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Wall Street Journal Picks World's Greatest Athlete

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  • Wall Street Journal Picks World's Greatest Athlete

    The World's Greatest Athlete?

    The Wall Street Journal asked a panel of sports experts to sift through a mountain of data and pick the fastest, strongest, most agile man on Earth. More in sports

    June 20, 2008; Page W1

    With the Olympic Games approaching, The Wall Street Journal set out to answer this parlor-game question: If Earth had to send one man to the Intergalactic Olympics, who should go?

    Identifying the world's greatest male athlete turned out to be easy to argue but difficult to answer empirically. No matter how impressive, world-class athletes mostly excel at single tasks. Olympic gold medal weightlifter Hossein Reza Zadeh can, in two quick motions, lift 580 pounds over his head, the equivalent of a year-old heifer. Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie can run a mile in an astonishing four minutes, 45 seconds, and repeat the performance 26 times in a row. Put either man on a tennis court or pitch them a 95-mile-per-hour fastball and they might whiff as badly as any weekend hacker.

    Sports physiologists don't have a system to rank all athletes. University of Texas exercise physiologist Ed Coyle said doctoral students have tried in the past "only to have their professors shut them down after months of continuous work."

    The Journal sought to identify the world's greatest athlete with an approach that, while not completely scientific, took a number of measures into account. A panel of five sports scientists and exercise physiologists was given a list drawn up by the Journal of 79 male athletes. Candidates had to be active in their sport and among the all-time best. (Women will be featured separately in a future article.)

    The panel weighed individual performance stats, along with their subjective judgments about the relative difficulty of each sport, to give an overall grade to the athletes. (See "How We Did It" for details.) The judges graded athletes on speed, reflexes, stamina, coordination, as well as power, strength and size. The finalists, they said, exhibited a wide range of athletic skill in highly competitive environments.

    Who do you think is the world's greatest athlete?

    There were some surprises. Tiger Woods, a dominant figure in professional sports, didn't crack the Top 10. Panelists said they didn't give golfers much weight when assessing overall athletic ability. Michael Phelps, one of the greatest U.S. swimmers of all time, also missed the top tier because, the judges said, swimmers generally don't perform well out of the water. Such endurance athletes as marathoners and Tour de France cyclists also failed to impress. Too one-dimensional, the panel said.

    HOW WE DID IT: We gave the performance stats and achievement records of 79 male athletes to a panel of 5 judges, and asked them to rank the competitors based on six criteria: speed; vision and reflex; stamina and recovery; coordination and flexibility; power, strength and size; and success and competitiveness. The final category examined success—records held and victories—as well as competitiveness, based on the sport's popularity. Soccer, for example, the world's most popular sport, was judged the most competitive. The panel gave a total score for each athlete in the first round. Sixty athletes were eliminated in the second round, either because of low scores or because they were not first in their field. Our panelists then made the final ranking. Yale statistician John Emerson helped normalize the scores so no single panelist could exert undue influence.

    THE JUDGES: Ed Coyle, exercise physiologist, University of Texas; has studied top athletes, including cyclist Lance Armstrong. Steve Fleck, chairman of the Sport Science Department at Colorado College and former head of the Physical Conditioning Program for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Eric Heiden,orthopedic surgeon at a Salt Lake City sports medicine and training facility; won five gold medals in speed skating in 1980. Kris Homsi, director of sport science for Sparq, a training and assessment company used in college recruiting. Mark Verstegen runs a group of training facilities called Athletes Performance.

    AND THE WINNER IS: ROMAN SEBRLE. The Czech decathlete could jump over Shaquille O’Neal. He could throw a 16-pound ball the length of a 53-foot yacht. From a running start, he could leap over a two-lane highway. Mr. Sebrle has ideal size, according to physiologists, and expertise over a range of athletic pursuits, employing the speed of an NFL back and the vertical jump of an National Basketball Association forward. Some judges questioned whether Mr. Sebrle could withstand a tackle by an NFL lineman, but none questioned his talent in the 10 track and field events that make up the decathlon. He has won Olympic gold and silver medals for the Czech Republic and is the current world champion.
    The Top Ten


  • #2
    Does this mean Al Davis will sign him to be a wide receiver for the Raidahs?

    Isn't the WSJ picking top athletes kinda like SI picking the top Money Manager?
    Official sponsor of Mike Shannon's Retirement Party


    • #3
      No way that guy beats Dan and Dave.


      • #4
        No way is LeBron number two.


        • #5
          "He could throw a 16-pound ball the length of a 53-foot yacht."

          What's that, like 53 feet?..........


          • #6
            Kurt Russell was robbed!


            • #7
              It seems like by their logic #2 should be whoever the second-best decathlete is.


              • #8
                Um -

                I think my 6 year old could do just as good picking a list.
                Turning the other cheek is better than burying the other body.

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                2017 BOTB bracket


                • #9
                  If he's got the most athletic ability in the world (allegedly), where's his white lamborghini. Makes him a crappy businessman. Holding an asset he can't exploit.
                  Former 2017 OFFICIAL SPONSOR of Braves' Fill-In Matt Adams,
                  Jesus is . . .


                  • #10
                    No Pujols? List is a sham....
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                    --Suck it cubbies.
                    --Thanks to RBB for my kick ace avatar!!** --RETIRE #51!!!


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by drobny23 View Post
                      If he's got the most athletic ability in the world (allegedly), where's his white lamborghini.
                      --Official Lounge Sponsor of Coach Mike Anderson, Colby Rasmus, and Pearl Jam.
                      --Suck it cubbies.
                      --Thanks to RBB for my kick ace avatar!!** --RETIRE #51!!!


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by F the Cubs View Post
                        No Pujols? List is a sham....
                        Sometimes elections have positive consequences!


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by F the Cubs View Post
                          No Pujols? List is a sham....
                          I think there was a body fat minimum. You just don't see it because you are blinded by his stats and jewelry.

                          And why does a paper with no sports section come up this list. There is nothing more disappointing than hitting the shitter at work and finding the WSJ on the floor. I should use it to wipe my ass.


                          • #14
                            Any list that doesn't include Ichiro is flawed.
                            His mind is not for rent, to any god or government.
                            Pointless debate is what we do here -- lvr