Orville Higgins, Contributor
Since Usain Bolt's exploits in London, there has been much debate on his ranking among other world-class sports persons of all time. How does Bolt sit with Ali, Jordan, Woods, Maradona, Pele, Bradman, Federer, or Phelps?
The top-class sporting performers display a different set of skill sets based on the requirements of their individual sports. So, we can't compare them based on abilities. What we are, therefore, looking at is how dominant each one was, relative to his peers, and his own era.
Before Bolt, Don Bradman may well have been the greatest sportsman ever, purely because he was so far
ahead of everybody else. Bradman ended Test cricket with an average of 99. Fifty years after he stooped playing, the very best batsmen in the world are averaging in the 50s, which means that Bradman is, statistically at least, roughly twice as good as most batsmen.
No average player
For those who think he used to just stuff his average on moderate bowling, I remind them that others in Bradman's era would have played under the same conditions. Our own George Headley, who played round the same time, and who is widely thought of as one of the all-time best, averaged about 60.
No other sportsman, in any discipline, has ever been so far ahead of his peers as Don Bradman was.
My own reservation with naming the Don as the greatest ever, though, is that cricket was, and is, played by relatively few people in the world. Cricket is essentially a Commonwealth sport and, therefore, those who excel in this discipline haven't really dominated at a truly global event.
Football is the most popular sport globally, but not everybody plays the game, so a Pele and a Maradona, though special sportsmen, excelled in a sport that was played by roughly half the world's population.
Muhammad Ali was special in boxing, and Michael Jordan was a god in basketball. But the truth is, maybe three quarters of the world has no real urge to do these sports.
Track and field is not much different. Most of the world will never want to throw a shot, or do the high jump, or glide over hurdles. And so those who excel in those facets of athletics are also excelling at something that isn't completely global.
Sprinting, however, is very different. Virtually every human being, at some point, had to run, wanted to run, and virtually every human being, at one point or other, wanted to run faster than he actually has.
The sprinting attraction
If only in an informal capacity, sprinting attracts more humans than any other sporting discipline. There are other running events that people gravitate to. The distance races are popular in certain East African countries, for example, but on a whole, more humans will instinctively want to run fast over short spells, than slug it out over longer distances. Indeed, in virtually all sports, speed is an advantage, and the man who is fleet-footed possesses something over his rivals.
Usain Bolt is excelling, therefore, in an event that is more truly representative of what the whole world does, or wants to do, than any other individual sporting endeavour.
The man who is the fastest 100m and 200m runner of all time is literally better than the whole world, because the whole world, at some point, wanted, or tried, even informally, to be just like that.
Besides, Usain is not merely the best. He is the best by a huge distance. His 100m record of 9.58 is so far ahead of what anybody else has ever done - drugs or no drugs - that Bolt is a true colossus among men. The 19.19s in the 200m is also well out of the reach of most mortals in this world, and maybe those to come.
When you add his showmanship and his hypnotic effect on spectators, you can't escape the conclusion that Bolt is easily the greatest sportsman the globe has ever witnessed.
KLAS sportscaster Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.