Every athlete, like their chosen sport, is unique. In order to stand out, they must use every skill they've been born with and acquired to rise above the masses.
Each elite athlete must possess a perfect cocktail of innate physical gifts refined through years of dedication, intellectual prowess used to plan effective attacks and the poise and confidence to see their strategy through to successful completion.
Too much of one and not enough of the other could lead to mediocrity of worse, obsolescence. When it all comes together, the world witnesses something truly transcendent. This is a short list of those athletes.
If Tom Terrific, as the "chowdaheads" call him, wins another Lombardi this year, they’ll march from sea to shining sea that he’s the greatest quarterback playing the game. Truth is, he’s already won that distinction.
Sure, Drew Brees had the greatest single season in the history of the game finishing with a 110.6 passer rating and 46 touchdowns. He broke the single season passing record with 5476 passing yards set by Dan Marino in 1984.
Peyton’s future is cloudy at best. The three-time NFL MVP holds of 70 NFL records and scores more for his Indianapolis franchise. He’s an 11-time pro-bowler and—by most accounts—an all-around decent human being. All that stated, he has as many rings as his brother Eli and is two shy of Brady.
Brady has won the Super Bowl MVP twice and will be playing in his sixth Super Bowl in less than two weeks. As of the end of the regular season, he holds a 300-115 TD-to-interception ratio and has passed for 39,979 yards. Though he boasts less than half of Manning’s lifetime cache of records, he’s won more big games than anyone else playing currently. He has a .780 regular season winning percentage, is 8-1 in overtime game and has driven his team to victory late in the 4th quarter 33 times.
In the biggest games he’s consistently played biggest, and that’s why he is one of the stand-out athletes playing today.
If he’s good enough for Jordan, he should be good enough for the rest of us. LeBron isn’t even close. Perhaps the most dominant—and certainly the most athletically gifted—Lebron has a lot of work to do, and rings to win, before he should even be considered in the same breath as Kobe.
With Shaquille O’Neal, the “Black Mamba” gathered three rings. After the diesel left for the other coast, Kobe won the trophy and a 2009 Finals MVP award. That iteration of champion was Kobe’s fourth by age 30, which was more than Air Jordan had during the same period of time.
He dominates on both sides of the court. He’s a 10-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA and All-Defensive player. He holds two scoring titles and the MVP for 2007-08. He scored the second-most points in NBA history with 81 against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. Only Wilt’s 100 is better.
UFC President Dana White declared Silva was the best ever and he is. He’s a close-combat genius who fights like he’s playing with house money. He holds a 14-0 record in the UFC and is slightly better than Jon Jones, at this point, if for no other reason than his longer track record of success. Some call him reckless, but his approach is more akin to controlled insanity.
Hearing ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd discuss Ali on his birthday reminds one of a bit of Silva. “Big men aren't afraid of big men. Tough guys aren't afraid of tough guys. Everyone's afraid of crazy people.” Silva’s not a crazy person, but he’s plays one on TV and benefits from the effort.
Michael Phelps is the MJ of H2O. When Phelps swims in London in 2012, he’ll be 27 years old and owner of 14 Olympic gold medals. He’s broken 32 world records in his career in events ranging from the 200 meter individual medley to the 4x100 meter medley relay.
Seven of his world-record eight gold medals he won in China in 2008 were world records. That summer he broke the previous record of seven gold medals held by fellow American Mark Spitz which had stood since the 1972 games.
He looks to extend his number of world records and attendant medals in his swan song competition in London, as he’s announced his plans to retire after the games in London.
Gathering more wins in the 2012 games is well within reach, as the 6'4" swimmer from Baltimore is still improving his stroke.
Tiger Woods is the best. He’s not overrated—he’s underrated and has been for years. He revolutionized the sport of golf. Like MJ, who made people demand their superstars also be dunk masters and clutch shooters late in the game, Woods has redefined what it is to a golfer. No more are pudgy, beer-bellied swingers acceptable.
Woods, who lifts weights, is built like a defensive back and has the instincts of an assassin. Even to this day, just off a a two-year snide, there’s few people on or off the course that count him out. He drives and puts with equal greatness, and has made puts on one leg, that most in the world could never do on four.
To compliment his competition performance, he’s given golf something it’s never had and always wanted. A bona fide bad boy rock star. In a sport that’s known for it’s soft spoken demeanor, Woods walks tall, carries a big stick and rolls with quite a fan base.
Not only is he the greatest playing now, he’s already the greatest of all time and will finish his career with the numbers to prove it.
Rock climbing is one of those fringe sports that some people would argue isn’t even a sport. It falls into the grey area of horse racing and bowling in some people’s minds. For those who aren’t yet converted, they should explore the body of work of one free-solo climber Alex Honnold. He’s the Tiger Woods (of old and maybe new) of climbing.
This 26-year-old from Sacramento California is out of his mind. He walks the walk, climbs the climb, and lives the life, sleeping and eating out of his “base-camp” cargo van. His mother says he was born to climb and has been proving the point ever since dropping out of Berkeley and pursuing climbing full time. He’s a rock star, pun intended, and has a commercial to prove it.
He has the frame of Federer, the icy veins of Kobe Bryant and the focus of a chess master. If you don’t have time to check him out, make time and go here.
Like in motorsports, or boxing, someone might occasionally die from a freak accident, but there’s few other things in life where one false move means sure death. No other sport has stakes as high, and no other climber climbs higher than Honnold.
The Sacramento Savant is light-years ahead of fellow scalers and demands the respect associated with the station.
It’s one thing to climb 1000 feet. It’s another thing entirely to scale that height without a net. Then it’s another thing still to climb something twice that tall like he did as the first free-solo climber to scale the northwest face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. He did it without a net, nor a cable keeping him on the rock.
To do it in three hours, where it takes most anywhere between 24-48 hours, is insane. He starts out with nothing but rock shoes, a chalk bag and his laser focus and ends up climbing something as higher than the Sears Tower in Chicago.
Words can’t describe what this guy does and how well he does it, so either take my word for it or check him out yourself.
Swiss-born Roger Federer turned pro in 1998 and since then, he has been on a roll across the globe. Sure Nadal is playing out of his mind and Djokovic has owned them both intermittently, but the man with the most wins is still the king, and Federer is that guy.
Nadal is the emotional beast with rock star with guns to die for. He looks like he’s on the uptick as Federer looks to be fighting age. That said Nadal will only get the crown if he can keep his body from getting dinged up. The game is more mental than physical and so Nadal has to find a way to alter his game to stay healthy.
Federer is a clinician. A cold-blooded scientist of the swing. He looks to always be in control of his emotion. He doesn’t have the outward expression of passion Nadal has but don’t let that detract from his greatness. With mind, spirit and body Federer has won 1000 matches, four Australian Opens, including a record 16 Grand Slams, boasts a 810-186 win loss record and holds eight doubles titles and a whopping 70 singles.
With a 232-34 record in Grand Slam singles matches, he is about to best Jimmy Connors' mark of 233 should he continue his winning ways and beat arch-rival Rafael Nadal in the semifinal match in Australia.
Messi isn’t as good as his cup coach and national legend Diego Maradona. Nor can he equal Pele's accomplishments—yet. However, should he keep up the way he's playing now, he will. He’s a man among boys on the pitch and his total of is already superior to either of the South American stars.
Born in Rosario, Argentina in 1987, he was so small growing up he started taking expensive hormone shots at age 13 to boost his height. Still diminutive in stature, he's turned his apparent weakness into a strength, dribbling like the ball’s attached to his ankle by bungee. His ball control, combined with phenomenal footwork, has put him in a class of one.
His arrival at Barcelona was the best thing for his unbridled talents, forcing him to be much more focused and disciplined.
While playing at Barcelona, Messi has won two Champions Leagues, five Spanish titles, three Ballon d’Ors for World Player of the Year and an Olympic gold with Argentina in 2008. No one can touch him right now, but he’s bound to keep pushing to greater levels as he’s in search of a World Cup win for his homeland. When that happens he might just go down as the all-time greatest footballer to ever lace up a pair of boots.
José Alberto Pujols Alcántara aka Albert Pujols is the baddest man to swing a bat today. The Dominican-American first baseman is a man among boys, and his new contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim reflects the fact. He’s built like a tank, has reflexes of a cat and the mind of a scientist.
The 6'3" right-hander was voted ESPN.com’s greatest player of the decade for his accomplishments from 2000-’09. Among his numerous awards are nine All-Star appearances, two World Series Championships with the Cardinals and three National League MVP honors.
Now comfortably ensconced in the warmth of Southern California, Pujols’ commercial brand to match his professional. Before absconding to Anaheim, he led all active players with a .328 batting average, .617 slugging percentage and was No. 37 on the all-time homers list.
Usain Bolt posted a 9.58 in the 100 and an incredible 19.19 in the 200. That’s what he was running in 2009.
At 6'5", “Lightning” Bolt towers above his competition. Posting a world record 9.69 in the 100 meters in Beijing in 2008, he finished before than everyone else. And that was after he pulled up in celebration. No matter how you measure it, Bolt is just plain faster than anyone else on the planet.
He holds world records in the 4x 100 meter relay and the 200 meters set by the United States' Michael Johnson in 1996. His 19.30 was considered safe for a generation at least, but Bolt bested him with ease.
He looks to be only getting better heading into London, so try not to blink when his gold shoes step on the turf.