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OCTOBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 10



SPORTS

CURRENT SPORTS

ALSO THIS MONTH
NHL Preview - hockey returns after a controversial Cup

RECENT SPORTS
Subway Series - interleague play spawns renewed rivalry in the Big Apple

College Football Preview - capsule peek from Air Force to Wisconsin

SPORTS ARCHIVE


MARK DEWING, a freelance writer and British expatriate, moved to the U.S.A. partly to experience heavy snowfall, but primarily because he got tired of having to wait until 2:00 a.m. to watch the Super Bowl live. He has worked as a social worker, freelance photographer, tomato picker, mortuary cleaner and bookstore buyer/manager. He most recently worked within the publishing industry as a PR consultant. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and he wishes the Dodgers still lived there too.




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Six Greatest Athletes of the Century
From the Rest of the World

MARK DEWING

As the new millennium approaches, ESPN is in the middle of an 18 month quest to name the 50 Greatest Athletes of the Century. Their criteria - according to an official press release - is "based on athletic ability". The small print tells us of another criteria. All the athletes have to be American.

ESPN does lapse from its own rules since it includes two Canadian hockey players - Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky - did I miss the annexation of Canada? Other problem...their 50 features only five women. I also observe that ESPN's 28 of the 50 greatest players are drawn from America's biggest national sports: baseball, basketball, and football. All this led me to thinking that I should come up with a personal list of the greatest foreign sporting figures of the century. Their names may not be as familiar to us as American ones, and some of their chosen sports may not be as popular here as football, but their achievements are quite extraordinary.

Before I start, I'd also like to point out that this is a personal list, based on memories, personalities, and extraordinary moments, as much as stats. I have not ranked them in any order, because I think it's silly to compare different sports to each other. One other thing to remember before we kick off, history is important to sport, and not just for the stats we aim to beat. For example women's tennis has a progressive history of steps created by the most outstanding pioneering talents of their day. Helen Wills Moody, thru Althea Gibson, thru Billie Jean King, thru Chris Evert, thru Martina Navratilova, thru Steffi Graf, right up to the Williams sisters. Maybe athletes become stronger and faster as the century progresses, but they are also an integral part of a trailblazing historical chain of originality, guts, and stamina. It's the achievements of each generation that inspire, and have blazed a trail for the next to follow.

Now, lets put our lips together and make a loud trumpet noise as I announce my Six Greatest Athletes of the Century - Rest of the World Edition!

Pele
Pele The world's greatest soccer player ever was born Edson Arantes de Nascimento, in Brazil in 1940. His incredible ball control skills, lightning speed, tackling, versatility, and goal scoring abilities led to his being picked for the national team at the remarkable age of 17. Justifying the confidence the selectors showed in him, he scored 2 of Brazil's 5 winning goals against Sweden in the World Cup Final that year. He went on to feature prominently in three other World Cup squads (remarkable when you consider its only held every 4 years), contributing to championships in 1962 and 1970. At the national club level he scored 1282 goals in only 1365 games. He ended his professional playing career with the late lamented New York Cosmos, winning the MVP award in 1976, before retiring in 1977.

Margaret Smith Court
Margaret Smith Court Australian tennis marvel born in 1942, whose career spanned 15 years. Smith Court's game was one of grace and strength. Her skills were a powerful serve, a wicked forehand and an eagerness to rush to the net with the swiftness of a gazelle. She dominated world tennis in the 1960s, in both singles and doubles, winning an as yet unmatched 62 Grand Slam titles, including 11 Australian, 5 French, 3 Wimbledon and 5 US Open singles titles. In 1970 she became one of only 3 women ever to win all 4 grand slam singles events in one year.

Roald Amundsen
The original extreme sports dude. Born in 1872 in southern Norway, Amundsen was forced through parental pressure to train as a doctor. However both parents suddenly died before he could complete his studies, and he became a polar explorer instead. He observed at first hand how to survive the extreme cold by studying the Eskimo diet, clothing and dog sled skills, he set off with his crew for the North Pole. Unfortunately on the way there he heard that American Robert Peary had just beaten him to it. Undeterred by this he turned about in mid-ocean and discovered the South Pole instead. He was the first explorer to realize that peak physical fitness, and a careful study of how native populations survive harsh environments, would be a much more useful approach than just a stiff upper lip and inappropriate clothing.

Sebastian Coe
With eight world records and two Olympic gold medals during his career, Coe, born in 1956, is one of the legends of British sports. In 1973 his father and coach, Peter predicted that by 1980 his son would slice five seconds off the then 1500m worlds record. In fact Coe sensationally broke three worlds records, including the 1500m, in 1979 in just 41 days: the 800m and mile in Oslo, Norway and the 1500m in Zurich, Switzerland. Coe shattered worlds' records that had stood for 50 years. Shortly thereafter Coe added the 1000m record to his list in Oslo, making him the holder, for a short time, of four world records simultaneously. Often racing against his great rival Steve Ovett, Coe dominated middle distance track for years. His 800m world record of 1:41:73, set in Florence, Italy on June 10 1981, remained unbroken until 1997. "Seb" looked like a ordinary guy, but he had an inner strength and a will to win which is often lacking in British athletes. Coe has since gone into politics and is now a Conservative Party member of the British parliament.

Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg The quiet Swede was probably the most popular tennis player to ever set foot on Wimbledon's Center Court. His powerful serve and volley game was perfectly suited to grass, and it was that surface that he thrived, winning 5 Wimbledon championships and 6 French Opens. However he could never quite figure out the tricky playing surfaces in Flushing and Melbourne, and as a result he never won the US or Australian Opens. But to me this just adds to his ice cold game face and moody mystique. I remember watching the epic 5 setter Wimbledon final against his nemesis John McEnroe in 1980, and rooting along with what appeared to be everybody else in England for him to beat the kid we all perceived as a whiny spoilt brat. "It was clearly out!" Borg's stamina was perhaps the most extraordinary of any athlete I've ever seen play the game, and his matches against Connors, Nastase, and of course Mr. McEnroe deserve to be reshown repeatedly.

Alain Prost
Alain Prost Formula 1 auto racing is - next to soccer - the most watched sport in the rest of the world. It's officially known as The World Championship of Motor Racing. Frenchman Prost was its best driver ever. Winning in 1985, 1986, 1989, and 1993 with three different teams: McLaren Honda, TAG Porsche Turbo, and Williams Renault. Proving that its not the car, its the guy behind the wheel. Prost holds the record for most victories on the circuit with 51. It's a record that's likely to stand for a while.

Honorable Mentions
Don Bradman & Ian Botham utterly brilliant natural cricketers; Geoff Hurst soccer striker (only player ever to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final); Dawn Fraser (4 time Olympic Gold winning Australian swimmer); Alberto Tomba (Italian slalom skier, only alpine skier to win 5 Olympic medals); Abebe Bikalia (Ethiopian marathoner); Sergey Bubka (Ukrainian pole vaulter, a weird sport, but he's been World Champ 6 times). Finally, Torvill and Dean - ok maybe it wasn't a sport but it was dammed breathtaking to watch.

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