By In Stuff

100 Greatest Olympians

From NBC SportsWorld:

The toughest one to leave off for me was Rafer Johnson, a man I deeply admire and have written about at length. He is, of course, a better athlete than numerous people on this list, particularly No. 100 Eric Moussambani, who isn’t a great or good or average or mediocre athlete. But, like with all lists, I wanted this one to tell a story. Rafer was left off.

Edwin Moses was another one who belongs on any list but didn’t quite fit here. There are plenty of others.

The Top 100 Olympics Athletes


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22 Responses to 100 Greatest Olympians

  1. danwolld says:

    You left Rafer off because you have a story to tell? What story is that? #1stJoepieceevernottolike

    • invitro says:

      He’s written about Rafer a few times. I googled “joe posnanski rafer johnson” and got links to one of them at top: “Rafer Johnson and the power of 10”. I’d put a link to it here, but this comment system locks up comment with links, so you’ll have to google it.

  2. Venu says:

    I think this should say “The best summer Olympic athletes ” …

  3. invitro says:

    I wonder if any other BR’s have had one of the hundred hit on him and follow him around campus when he was a freshman…

  4. DB says:

    Thanks Joe for responding to request for Edwin Moses. Your list so we will have to agree to disagree. Not his fault that Carter made the decision he did. There was no way he was losing in 80, that would have made gold in 76, 80, 84 and then a final bronze in 88. He always looked he was running a different race than everyone else. Just loved watching him.

  5. timfc says:

    Joe… I think Phelps has won 13 individual olympic medals, not 11.

  6. Richard says:

    Favorite Abebe Bikila story: He was an alternate selection for Ethiopia’s track team in 1960. At the last minute, someone on the team got sick, opening up a spot for Bikila.

    The thing about running barefoot? In those days, corporate sponsorship was pretty much literally “Here’s a truckload of sneakers! Have fun finding a pair that fits!” By the time Bikila (being a last minute selection, everyone else picked first) got to the sneakers, there was nothing left that fit him comfortably. Rather than risk injury, he decided to run barefoot. That was how he trained, anyway….

  7. David says:

    I get it. I do. But as a guy who threw in high school and coaches throwers now, it pains me not to see Al Oerter in the top 10.

  8. Drupiter says:

    It’s a great list, Joe. One quick point: Liddell didn’t return to defend his gold because he’d moved onto missionary work in China. (Of course, this doesn’t mean he would have been a shoo-in for multiple medals). Naturally, his athletic story ends there (with some minor competitions tossed in), but that’s when his character began to overcome his athletic accomplishments. He eventually died in a Japanese concentration camp, ministering to youth in the camps. At the Beijing Olympics, it was revealed that the UK and Japan had negotiated his exchange; instead of leaving the camp, he chose to let a pregnant woman take his place, eventually dying five months before the end of the war. He’s arguably the most beloved Scottish athlete of all time, mostly for the context of athletic achievements–for his character as a champion.

    Certainly he belongs up there with Jenner or Thorpe–all three set world records, of course, and all showed some sort of flexibility. If you consider character, Liddell should be even higher (as seems to be the case with some of the other picks).

    But, as you said at the beginning, ranking the best Olympians of all time is a fool’s errand. I like the list.

  9. Drupiter says:

    I would suggest Sergey Bubka, who only won 1 gold medal, should deserve an honorable mention. He had an Olympic-curse: he dominated the pole vault for 20 years and was essentially un-beatable, but won only 1 gold (due to injury and circumstance). He was in the inaugural class of the IAAF Hall of Fame because of his complete dominance of the pole vault; nobody has dominated an event at the international level like Bubka did the pole vault.

  10. “Overmatched Australia” won the game in which Lisa Fernandez struck out 25.

  11. Spencer says:

    I like how Joe lists the whole dream team except for Christian Laettner.

    It’s still so weird he was allowed on that team, and ridiculous how much more appropriate adding Shaq as the college player would have been. He could have held his own at the time and looking back would fit right in with all the hall of famers.

    • invitro says:

      It’s not weird at all. Daly was mandated to select a college player, and Laettner was college player of the year at the time. And if he isn’t an NBA hall-of-famer, he’s obviously an inner circle college basketball hall-of-famer.

    • MikeN says:

      That’s the only redeeming quality of this article.

  12. MikeN says:

    Hated this Joe. Absolutely hated it. Leaving out Christian Laettner makes the pain a little less, but still when I read the entry for Dan Gable, it was ‘suffered a knee injury and a separated head injury’

  13. KHAZAD says:

    The fact that FloJo still holds those records 28 years later in amazing. I think the men’s record has been lowered 16 times since then.

    • zeke bob says:

      Yes, a little too amazing I think. I was a big FloJo fan growing up, but over the past several years I think enough data has come out to unfortunately indicate she was probably drug aided in 1988.

      From one article I found:
      “Before the 1988 track and field season, Griffith Joyner’s best time in the 100-meter sprint was 10.96 seconds. In 1988, she improved that by 0.47 seconds (or 0.35 sec for the non-wind-aided time). Similarly, her best before 1988 at 200-meters was 21.96 seconds. In 1988, she improved that by 0.62 seconds to 21.34 seconds.”

      Those time changes are insane (Carmelita Jeter has come closest to the 100 mark at .15 behind), and I think retiring from the sport before new testing procedures took place in 1989 may have been part of her motivation in walking away at 28.

  14. Andrew says:

    Laszlo Papp. The FIRST triple gold medalist in boxing. Undefeated as a pro, never got a chance at the title because Hungary wanted to keep him behind the Iron Curtain.

  15. The back end of these sort of lists are always YMMV, but if I was composing such a list I would have made room for Jason Lezak, a great US relay swimmer who did not win quite as many medals as Jenny Thompson (4 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze over 4 Summer Olympiads), but whose greatest claim to fame was his almost superhuman rescue of Michael Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics as he chased down the then reigning 100 meter freestyle world record holder with an astonishing 46.06 final leg–shattering the existing world record for a 100 meter relay leg by fully six tenths of a second.

    That said, nice column, Joe. 🙂

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