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Is Usain Bolt Really the Greatest Sportsman Ever?
Monday 13th August 2012
Now, first of all, before I proceed, I really like Usain Bolt. His achievements and his personality it seems are becoming legendary (you know where this is going don’t you, all three of you?), but to put him on a par with the likes of boxing’s Muhammad Ali and football’s Pele, as many commentators (sports and otherwise) have in the days since Bolt won a sixth Olympic gold medal of his career, is both premature and ludicrous. Yes, like them, Bolt is the best in his sport, but they were at the top of their games for a longer period. Plus, can one put the 100 and 200m sprints on the same level as the longer lasting and more frequent games of boxing and football? In my opinion, no. A sprint does not require as much endurance as a marathon of rounds and matches of boxing and football would do.
How dare a ‘nobody’ like me attempt to ‘soil’ Usain Bolt’s achievements with these remarks (a metaphor for actual soil would be good, probably, as there’s a lot of goodness in the stuff)? I’m not saying his accolades are not well deserved, but let’s show a bit of perspective here. I’m sure that many of those who, in the heat and euphoria of the moment, were proclaiming that Bolt’s greatness usurped that of athletes such as Ali and Pele will see that a short sprint that lasts around 10 to 20 seconds is not in the same league as fighting round after round, and playing competitive football over many months of a season. Yes, sprinters such as Bolt train hard for years and the circumstances of their sport mean that those years of hard work could blow up in their faces in under 10 seconds as opposed to boxers and footballers who can make up ground with the time they are allocated, but they have got to work just as hard. Before Ali’s bouts with the likes of Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman amongst others, he had to undergo a punishing training schedule to get into shape for those contests, like anyone would. And they all lasted longer than 10 to 20 seconds. He won numerous world titles over a number of years – longer than the period in which Bolt has competed within - including a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Pele, meanwhile won the World Cup with Brazil an unprecedented three times as a player; tournaments where he and his team had to compete in at least five matches before the final as well as qualifiers before the big event. I could go on about the fact that he scored over 1,000 goals in competitive matches as well, but I won’t. I just think that some sports require more skills than others. You cannot tell me that games such as football, tennis and gymnastics do not ask more varieties of technical abilities and skills of the athlete than ones such as sprinting and rowing. ‘‘Aw, he’s ‘avin’ a go at rowers now!’’ I hear you mutter and/or scream and wonder. Well, they have to use their sense of direction and pull their arms backwards and forwards until they feel like they’re falling off, but it’s a sport of endurance more than anything. Obviously, anyone who excels at or is the best at what they do - even if it’s cheese-rolling - deserves our full credit particularly when there’s so many other people vying for the same thing (which, in cheese-rolling, I know contains less competition), but certain sports require more skills than others.
Ali is generally considered the best boxer of all time whilst Pele is thought of in the same bracket when it comes to football. The same applies to Bolt when we’re on the subject of the 100 and 200m races, so if we are going through all the sports and detailing who is the ‘best’, then Bolt is there alongside the likes of Ali and Pele. One could say that Bolt is undisputedly the best when it comes to his chosen recreation as he has broken records and won more competitive contests than anyone else in that field whereas it is maybe more debateable with boxing and football particularly the latter because it’s a team game when it comes to the actual events. Some people say that Pele and Diego Maradonna were the best in their respective professions because they helped their countries win the biggest prizes whilst some people will opine that George Best is the greatest player for the way he influenced Manchester United’s success in the 1960s. Although, because he didn’t achieve major tournament honours with Northern Ireland, others will feel that he doesn’t deserve the tag. So football is a trickier one to call than most when highlighting one standout individual. But again, in my very humble, lovely and understated opinion, I think certain sports are more worthy than others. If Usain Bolt fulfils his wish of getting a trial with Manchester United, does well, then plays for them and wins a trophy or two then maybe I’ll consider him, but for now, not on your nelly.
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