the flashiest and will never win the best ever athlete, but he is a personal favourite.
Putting aside Australians for the moment, Viv Richards was the player I would love to see the Aussies get rid of. From the comfort of my lounge, I would muster up a monumental send off in pointing to the sheds whenever DK or his mates would get one past Viv’s bat.
Viv was a colossus, the king of cool with a swagger that had not been seen before and has not been seen since. A panther in the field contributing to 1975 World Cup glory with his tracer like arm throwing down the stumps.
Of note, I loved it when Steve Waugh had the intestinal fortitude to bounce Viv at the Gabba.
My best: Well I can’t go past the Sheik of Tweak, the Sultan of Spin, Shane Keith Warne. What a competitor, never say die. Just wish he’d start eating pizza and baked beans again as he appears to be going soft since hooking up with Liz.
Less spray tans too please Shane.
In an era of toughness one player stood out for me – Les Boyd. He destroyed the Pommies on Kangaroo tours; he was incredibly quick off the mark and had amazing ball skills. Locally, he would be targeted by the opposition packs but never took a backward step.
Ironically, despite his toughness, Boyd may be remembered for two cheap shots when elbowing an unprotected jaw and attempting to remove the eyes of his opponent.
Nonetheless, this is a personal choice and Boyd would have been the player I wanted to play like.
Andrew Johns was a sensational player. An inspirational leader, he could tackle like a second rower, was without peer in passing, had a shrewd kicking game and was always brilliant reader of the tempo of the game. He was brilliant and the best I have seen.
Billy Slater does some freakish things on a field, Cameron Smith is consistently sublime and more often than not, Greg Inglis is just too good.
I’m sure this may raise a few eyebrows, but Darren Lockyer gets my gong as the greatest player. I have never seen a playmaker lead a team around the field the manner that Lockyer did. His record speaks for itself. He was durable, tough and just a champion player.
I am from NSW and spent most of my life in Sydney. According to AFL nuts from Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, my vote will not really count for much in any case. I’m going to keep this short and sweet – Wayne Carey is the greatest. Big, strong, imposing and inspirational. That mob of Kangaroos that raised him sure taught him how to kick straight. I was at Telstra Dome when the King played against his old firm for the first time. Crows won and the villain got away with it.
I enjoy the rivalry and tradition of tennis. Granted, the commentators can get carried away a little when they too frequently describe a bass line dominant match as a “real war” or a “slug fest”.
Federer, Nadal, Sampras and possibly Djokovic to follow have all time Grand Slam records.
Rod Laver was considered a great in an era when the Aussies were rampant.
For the sheer theatre and competitiveness of the man, my pick is the Superbrat John McEnroe. The streetwise New Yorker would cheat to win, would play to win and would often win. While not up there with the Federers, Lavers and co, McEnroe was brilliant.
Hailing from the South Coast, Wollongong Whiz Wayne Gardner took on the world and won again and again. He opened my eyes to the world of 500cc.
When he retired, I was still a fan: he drove a V8 sponsored by Donut King. I like donuts.
Mick Doohan took over the handlebars when Wayne hung up the leathers. Like Wayne, Mick dominated in a highly competitive era. He was shrewd with his tyres and a fine tactician.
Soccer / Football
I have heard good things about this Pele bloke and as a kid I bought his soccer game for my Atari. There is no denying his place in world football and even as one of the greatest icons of world sport.
I won’t kid myself or anyone else here, I do not follow soccer. In my defence, I have titled it “football” to appease the world game devotees.
I admit I was caught up in the euphoria of Germany World Cup when Australia rose to another level. Mark Schwarzer doesn’t seem to get the kudos as the Kewells and Cahills (probably because he is a goalie) however he has proven himself a player of world class. I also recall Craig Johnston sporting a premier mullet when playing the FA Cup for Liverpool.
It is one of our nation’s most successful sports and one of our most favourite recreational pursuits. It is an incredibly demanding sport with hour after hour of dedicating oneself to following the black line. I have supreme respect for these athletes.
Dawn Fraser was apparently a bit of a larrikin and a terrific swimmer.
Thorpey had a set of big feet, a bigger motor and a really big trophy cabinet. A master of many disciplines.
Just nudging many great talents for my best is Kieran Perkins. He held the blue ribbon title for two olympics and was written off at Atlanta. After scraping in for the final, he emerged triumphantly after blitzing his opposition. A true Aussie battler win for the ages.
While it was on too late for me to watch I have to admire the Tour De France victor Cadel Evans. Like Perkins at Atlanta, he was written off in the final stages and could have been afforded another, near enough result. He took the bit between the teeth and stared every one down in his penultimate time trial. A beast on wheels, Evans turned around an unsurmountable deficit into his lead.
One cannot mention Tour De France without Lance Armstrong. While there may be a current cloud over his head, cycling overall for that matter, I’d like to believe in miracles. To overcome cancer and compete in such a gruelling encounter is achievement in itself. To come back and win shows an extraordinary human being.
My greatest of all time
Robert Kelly Slater – even those unaccustomed with Pro Surfing have heard of Kelly Slater. 11 World Titles to his name and at 40 years young, shooting for number 12. Like this list, surfing is incredibly subjective. There is no hoop to have a ball dunked into, no net for a ball, no goal posts, no defined arena. This is what makes surfing such a challenging sport and Slater’s achievements all the more remarkable. Slater wins in all conditions.
How hard and demanding is surfing compared to other sports? Is it sport or a recreation? Try holding your breath in a washing machine for minutes on end then free-fall down the side of multi-story building and regain your feet with significant consequences if you fail to do so. Yes elite surfers overcome these obstacles but their athleticism is without question.
His recent victory in Fiji where the conditions were all time is an example of Slaters greatness. Slater has overcome many eras and rivalries in surfing and is still the benchmark for the new breed.
The Comaneci of the Curl, the Nureyev of the wave. He is perfection. (Editors note: He also plays off a scratch handicap in golf)