Friday, September 12, 2008

Greatest Individual Athlete of this Generation - September 12, 2008

When the Olympics were held in Ancient Greece some 2,500 years ago, the participants were supposed to be more than good athletes; they were supposed to be men of great character who displayed the morals and the determination exemplified by the Gods. In recent history few individual athletes have stood below none and earned a title of immortality in the record books: Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, Marion Jones, Michael Phelps, and Tiger Woods. Amongst them Usain Bolt and Marion Jones, both fall short of the moral aptitude required to be qualified with the other athletes (Bolt for gloating mid-race, and Jones for doping). Phelps and Woods have shown ability to rise to the occasion and defeat opponents under unfavorable conditions or when called-out. Phelps defeated Milorad Cavic by milliseconds when Cavic claimed it would be better for the sport if Phelps lost, in addition to medaling in a wide array of strokes and distances. Woods has beaten any opponent who has challenged him, ranging from Sergio Garcia to Phil Mickelson. He has also won most of the events on tour, thus dismissing any criticism of specialization.
Federer has been quite vulnerable to Rafael Nadal on clay courts, and in spite of winning the U.S. Open, Federer’s hard court and grass court performances have been in reach and at times inferior to other players.
As for Armstrong, he has only won four other events besides the Tour de France; this is not to say that winning the event seven consecutive times after a larger bout with cancer is unimpressive, he has simply not been as dominant as Phelps and Woods have been on a wide array of events (Armstrong has also foiled under doping allegations even though he has never tested positive).
This leaves Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps, each in a league of their own. It is quite difficult to decide between 14 Major Championships and 14 Olympic Gold Medals. 65 PGA Tour Wins and 40 first place finishes. It appears as if the only justified competitor for either man is the records held by other immortals such as Jack Nicklaus and Mark Spitz. The only way to possibly differentiate between the two greats would be to look time-span of the success and the talent of the opposition.
Woods has been on the pro-tour for 12 years and is now 32 years of age while Phelps has been a professional swimmer for seven years and is only 23 years of age. Phelps appears to have more years for potential success however, when Woods lines up for his first tee there are over 100 other competitors in the field while there are only seven other lanes in the pool, but as our English teachers have stressed quality is more important than quantity. The hundred other competitors that Woods faces are in no condition such as him, while Phelps is racing against the premier swimmers of the world, all of whom are in peak physical condition; moreover, what keeps this debate alive is that Woods has rarely played to the level of his opponents and has been able to win tournaments by over 10 strokes (an unheard of figure).
Both men are deserving of the title as the greatest however the edge goes to Michael Phelps since he was expected to compete in events within hours of one another and succeeded in unprecedented fashion.

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