In all the various “Greatest Sportsmen” lists debated over the years there is normally common agreement when it comes to the top. Muhammad Ali was and will always be “The Greatest.” Pele often features second and then you can take your pick from Maradona, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, Don Bradman and Michael Phelps. You can now add to that list Usain Bolt. Let’s explore three lists. Is he the greatest track and field star of all time? The great Paavo Nurmi has won more, as has Carl Lewis, but to win the 100 metres, a supposedly young man’s discipline, in three successive Games wins it for me. Lewis, of course, added to his haul by competing in the long jump. Is Bolt the greatest Olympian of all time? Not statistically. Apart from the above athletes Phelps has a strong argument with his 23 golds, but he competes in a sport where you can win 8 golds at one Games, as he did in Beijing. Bolt can win three at one Games, as he did in both Beijing and London, but the 100m is the blue riband event of the whole Games. So where, therefore, does he stand in the all-time list? This is completely subjective but for me 3rd behind Ali and Pele. Why so high? Because he hasn’t just delivered on the track. He has delivered off it as well. He is track and field right now, and has been for quite some time. If he ever failed a dope test (which he won’t) the sport may as well turn off the lights and padlock the door. He means that much to a sport that has been almost single-handedly saved by him over the years. Bolt is also the most charismatic sportsman since, well, “The Greatest” himself. He gets bums off seats, even bums that do not enjoy sport. You cannot keep your eyes off him. And so Bolt receives the bronze medal in the all-time sporting list. It’s an unusual colour for him but one he may just accept on this occasion
I’m not going to get carried away by the events of the past week in Rio but ……a number of our Olympic stars need to join Sirs Steve Redgrave, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Matthew Pinsent and Ben Ainslie and Dames Kelly Holmes, Mary Peters, Tanni-Grey Thompson and Sarah Storey when it comes to sporting knighthoods.
First in the queue must be Andy Murray, even though he’d be uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance. The first Brit to win Wimbledon in over 70 years, as well as an Olympic title, he has repeated this double feat this year after last night’s pulsating final against Del Potro. Surely now he has deserved the right to be a knight?
Ditto Jason Kenny by virtue of his five gold medals, and it may yet be six before he is done in Rio. The stats alone demand it. If Redgrave with his five golds and a bronze and Pinsent and Ainslie with their four golds (Ainslie won a silver, too) deserved it, then so too must Kenny.
What about Mo Farah? I’m not sure what more this man has to do? He has never got close to winning SPOTY but surely to goodness a double double in Rio to make it four golds (as well as his haul of other global titles) in the 5K and 10K demands a knighthood? Daley Thompson may argue the toss but in most people’s eyes Farah is now our greatest athlete.
As for the women, arise Dame Katherine Grainger, who made it four silvers and a gold in Rio in five successive Games. In doing so she became Britain’s most decorated female Olympian. There is no finer role model.
Laura Trott may consider herself too young for such honours. After all, she has at least one more Olympics in her, and may be two. But she is already the most successful British female Olympian of all time in terms of gold medals courtesy of the three she has now claimed, and this may well become four if she wins the omnium.
Others are deserving too, although they may have to wait a little longer. Max Whitlock made sporting history by becoming the first Brit ever to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics, a sport in which we never seriously competed against the best in the world until very recently. He won a second gold, too, for good measure. Honours await him on his return, but probably not a knighthood. At least not yet.
Honours, too, await all our golden stars, and rightly so. They are a credit to the nation, the result of blood, sweat and tears, of steely determination and a mindset that will not be dented.
The Queen will need to do some weight training in her right arm in the next few weeks because she will be raising her sword and tapping shoulders for quite some time.