Olympic list difficult to produce
Every Thursday on Page 2 of The Oklahoman sports section, I do a list. Best wishbone quarterbacks in history. Best Oklahoman performances in the World Series. Best streaks in major tournament golf. That kind of thing.
My list this Thursday is the 10 best Olympians in history. And it’s the most difficult list I’ve ever produced. I usually spend a lot of research time picking the top 10, but ranking any 10 comes easy. I have no problem with the courage of my convictions. I can make a decision, based on solid reasons, and stick with it.
This time, I’ve waffled more than IHOP. I had difficulty cutting the list to 10, then I had difficulty picking No. 1.
First, the list:
10. Paavo Nurmi, Finnish distance runner
9. Larysa Latynina, Soviet gymnast
8. Jesse Owens, American sprinter
7. Mark Spitz, American swimmer
6. Emil Zatopek, Czech distance runner
5. Birgit Fischer, German kayaker
4. Eric Heiden, American speedskater
3. Michael Phelps, American swimmer
2. Nadia Comaneci, Romanian gymnast
1. Carl Lewis, American sprinter.
The list was incredibly difficult. How does Al Oerter not make it, after winning the discus in four straight Olympiads? Or Bjorn Daehlie, the Norwegian cross-country skiier who won 12 medals, eight gold, in three Olympiads. Or Sonja Henie, as big an Olympic superstar as ever produced, with three straight golds in figure skating from 1928-36?
But the two Olympians I most regretted leaving off the list were Greg Louganis and Steve Redgrave.
Redgrave, a British rower, is the only athlete to win gold medals in five straight Olympiads, 1984-00. Ultimately, I left Redgrave off the list because his golds weren’t won in singles. He had partners and teammates en route to his golds.
No such indictment of Louganis, the great American diver. Diving offers two gold medals for each gender; Louganis swept both golds in 1984 and 1988. In 1976, Louganis won silver in the tower diving. And in 1980, Louganis was favored to win both, but the U.S. boycott negated his chance. That’s an impressive resume’. But in this discussion, you can’t give Louganis credit for what he might have done.
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