Who's the best Athlete?
random trip report
My friend and Ultimate Boot teammate Ray Weschler is not overly competitive. He strives for excellence in athletic endeavors, but his yardstick is internal (figuratively speaking, thank goodness). He doesn't think to himself 'I'll bet they walk me to get to Mark', 'Dave can't touch my spike', or 'In your face, loser'.
And yet, Ray is obsessed with competitive comparisons. Can a hungry grizzly bear bring down an irate bull elephant? Should race car drivers be considered athletes? Are basketball players better athletes than golfers? On this last point, Ray is adamant: great basketball players are better athletes than great golfers. To him it's obvious, and he's got lots of impassioned (but flawed) rhetoric to back it up.
I disagree with Ray on this point. I don't think one athlete can necessarily be considered better than the other. The ways in which athletes are great are largely distinct. Is Shaquille O'Neal a 'better athlete' than Akebono? Than jockey Russell Baize? To me, these are meaningless questions; an answer reveals only the limitations and prejudices of the answerer.
Ray becomes a bit obstreperous when these issues are raised. He and I have discussed at length both the fine points and the overarching issues. I believe I have won each argument thus far. But be that as it may. Jedediah Webster defines 'athlete' as
A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.My fundamental claims are as follows. First, this list of attributes (strength, agility, and stamina) must be expanded to include mental attributes. Second, the resulting attributes are largely independent: an individual may possess some and not others. Third, the attributes should have more or less equal weight in comparing athletes.
From these assumptions various conclusions follow. Some pairs of individuals are incomparable - neither can be fairly called 'more athletic' than the other. In particular, there is no 'world's best athlete' unless one athlete dominates in all the attributes. And this is highly unlikely.
Here, then, is my proposed list of athletic attributes, and a table showing the importance (in my opinion) of the attributes in various sports. Please email me if you want to propose changes or additions to the table.
Note: Ray has written his own essay on the subject. My only comment: he clearly hasn't played much golf.
This table is my effort at assigning an importance level (0=irrelevant, 10=crucial) of attributes to various sports. Note: subtotals and totals are supplied, but I don't think that we should say that sport X is 'harder' than sport Y if its total is higher. If just means that the requirements of sport Y are more concentrated in a few areas.
|Baseball position player||Football quarterback||Football offensive lineman||Basketball||Table tennis||Chess (master level)||Golf||Race car driving||Rock Climbing (indoor)||Professional bicycle racer|
|Mental attributes subtotal||58||61||37||69||50||45||48||56||30||30|
|Top running speed||8||7||3||8||0||0||0||0||0||7 (pedalling)|
|Running acceleration||8||8||4||9||3||0||0||0||0||5 (pedalling)|
|Physical attributes subtotal||54||56||50||59||34||5||29||24||37||44|