The list-makers are at it again, elevating Mo Farah above every other sporting great in the history of British endeavour. Brendan Foster could not help himself, could not escape the bias of an athletic career in the excitement of Farah’s brilliant triumph in Beijing.
Farah is self-evidently magnificent, peerless in this epoch of distance running. Is that not enough? Do we have to class as second-rate the contributions of others over a century or more of epic derring-do?
Dear old Brendan was clearly seeking to describe what he had seen in the weightiest possible terms, to express his sense of awe at what Farah had done to a world-class 5,000-metre field after draining his legs claiming 10,000m gold days earlier, clinching an unprecedented treble double at major championships.
It was a quite staggering effort, but when you get to that level, how do you separate one monumental triumph from another? Quite apart from the difficulty of splitting hairs, how do we compare one discipline with another?
Sir Steve Redgrave won golds at five consecutive Olympic Games, bookending 16 years as the biggest star in the rowing firmament. What about Sir Chris Hoy, king of the track sprinters on two wheels returning six Olympic cycling golds and 11 world titles?
On the track and on the road Sir Bradley Wiggins transformed the perceptions of cycling in Britain and of British cycling across the world when he became the first Briton to win the Tour de France, not to mention the Olympic time-trial gold a month later.
Rory McIlroy won four majors by the age of 25, only two golfers in history had previously managed that. Joe Calzaghe went his whole career undefeated in the ring, that’s 46 fights over 15 years without being bettered, and for 11 of those he was defending a world title.
Sir Bobby Charlton remains the only English footballer to win the League, the European Cup and the World Cup. And he survived a fatal air crash in Munich to leave his mark. For the best part of half a century his name was the byword for English football across the world. None has surpassed his scoring records for Manchester United and England, though Wayne Rooney encroaches.
If Foster wants to explain why Farah is better than any of the above, I’m listening. He would be better served letting Farah’s achievements speak for themselves. I was on the edge of my seat as he rounded the final bend wondering if he had left himself too much to do. The theatre associated with this purest of athletic pursuits is its own commendation. Farah’s victory did not need the embellishment of Foster’s claims to be emblematic.
Poor Farah was bamboozled when Foster’s hyperbole was put to him. He offered David Beckham as a yardstick alongside whom he would be proud to sit. Well if we are going to rank Beckham, there has arguably never been a better crosser of the ball in football. See how silly a parlour game this is.
I’m surprised Foster stopped at Britain when declaring for Farah. Super Mo conquered the world on Saturday, adding another double to those he claimed at the Olympics in 2012 and the 2013 Worlds. None in the history of athletics has done this, so, rolling out Foster’s arguments further, does this not make Mo a candidate for best sportsman of all time.
Now the room is getting crowded. Into my head pops Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, Pele, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Juan Manuel Fangio, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, George Best, Ferenc Puskas, Alberto di Stefano, Dan Carter, Barry John, Richie McCaw, Valentino Rossi, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Sir Garfield Sobers, all of whom reset the parameters of their sport one way or another.
Have I missed any candidates? Hundreds, probably. I’ve not given a thought to the winter Olympians or the leviathans of the turf. Tony McCoy, anyone? And what of Einar Bjorndalen? “Who is he?” echoes around the nation. The most decorated winter Olympian in history, is who. A gold medal to those who can identify the discipline that yielded 13 medals, eight of them gold, without recourse to Google.
Farah speaks for himself, his achievements hold their own space, and sit comfortably alongside like raids on the imagination launched by the gods of the sporting firmament down the ages. It serves no purpose to rank one above another. Brilliance is brilliance, full stop.
Bjorndalen was known as “the king of biathlon”, by the way. You’re welcome.Reuse content