July 26, 2009

Who is the Greatest Athlete of All Time?

Right now, my vote is for cyclist Lance Armstrong. Here is what Lance has done: Today, he came in third place in the 2009 Tour de France, arguably the most challenging sports event on the planet. Armstrong did this at age 37, nearly twice as old as some of his competitors. Armstrong's Tour de France podium finish comes less than four months after breaking his collarbone in a race in Spain. Moreover, Armstrong had just come out of a nearly four-year retirement from pro cycling. Before his retirement, Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times in a row, a feat that no one else has accomplished.

But more importantly, Armstrong did all of this after having survived cancer which had begun in his testicles and had spread to his brain, abdomen, and lungs. To be able merely to return to the top echelons of professional cycling after surviving this nearly deadly illness is itself wondrous. To win the Tour de France seven times in a row, retire for four years, and come back in third place at age 37 is absurdly improbable. Incredibly, Armstrong is already planning to race in the Tour de France next year, and some analysts say that, with a bit better conditioning, Armstrong has a very good chance to win it again.

Now, sports fans are among the most argumentative and passionate people, and I'm sure some fans have other ideas as to who is the greatest athlete of all time. Obviously, athletes besides Lance Armstrong have achieved extraordinary success in their respective sports: Tiger Woods in golf, Roger Federer in tennis, Muhammad Ali in boxing, Joe DiMaggio in baseball, Michael Jordan in basketball, Jim Thorpe in football and Olympic track and field, just to name a few. Indeed, some bike racing fans say that Eddie Merckx, who won the Tour de France five times, was a more dominant cycling champion than Lance Armstrong. But I cannot think of an athlete who has both overcome such severe illness and then reached and repeated such greatness in such a grueling sport as has Lance Armstrong.

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At 2:26 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

So did he reach this pinnacle of success with or without drugs (the performance-enhancing ones, that is)? It's too bad we are instantly suspicious of any great athlete these days.

I've actually long been a fan of Lance Armstrong, although I must say he bikes a lot better than he speaks. He was the speaker at my daughter's graduation from Tufts a few years back. I think that was a new role for him and he was still learning how to be comfortable with it.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

Armstrong has passed every drug test ever given to him. As far as I know, only the French have complained that he must have been doping, but that attitude can be chalked up to their natural disdain for any American who does so well in "their" bike race.

As for Armstrong's speaking ability, I'm surprised he didn't do a good job at Tufts. He's known for being super-smart in terms of strategy, which is necessary in addition to athletic ability in order to win the Tour de France, and he's known as an expert in answering questions from the press.


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