Anatomy of the perfect athlete
Move over Vitruvius
Once upon a time, in a galaxy where I was not a sports editor, I read an article that crafted for the reader the perfect late-night comedy host. A touch of tongue in cheek humour followed. If I remember correctly, Conan O’Brien’s hair was crowned the best, while Craig Ferguson’s monologue reigned supreme.
But, what about the perfect athlete? Such a question is tough. If we’re choosing the frankensteinian monster of athletic creations, which sport should we make our evil little plaything compete in? ‘Tis true that many-an-athlete is characterized – by boorish fans and maniacal commentators alike – as perfect for their sport. Upon examination, this generalization falls apart. Sure, JaVale McGee may have the perfect body (by some standards) for an NBA player, but his repeated boneheadedness on the court necessitates an asterisk the size of Bill Walton’s ‘70s ‘fro.
These descriptions of the perfect athlete are also incredibly biased according to gender. The perfect body storyline is almost always employed during national telecasts of… prepare yourself…. male-dominated professional sports. The perfect athlete, and no everyone it isn’t Tom Brady as he lives and breathes, is afforded sporting sainthood. We are meant, as fans, to try our best to emulate him (and, believe me, it’s nearly always a him) every time we go out and compete, whether that is in recreational leagues or in the CFL.
So, now that I’ve completely debunked that notion, let me replace it with my own form of the perfect athlete. Starting with the most important thing for a sporty person, their intangibles.
While I’m on the topic of debunking ancient tales about the sporting world, let me destroy this one: debating someone’s clutchness (and yes, that is not a word and no, I don’t care) is a pointless endeavor. Some say it can be measured, others say it can’t, but both camps still believe that trying to calculate this falsity is a worthwhile pursuit. Being considered clutch requires a myriad of factors to line up in one’s favour, and it doesn’t take a math and statistics major to figure out the inconsistencies that would flare up if such a measurement were to be devised.
Intangibles, then, for this example, shall be a question of work ethic. Many in the sports world would point to Kobe as a shining example of this trait. Problem being that Kobe changed his jersey number in order to profess his own commitment to his craft. This, my friends, is the NBA’s answer to a kid giving him or herself their own nickname on the playground. Is Kobe one of the best ever? Yes. Should he be considered the most hardworking athlete ever? No. Gone, too, are other stalwarts like MJ (too much time off) and Cal Ripkin (consecutive games played does not a hard worker make). In terms of the intangibles, then, the winner has to be the dual-sport athlete. There aren’t too many of them around anymore, the most recent being Bo Jackson – the only athlete to ever be named an All-Star in two major professional sports, baseball and football. Even more than Jackson, however, a nod should be given to the players who compete year-round. Some of the more notable athletes are those that participate in the WNBA. These basketball players compete in the USA during the summer, switch jerseys, and play the rest of the year in Europe. Work ethic = sky high. Those who have to hold a day job as well as be a professional athlete also have to be given their due, lowly CFL players and the like.
In terms of physical attributes, the edge has to go to marathon runners. Someone like Paula Radcliffe or Mo Farah, in spite of the scandal the latter is currently embroiled in, exemplify what it means to be at peak physical fitness. For me, the edge goes to those who have to compete over long stretches and have to pace themselves. Any sport where cancerous substances can conceivably consumed while competing – cough, cough, baseball, cough – are hereby ruled out. So, too, are events where the sport is more of a stop-and-go sort of affair (football, being the main offender here). Gone also (sorry bar sports aficionados) are games like snooker and darts. If I hear one more British commentator, on his ninth pint of stout himself, proclaim the dart-chucking everyman in front of him an athlete, I might formally complain. Well, I would, if I didn’t already hate myself for being stuck watching lousy daytime sports that even the diehards have a difficult time staying awake for.
While my bias towards fast-twitch sports is now glaringly obvious, perhaps the best athletes are golfers. Stay with me here. Golfers have to be in peak physical condition, you know, if they’re not the weekend warriors who are drinkers with a golfing problem. While I do agree that the sport is a good walk spoiled, at this point we have no idea who I am actually agreeing with, it is incredibly hard to argue that golfers are not great athletes. Combine the ability to make powerful macro movements with a talent to make tiny, fine motor ones, and you have the makings of a great competitor. Mixed with the competition’s need to walk a thousand miles per week (I wonder if The Proclaimers were golfers in their spare time) and you have a group of athletes who must stay physically immaculate in order to compete. Lastly, having the mental strength to think through every single movement, play, shot and club decision, all while trying not to strangle you caddy is a talent all unto its own.
Where does this leave the professional athletes that we talk about every day? Well, LeBron is still the king (sorry, I had to) according to many. Kobe, even in his broken down state, is still more athletic than 99.9999 per cent of the world. This is to say nothing of hockey phenoms, baseball giants, and the soccer players that are worshiped like gods by people the world over. This is to say, however, that when considering the perfect athlete, we should look deeper, to those with fewer accolades in order to revel in the accomplishments of those who make their living from their physical attributes.