WoRLD’S GREATEST ATHLETES
by CHRIS BORGARD
People often ask me, “Who do you think are the best athletes in the world?” The answer requires much careful consideration; Is the questioner prioritizing athletic versatility? Recording breaking achievement? Does superior mental toughness factor in? How about an impressive array of rare skills?
The correct answer to their question – or so I would like to think – would be decided by factoring in ALL of these qualities…and with this in mind I came upon my TOP 5 greatest athlete groupings as follows:
#5 – Ironman (or Ironwoman) Triathletes
Before you can object to this selection, hear me out: these ultra-endurance specialists are well trained in THREE different aerobic sports that don’t always crossover well – with many biomechanical and body composition differences between swimmers and runners, plus added training needed to cover 112 miles on two non-motorized wheels in between a 2.4 mile open-water swim and a 26.2 mile marathon run . In addition to having remarkable aerobic efficiency, these fat-burning fiends showcase some of the highest VO2 max values in the world, second only to cross-country skiers.
#4 – NBA basketball players
Besides being able to jump out of a gym as if their legs were outfitted with springs, some of these genetically endowed athletes often appear to “hang” in the air. And while many of them are simply built for their sport with advantageous biomechanical levers or thick tendons, others are just incredible all-around athletes who happen to spend most of their time on hardwood. Allen Iverson, Andre Iguodala, and Russell Westbrook are just few examples of especially explosive hoopsters who could have been (or were) exceptional performers on the football field, track, or in any other sport arena they may have chosen to compete in.
#3 – Female gymnasts
Every 4 years when the Olympics roll around, we all marvel at the amazing combination of flexibility, power, and strength relative to body weight that these diminutive but rock-solid young women put on display for the world. No one truly knows the physical sacrifices or the toll that the training takes on these young women’s bodies – stunting of growth and sexual characteristics is common – which are NOT designed to handle the stresses that are routinely place on them in order to accomplish such impressive athletic feats such as seen on the bars, beam, vault, and floor exercises. In addition to long term dedication, the acute mental focus required in their craft is exemplary.
#2 – Decathletes
In all of exercise and sport, there exists a non-negotiable give-and-take relationship between aerobic capacity and force production, as well as between the body’s different energy systems. Decathletes (who specialize in 10 events which require them all) are an ideal blend of all the ingredients in the recipe for “the perfect athlete” – factors such as high lactate thresholds, large phosphocreatine stores, and efficient oxidation of fats. Add in some courage, pain tolerance, and mastery of highly technical events like discus, hurdles, and pole vault, and it’s easy to see why Reebok was justified in hyping their corny 90’s commercials deciding between two American decathletes for the title of “Worlds Greatest Athlete.”
#1 – NFL cornerbacks
As impressive as all the athletes on this list may be, anyone who has seen these specialists in live action is able to put this debate to rest almost immediately. NFL corners are little bundles of fast-twitch muscle fiber that must be in incredible cardiovascular shape AND be able to change direction at full speed – on a dime or in a phone booth. Isolated on a hands-off island, they are tasked with shadowing the fastest players on the field: equally athletic receivers who know both where they are going and how they intend to get there. All cornerbacks not nicknamed “Prime Time” must also have sufficient strength and physicality to tackle bigger, stronger players who are also fast – ever stood in front of a moving train? While working one NFL training camp, I noted that we had 3 or 4 CBs who had medaled in sprint races during college…at major conferences like the Big 12 or SEC! Watching their incredibly quick directional changes in real time must be like catching a glimpse of one of the Air Force’s new secret jets out on maneuvers – with mouth agape, stopping to question if what you just saw was real!