30 Track & Field Stars Meet Their Mainstream Sports Doppelgangers
Who is the greatest athlete in the world? It depends on your definition of the term.
Some people value winning and clutch performance over everything else and would consequently hand the title to a proven major sport champion like Tom Brady.
Others appreciate the blend of pure speed and strength, and might give their nod to a physical anomaly like LeBron James.
Still others might base their answer on a Darwinist equation of endurance and attrition, using their vote on someone like Lance Armstrong.
Or another sect could value individual success over team success, allowing a non-traditional athlete like Tiger Woods to take the crown.
But there is only one sport that actually has a system to determine the world's greatest athlete. Every couple of years—either at the Track & Field World Championships or the Summer Olympics—the winners of the men's decathlon (10 events) and women's heptathlon (seven events) are declared the world's greatest athletes by the track community.
And depending on how popular they are, maybe even briefly by the rest of the sports world.
Track might produce the planet's top athletes, but the sport's mainstream profile is lagging due in part to an inability to create sustainable superstars. As a helpful guide for the casual fan looking for a track athlete to latch onto, here are 30 of the biggest stars in track and field and their sports doppelgangers.
Liu Xiang (China) Is Manny Pacquiao
Every time he steps onto the track, Liu Xiang carries with him the hopes, dreams, support and pressure of the entire Chinese nation.
Every time he steps into the ring, Manny Pacquiao carries with him the hopes, dreams, support and pressure of the entire Filipino nation.
After winning gold medals in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2004 Olympics and 2007 World Championships, Liu was bigger than Yao Ming by the time the Olympics came to Beijing in 2008.
(Figuratively bigger; literally, Yao's legs weigh about as much as Liu's body.)
Although a sadistically-timed Achilles' injury took Liu out of the medal chase during the biggest moment of his life in front of his home crowd—and kept him sidelined for the 2009 WCs—he has since regained his form as one of history's best hurdlers. Fast and technically-sound like the six-time world boxing champion Pacquiao, Liu is a solid bet to medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
David Rudisha (Kenya) Is Derrick Rose
At 22 years old, Rudisha owns a World Championship gold medal and a world record (1:41.01) in the 800 meters. He explodes from the start line with relentless speed and is seemingly impossible to beat against the circuit's best middle-distance runners.
At 22 years old, Rose won the NBA's regular season MVP, the youngest to ever accomplish the feat. He explodes to the rim with a ruthless quickness and is seemingly impossible to stop against the league's best defenders.
For both Rudisha and Rose, the sky is the limit. It's totally within the realm of possibility that they will rack up gold medals, championship rings, world records and MVPs for the better part of the next decade.
Allyson Felix (USA) Is Venus Williams
Felix is only 25 years old, yet she's already collected 13 Olympic and World Championship medals because she excels in multiple events (100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters) and because she was a successful pro by the time she was 18 years old.
Williams is only 31 years old, and she has 21 Grand Slam tennis championships to her name because she excels on all surfaces against opponents of all styles, and because she was a successful pro by the time she was 14 years old.
Felix and Williams each bring a sense of class and savvy to their respective sports, along with fluid technique that is built for winning over the long haul.
Asafa Powell (Jamaica) Is LeBron James
Powell isn't criticized and scrutinized anywhere near as much as James, but that's because his sport isn't as popular with casual fans and isn't as easy to dissect by pretend know-it-alls.
Talent emanates from the pores of Powell and James. You can just look at them and tell they're great at what they do.
But even though both have accomplished more than enough to earn first-ballot Hall of Fame status—Powell having twice set the world record in the 100-meter dash and James winning two MVPs in the NBA—they have fallen short of gaining universal adoration and respect because of their infamous hiccups on the biggest stages.
Powell has finished fifth in his two Olympic 100-meter finals and owns no medal better than bronze in his individual World Championship efforts. James has gone 0-2 in NBA Finals series, and his playoff resume is marked by a handful of substandard clutch performances.
For just about anyone else, that wouldn't detract from a decorated career, but because Powell and James are so talented and their potential so great, it has earned them twin labels as underachievers.
It can easily be argued that Powell and James are both the best in the world at what they do, except both of them lack the meaningful hardware that actually proves they are the best.
Sanya Richards-Ross (USA) Is Sue Bird
Richards-Ross (26) and Bird (30) aren't numerically considered over the hill in their respective sports, but both could be near the end of the road after putting a lot of mileage on their bodies due to grueling competition schedules.
But they are also certified amazing team players who haven't had the same kind of success when the spotlight shifts to individual accomplishments.
Richards-Ross owns five Olympic and World Championship gold medals in the 4x400 relay, but in the individual 400 meters she has a total of three medals—just one of them gold.
Bird owns two Olympic basketball gold medals, two WNBA Championships and two NCAA Championships as a member of some powerhouse teams. But individually, her numbers aren't quite jaw-dropping; she's averaged 12.7 points and 5.5 assists per game in the WNBA.
Reese Hoffa (USA) Is Peyton Manning
A little nerdy, a little quirky, very quotable and massively talented.
Hoffa is a two-time USA champion and the 2007 World Championship gold medalist in the men's shot put who especially excels indoors; he has two World Indoor Championship medals and a handful of USA Indoor Championship medals.
Manning is the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl XLI champ who owns dozens of league records. He also excels indoors, having played all of his professional home games inside the Indianapolis Colts' stadium.
The shot-putter and the quarterback both stand out in a stereotypically brutish sport by making it look more like a thinking man's game.
Valerie Adams (New Zealand) Is Laila Ali
Behind the bright smiles and pleasant demeanor are two women you wouldn't want to run into when they're in a bad mood.
Standing 6'5", Adams has three World Championship gold medals in the shot put and one gold medal from the 2008 Olympics. This year she tied a WC record with a throw of 69'8" (21.24 meters) and is a dark-horse contender for the IAAF's Female Athlete of the Year.
Ali stands 5'10" and has a 24-0 pro boxing record with 21 knockouts. She hasn't fought since 2007, so while I may have gone against my rule of restricting this list to active athletes with this one, boxers are never really retired.
Tyson Gay (USA) Is Eli Manning
Talented, accomplished and marketable, but publicly quiet and constantly overshadowed by bigger personalities and more accomplished members within their sports realm.
Tyson Gay is one of the fastest men in history. His personal-best time of 9.69 seconds in the 100 meters ranks second all-time, while his time of 19.58 seconds in the 200 ranks fifth all-time. He has three World Championship gold medals and one silver.
Eli Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today. His career highlight is a Super Bowl MVP award from version XLII of the big game, and he's thrown for more than 21,000 yards and 145 touchdowns in his pro career.
But thanks to Usain Bolt and, most notably Peyton Manning, Tyson and Eli have been cast as co-stars more often than marquee attractions.
Yohan Blake (Jamaica) Is Dwight Howard
Having been trained in the presence of legends, Blake and Howard are just one step away from taking over the world.
In the case of Blake, it's virtually one step; the distance separating him from possibly beating some of Usain Bolt's world-record times in the 100 and 200 meters.
Blake (Bolt's training partner) made history at this year's World Championships by becoming the youngest-ever gold medalist in the 100 meters and running third leg on Jamaica's world record-setting 4x100 relay team. A couple weeks later, Blake ran the second-fastest time ever in the 200 meters at 19.26 seconds.
Howard (personally tutored by Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon) has made history by becoming the youngest ever to lead the NBA in rebounds and blocks, and he owns just about every "youngest-ever" rebounding record. Howard also has three NBA Defensive Player of the Year trophies at home and led the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.
Young, justifiably cocky and full of personality, Blake and Howard are on the verge of something major—perhaps Olympic gold medals and an NBA championship or MVP in 2012.
Carmelita Jeter (USA) Is Lindsey Vonn
In the tradition of Wilma Rudolph in 1960, Flo-Jo in 1988 and Marion Jones in 2000, Jeter should go into the 2012 London Olympics as the USA's national sprint sweetheart. The reigning World Championship gold medalist in the 100 meters and 4x100 relay (and silver medalist in the 200), Jeter is at the top of her game at 31 years old.
Another of America's national Olympic sweethearts—in the snow rather than under the sun—is and has been Lindsey Vonn. The 26-year-old alpine skier won gold and bronze medals at last year's winter games in Vancouver and will be a favorite to reach the podium again in 2014.
Usain Bolt (Jamaica) Is Shaquille O'Neal
Bolt's toughest competition may in fact be his relative lack of competition.
When he is focused, healthy and at least halfway motivated, Bolt can destroy packs of world-class sprinters and break world records with apparent ease. Bolt has set the world record in the 100 meters three times (most recently 9.58 seconds), twice in the 200 meters (19.19 seconds) and twice in the 4x100 relay (37.04 seconds).
Some critics question his work ethic. Some say he clowns around too much.
But who can knock his style when it has brought him so much success?
Shaq, in his prime, was an athletic freak just like Bolt. When he was in shape and motivated, nobody could really handle him physically. It seemed his biggest obstacles were his own work ethic, focus and motivation to be great.
And despite all the criticisms, he was great.
Bolt and Shaq resonate with fans on a level that few human beings, let alone athletes, can match. They are dominant yet lovable—bona-fide celebrities who know exactly how to be celebrities.
Lolo Jones (USA) Is Anna Kournikova
The biggest misconception about Kournikova's tennis career is the idea that she wasn't a good player.
Kournikova was ranked as high as No. 8 in the world as a singles player and No. 1 in doubles.
And while she never won a WTA tournament in singles, she did post a 209-129 pro record, and she has two Grand Slam titles as a doubles player alongside Martina Hingis.
In other words, Kournikova is a hell of a lot better than the people who wrote her off as nothing more than a hot girl who happened to play tennis.
Lolo Jones is in danger of falling into Kournikova territory. Jones has reached an admirable level of success as a sprinter,—two World Indoor Championship gold medals in the 60-meter hurdles and a personal-best time of 12.43 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles that ranks 12th in history—but for all the endorsements and media attention, she has no Olympic or World Championship medals to show for it.
Kournikova has all but retired from tennis, so she will probably never get that critic-silencing tournament win. But Jones still has a few good years left on the track. She'll have another opportunity to put any misgivings about her merits to bed next year in London.
Kirani James (Grenada) Is Jason Heyward
Heyward entered Major League Baseball as the greatest thing since sliced, toasted and buttered bread, earning an Opening Day starting job with the Atlanta Braves as a 20-year-old rookie.
The expectations went even higher when he cracked a 470-foot home run in his first at-bat in the big leagues. Heyward could have pulled off his face at that moment to reveal he was really Hank Aaron reincarnated and nobody would have been surprised.
Fortunately for Heyward, the hype surrounding him has since calmed down, and he's been able to safely have a sophomore slump (.227 BA, 42 RBI) this season without being labeled a colossal bust.
James can only hope for the same leeway from the track community.
After bursting onto the scene this year with an NCAA Championship in the men's 400 meters, followed by a World Championship gold medal at just 18 years old, James is already drawing comparisons to Michael Johnson and is being called the sport's "Next Big Thing."
Next year will be James' first season as a pro, and while it is an Olympic year and expectations will be high, he could benefit from some tempered expectations.
Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya) Is Maya Moore
In an individual sport, Cheruiyot is a great champion at risk of blending into the alumni list of a well-oiled machine of a team.
Winning gold medals in the women's 5,000 and 10,000 meters at this year's World Championships, as well as a Diamond League title in the 5,000, Cheruiyot is a front-runner for IAAF Female Athlete of the Year.
But at the same time, she comes from the same Kenyan distance-running factory that has produced so many standout athletes that few of them actually stand out anymore.
Moore was once the queen of college basketball. She racked up multiple National Player of the Year trophies and All-American plaques between 2008-2011, leading her team to an NCAA-record 90-game win streak and two National Championships.
But as a product of the UConn women's basketball factory that cranks out superstar after superstar with numbing frequency, Moore could eventually blend in more than stand out over time now that she's gone on to the WNBA.
When the next great Kenyan distance runner or the next great UConn ballplayer enters the picture—and it will happen—how long will Cheruiyot and Moore stay memorable?
David Oliver (USA) Is Adrian Peterson
Five years into his NFL career, Adrian might as well change his middle name to "Peterson" and his last name to "Is A Beast."
He is the running back you'd build in a football laboratory: 6'1" and 220 pounds of speed, power, quickness, loose ankles and a linebacker's mentality when it comes to contact. Peterson has made four Pro Bowls on his way to 6,000 rushing yards and 54 touchdowns as of this week.
Oliver is a sprinter built like an ideal football player. At 6'2" and 205 pounds, his shoulders look like he's already wearing pads, and his powerful legs allow him to crash into the occasional hurdle, yet still run among the world's elite.
Although Oliver finished a disappointing fourth in the 110-meter hurdles final at this year's World Championships—taking a step or two back momentum-wise following an undefeated 2010 season—he has all the raw talent in the world. His personal-best time of 12.89 seconds is the American record and the third-fastest time in history.
But he needs to fine-tune his technique if he hopes to claim his first Olympic gold medal next year.
Blanka Vlasic (Croatia) Is Serena Williams
Both extremely popular on a global scale, both set the standard by which all competitors in their sports are judged (even when they're not ranked No. 1 in the world), both exude swagger and confidence, and both have a burning fire behind their eyes.
The biggest difference is that Vlasic doesn't unleash her fury on judges and officials.
Oh, and she's also built like an inanimate carbon rod compared to my curvy sports crush.
(Seriously, I love Serena.)
Vlasic is a four-time world champion (indoor and outdoor) in the women's high jump and has a silver medal from the 2008 Olympics. Williams has 27 Grand Slam tennis titles (singles and doubles).
When they are signed up to compete, win or lose, it makes their sport worth watching.
Mo Farah (Great Britain) Is Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki's 13-year odyssey toward an NBA Championship was effectively captured over the course of one week by Farah at the 2011 Track & Field World Championships.
Farah went into the WC ranked No. 1 in the world in both the men's 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
First up was the 10,000, where Farah was in the lead on the final lap until he ran out of gas and got caught at the line by Ibrahim Jeilan (Ethiopia) to finish second. A silver medal at the WC is certainly nothing to be ashamed about, but for Farah to come so close to gold and fall short to a virtual no-name competitor, many saw it as a choke job.
A few days later in the 5,000, Farah again started as the favorite, but had the added pressure of trying not to lose again in spectacular fashion. As usual, he led the pack in the final lap, but this time kicked his legs into another gear and pulled out the gold medal victory.
That was basically Dirk's NBA career in a nutshell. His championship run (and Finals MVP) last season were the finishing kicks he didn't have when his Dallas Mavericks lost in the 2006 NBA Finals and all those other years when they came close to gold but ended up painfully short.
Brittney Reese (USA) Is Brittney Griner
For all they have accomplished, Reese and Griner will reach another level of greatness once they master the finer points of the game.
Reese already has two World Championship gold medals in the women's long jump (outdoor) and one gold medal from the 2009 World Indoor Championships. But track purists will always point out that her technique needs significant work before she can approach world-record distances or put her name in the same category with a Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) or Heike Drechsler (Germany).
Griner has set a handful of single-game, season and career NCAA records for blocked shots at Baylor while averaging more than 20 points and eight rebounds per game. But going into her junior year, she is still a mostly unpolished prospect who could be Shaq-like dominant in the women's game when she learns more.
Ashton Eaton (USA) Is Carl Crawford
The logical comparison for any decathlete would be to a 5-tool baseball player.
For Eaton, the 23-year-old World Championship silver medalist who particularly excels in the speed events, his best comparison would be to Carl Crawford of the Boston Red Sox.
Crawford has led the American League in stolen bases and triples four times each, but he can also hit for average, hit for power, throw and play left field better than anybody in the game.
Another correlation between Eaton and Crawford?
With as much as they've accomplished in their careers, their potential is still greater than what we've seen so far.
Bernard Lagat (USA) Is Bernard Hopkins
Word of advice to all the future fathers out there: If you want to groom your son for a long career as a sports star, name him Bernard.
At 36 years old, when most elite runners have either hung up their cleats or moved on to the Master's track circuit (think golf's Champions Tour), Lagat is still setting records and winning medals.
Earlier this month he won silver in the 5,000 meters at the World Championships, and in July he set an American record (12:53.60) in the 5,000 meters. That gave him 11 Olympic and World Championship medals for his career.
At 46 years old, Bernard Hopkins has racked up 52 wins as a pro boxer with 34 knockouts. He's defended the world middleweight title 20 times, and when he beat Jean Pascal earlier this year for the WBC light heavyweight crown, Hopkins became the oldest boxer to even win a world title.
And for Lagat, his stereotypically non-contact sport is more like boxing than you would think.
Because he's a native of Kenya (a distance-running powerhouse) who runs for the United States (not exactly a distance-running powerhouse), Lagat is often without the protection of teammates on the track.
So with Kenyan runners who see him as a traitor and Ethiopian runners who still see him as a Kenyan rival flinging elbows and spikes at him, Lagat—like Hopkins—sometimes has to get dirty to get wins.
Sally Pearson (Australia) Is Stephanie Rice
For sports that require as much speed as they do precise technique, and with margins of victory measured in fractions of a second, Australia is apparently the new hotbed for female athletes.
Pearson staked her claim for IAAF Female Athlete of the Year at the World Championships when she blew away the 100-meter hurdles field and won a gold medal in 12.26 seconds. That was the fourth-fastest in history, and the icing on a season where she dominated her event.
Having just turned 25 years old, Pearson is the odds-on favorite to win gold at the 2012 Olympics.
Representing Australia at the 2008 Olympics, Rice won three swimming gold medals (200-meter medley, 400-meter medley, 4x200 freestyle relay). She added two silvers and a bronze at the 2009 World Championships and two more bronzes at the 2011 World Championships.
At 23 years old right now, she will be favored to defend her titles at the 2012 Olympics.
In her speciality event, the individual medley, Rice has to be almost flawless in four different styles: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle.
In Pearson's event, her form in getting over the hurdles is just as crucial to her success as her speed in between the barriers.
LaShawn Merritt (USA) Is Chris Paul
It wasn't too long ago when LaShawn Merritt was the speeding young meteor of his sport, winning two 2008 Olympic gold medals (400 meters, 4x400 relay) as a 22-year-old and laying down the gauntlet for a long reign of terror against the rest of his competitors.
Meanwhile, it wasn't long ago when Chris Paul was the NBA's top young point guard phenom, winning Rookie of the Year as a 21-year-old and running point for the U.S. Olympic Team as a 23-year-old. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Isiah Thomas and John Stockton, Paul was set to own the position for the foreseeable future.
Today, Merritt and Paul and still young and still dangerous, but an even younger crop of stars have come along to suddenly turn them into veterans battling to maintain their positions at the top of the heap.
Merritt lost the 400-meter dash at this year's World Championships to 18-year-old Kirani James (Grenada), and on the overall circuit, he is being pushed by youngsters such as Rondell Bartholomew (Grenada), Kevin Borlee (Belgium), Jonathan Borlee (Belgium) and Tony McQuay (USA).
Paul, meanwhile, watched 22-year-old point guard Derrick Rose win the NBA's MVP last season and is pushed nightly by younger stars such as John Wall, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook.
Amantle Montsho (Botswana) Is Yani Tseng
Quiet domination is the name of the game with Montsho and Tseng.
While the women's 400-meter track marquee is regularly headlined by Allyson Felix (USA), Sanya Richards-Ross (USA) and defending Olympic gold medalist Christine Ohuruogu (Great Britain), all Montsho did this year was earn a world No. 1 ranking, post seven of the top 15 fastest times, claim a Diamond League title and win the gold medal at the World Championships.
In women's golf, casual fans are much more familiar with Michelle Wie (USA) and Paula Creamer (USA). Even retired stars Annika Sorenstam (Sweden) and Lorena Ochoa (Mexico) have a higher public profile than Tseng, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world and is the youngest player of any gender to win five major championships.
Trey Hardee (USA) Is Evan Longoria
Going by the decathlete/baseball corollary, Evan Longoria is the 5-tool Major League Baseball star who compares most favorably to world champion decathlete Trey Hardee.
If you had to pick a standout among Longoria's versatile skill set, it might be his defense as a third baseman, where his rocket arm and instincts make him a Gold Glove talent.
Hardee, who won his second straight World Championship gold medal in the decathlon this year, also shines when he gets to use his arm. He set personal bests in the shot put and javelin this year.
And as great as they are on the field, Hardee and Longoria don't have as much fame as you'd expect.
Of the handful of MLB players who are legit celebrities on a national scale, Longoria doesn't crack the list even though he plays for a good team and has all the surface makings of a marketable star.
Meanwhile, Hardee's collection of gold medals still hasn't been enough to put him among the most popular stars in track and field—even though he is by many accounts the world's greatest athlete.
Caster Semenya (South Africa) Is Hope Solo
Talented as she is, Solo is the enigma of women's soccer.
Team USA's star goalkeeper has been involved in a handful of mild controversies for voicing her opinions when most athletes would keep quiet. Even when those comments have put her at odds with coaches and administrators, Solo is just too good to keep off the field and out of the mix when a major championship is on the line.
Semenya has found herself embroiled in controversy for entirely different reasons.
After she won the 2009 World Championship gold in the women's 800 meters as an 18-year-old, her dominant performance was put under scrutiny when accusations arose that she might be a man. After a long, drawn-out process of gender testing by the IAAF, Semenya was eventually cleared to run with women.
Semenya has put herself back into the picture as an elite 800-meter runner, but she hasn't been as phenomenal as she was before the controversy. She took silver at this year's WC and finished fourth in the Diamond League standings.
Walter Dix (USA) Is Kevin Harvick
One of the best closers in the sprinting business, Dix has collected four Olympic and World Championship medals to go with four USA Outdoor Championship medals in the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash because he can shake off an average start and catch the leaders with his top-end speed.
But so far he's fallen short of winning gold medals at the Olympics and WC because he has yet to put together that perfect race of a strong start and finish on the big stage.
In NASCAR, two of Harvick's nicknames are "The Closer" and "Where Did He Come From?" He has become the master of coming from behind in the last lap or two to win races or starting near the back of the field before finishing near the front.
Harvick has 18 career Sprint Cup wins, 37 Nationwide wins and 12 Truck Series wins, but he has yet to put together that perfect season and win a Sprint Cup Championship.
Dayron Robles (Cuba) Is Kobe Bryant
Whether you call him misunderstood, competitive to a fault or just an arrogant jerk, you cannot dispute Kobe's status as arguably the best in the world at what he does. More than just a raw talent, Kobe is maybe the most technically-skilled player in the NBA, and the results—five NBA Championships, one MVP and the L.A. Lakers' franchise scoring record—are enough to prove it.
The same goes for Dayron Robles.
The 24-year-old Robles already comes off as aloof, and this year he was the subject of further widespread criticism when he used his hand to physically obstruct Chinese star Liu Xiang in the World Championship final of the 110-meter hurdles. That earned Robles a disqualification after he actually crossed the finish line first.
Was it incidental contact or outright cheating? While a host of current and former track stars said they believed it was an accident that happens all the time in hurdling, public opinion seemed to lean toward the latter. Robles further fanned the flames when he played the xenophobia card, saying the DQ never would have happened if he ran for a global power instead of for Cuba.
Otherwise, Robles' track record is impeccable. He is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles and owns a gold medal in the 60-meter hurdles from the 2010 World Indoor Championships.
Yelena Isinbayeva (Russia) Is Danica Patrick
The princess of the pole vault meets the diva of driving.
Although Isinbayeva's track record glitters more brightly than Patrick's, both share common status as international superstars in their respective sports and women who excel in arenas dominated by men.
Patrick is one of only a handful of women who even race on an elite NASCAR and IndyCar level, let alone compete for wins. Isinbayeva doesn't directly compete against men, but she is perhaps the most successful pole vaulter of all-time regardless of gender—impressive considering that the men's pole vault has been an Olympic event since 1896, whereas women's pole vault wasn't introduced until 2000.
Isinbayeva owns seven Olympic and World Championship (indoor and outdoor) gold medals. She has set the outdoor world record in the pole vault 15 times (most recently 16'7") and set the indoor record 12 times (16'4").
Patrick has an IndyCar Rookie of the Year (2005) trophy at home and one win on that circuit to go with three top-10 finishes on NASCAR's Nationwide Series. She has yet to crack the super elite level of winning regularly and competing in the Sprint Cup series, but at 29 years old, she has a lot of good years left on the track if she wants to use them.
Oscar Pistorius (South Africa) Is Anthony Robles
Pistorius and Robles have become famous for athletic accomplishments that would be amazing if they were entirely able-bodied, but take on another life considering their respective physical handicaps.
Pistorius had the lower part of both his legs amputated as a baby, but with the help of prosthetics, went on to set Paralympic world records in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter dashes. This year he made history by competing in the World Championships against able-bodied athletes, advancing to the semifinals in the 400 meters and winning a silver medal in the 4x400 relay.
Robles was born with only one leg, and with no prosthesis went on to win multiple state wrestling championships in high school and become a star in college. As a senior at Arizona State this year, he went 36-0, won his third straight Pac-10 title and won an NCAA Championship in the 125-pound weight class.
It sounds corny to say Pistorius and Robles are winners every time they step onto the track or onto the wrestling mat, but it's entirely accurate to say they actually do win a lot and are world-class competitors in their sports—period.
Dwight Phillips (USA) Is Jimmie Johnson
Getting tired of the same guy winning all the time? Think it's bad for the sport when one guy is at the top of the mountain every year with everybody else looking up at him?
Want some variety in your championships?
With five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Season Championships under his belt and working on a sixth as you read this, Johnson is a polarizing figure in auto racing. Some love him on the same level fans loved Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter when they were at their peaks, while others hate Johnson because he's just too good.
Phillips, meanwhile, is the Darth Vader of the men's long jump. Dating back to his two 2003 World Championship gold medals, he has dominated the event: Olympic gold in 2004, World Indoor Championship gold in 2003, World Outdoor Championship gold in 2003 and three more outdoor world titles after that, most recently in 2011.
And just when you think they're finally allowing somebody else to have center stage, JJ and Phillips step up when the stakes are highest.
Johnson can go through the Sprint Cup regular season without posting a lot of wins, but when it's time for the final 10 races of the Cup chase, he flies past everyone else.
Phillips was supposedly having a down year in 2011 and was written off as a medal favorite at the WC before he popped off two of his best jumps of the season to take home another gold.
Until somebody actually knocks them off, JJ and Phillips will be responsible for more "wait 'til next year" condolences and dart-board targets than anybody in their respective sports.