Saturday, December 25, 2010

POLL: Is Sachin the greatest sportsperson ever?

Why this poll?

Comparisons are odious. But truth be told, there's nothing sports fanatics love more. And so, for all the disclaimers about how it's impossible and unfair to compare greats from two different eras, we insist on doing precisely that. One question that's increasingly being asked is whether Sachin Tendulkar is a greater cricketer than Sir Don Bradman. The answer, at least according to netizens who participated in a recent Sydney Morning Herald poll, is a resounding yes - by a whopping 67% to 33%.

Even as we were digesting this stunning result, along came an interview by Usain Bolt. The world's fastest man, who dominates his event as few sportspersons ever have, admitted to being a huge fan of Tendulkar. He also said that given a chance, he'd like to ask Sachin "just how he has managed to work so hard to stay at the top for so long and what advice he'd give other sportsmen".

Clearly then, Sachin is idolized not just by millions of cricket lovers, but also champions of other sports. Which raises the obvious question: Given the consistency with which he has sustained excellence at the highest competitive level for a scarcely believable 21 years - while cheerfully bearing the crushing burden of knowing that a billion hopes rest on his shoulders every time he bats - is he not just the greatest cricketer but the greatest sportsperson ever?

It's a question that's bound to stir a heated debate. So, we decided to throw it open to our readers as well. We prepared a shortlist of 12 of the greatest sportspersons, across events and eras. Sachin, naturally, figures on the list. But pinning down the other 11 names, from among hundreds of contenders, proved immensely challenging.

We decided not to have more than one player from each sport - with the exception of tennis, where we picked one man and one woman. Settling on the the greatest player from each sport itself set off passionate arguments.

Did Pele's sublime skills make him a greater footballer than the spellbinding but volatile brilliance of Diego Maradona? Rocky Marciano is the only heavyweight boxing champ in history to retire undefeated with a proud 49-0 record. But generations of fans believe the only deserving contender for the title of GOAT (Greatest of All Time) is the man who floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee, Mohammad Ali. Roger Federer may own the record of 16 Grand Slam titles but is he really greater than Rod Laver, who won all four Grand Slam championships in a year not once but twice? For that matter, is he even greater than his fierce rival, Rafael Nadal?

These discussions could have gone on for hours, so we settled them by vote - and left quite a few colleagues muttering and grumbling. The final call, dear reader, is of course yours. Join the debate.

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