'The Greatest' is a term we associated with Muhammad Ali. For his unthinkably quick and smart boxing style, charisma and leadership on social issues, Ali earned that title the hard way.
More recently and mainly because of Roger Federer, the phrase 'GOAT ' as gained currency. GOAT or 'Greatest of All Time' is a phrase, which for me, sits best with individual sportspersons.
A debate on Laver vs Federer for the greatest in tennis, Nicklaus vs Tiger Woods in golf, or Fischer vs Kasparov in chess makes sense. But in a team sport, a batsman can be made to look better (or worse) by the quality of bowling and fielding. Similarly, a bowler will be better off if he has a reliable slip cordon or a batting line-up that sets up a total he can bowl to.
In a team sport, the title of greatest sits better with the team. Like Bradman’s Invincibles vs Clive Lloyd’s Windies. This rules out team game GOATs like Pele and Michael Jordan. Or any cricketer.
Post the 1970s, because of television coverage, we have access to matches of several claimants to the GOAT title within sports. But if we were to create a list of GOATs or aspirants to that title across sports – who would be the best – the GOAT of GOATs?
In a week from now, the person who I pick as the GOAT of GOATs (narrowly ahead of Ali, Carl Lewis, Roger Federer, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Michael Phelps, Sir Stephen Redgrave, Bobby Fischer, Michael Schumacher and Serena Williams) will bow from the world stage.
Usain Bolt. The name itself conjures up dramatic visuals, the taunting look back at rivals, the easing up before hitting the tape, the famous archer pose – all the 'Bolt' signatures will pass from live viewing into our memories and that modern archive – YouTube.
Why do I consider Usain Bolt the GOAT of GOATs?
Firstly, running is the most democratic sport. It is open to a millionaire's child and a schoolboy in Trelawny, Jamaica. No expensive equipment, as in tennis or golf limits its participation. It is also the purest of all sport. Running does not demand any support equipment.
Secondly, it is something that tests natural talent the most.
I once asked Pep Guardiola, "What is it that you cannot coach?" He replied instantly, "Speed".
I thought about his answer for some time and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Across sport, either you have speed or you don’t.
Speed to some extent reduces, but does not eliminate what a coach can give you. It represents the sportsperson in his or her most elemental form. And nobody ran with the speed of Usain Bolt. Not only did he win, but he won by a mile, laughing and slowing down while doing so.
The final reason is very basic. If I am asked: "Who is Usain Bolt’s greatest rival?" I struggle to think of a name. With some effort, I can dredge up a Maurice Green, Justin Gatlin or a Tyson Gay. But it takes an effort. For Ali, I can think of Joe Frazier. For Carl Lewis, it is Mike Powell and the now discredited Ben Johnson. For Roger Federer, it is Nadal on clay. For Serena Williams, I can think of no one from her generation but can think of Martina Navratilova from another generation, who has equal or greater right to be considered the GOAT in women’s tennis.
Michael Schumacher and Sir Stephen Redgrave are in sports that require equipment that most people do not have access to. Phelps is the most prolific sportsperson in terms of Olympic medals but has been beaten by the likes of Joseph Schooling and Chad le Clos. Jackie Joyner is in sports form ( Heptathlon) with narrow participation although long jump is universal where she has excelled as well. Jesse Owens dominated one Olympics but we do not have evidence across time. I also exclude gymnastics, including some incredible sportspersons because of the subjective element of the judging process.
For Usain Bolt, I have now concluded you can say his only real competition was the clock. His biggest rival was time itself.
As Usain Bolt approaches his last race and time wins its eventual and pointless victory, I will look back and think:
What do I remember of the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Usain Bolt
What do I remember of the 2012 London Olympics ? Usain Bolt (and Mo Farah)
What do I remember of the 2016 Rio Olympics ? Usain Bolt
The single greatest sporting event in humanity has been dominated by a single person in an unrivalled way for nearly a decade.
That is why Usain Bolt is my choice of GOAT of GOATs.
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Updated Date: Aug 07, 2017 15:47:38 IST