The Olympic Games has been the theatre that has played host to the most celebrated and distinguished athletes in history since its revival in Athens in 1896.
The absolute pinnacle of sporting competition, we have seen world records fall, tyranny defied, and childhood dreams realised throughout the annals of time.
Olympian’s have entertained us, broken the mould, and inspired millions, so with that in mind I have chosen my top 5 Olympic athletes of all time.
Each choice have differing factors as to why they have been selected, yet I feel that each of them harvest the true embodiment of the Olympic spirit.
5. Michael Johnson.
Regarded as the greatest sprinter of his generation, this man is a four time Olympic Gold medallist and held world records in both the 200m and 400m simultaneously.
Johnson’s mere presence would suggest that something special was on the horizon at every event he competed at, with his unorthodox upright running style and explosive speed making him the featured attraction.
At the Olympics Games in Atlanta 1996 he destroyed the notion of what we deemed humanly possible, with a performance that shattered the world record for 200m. Running a mind blowing 19.32 seconds for Olympic Gold, in one of the most iconic sporting moments of the 20th century.
In the very same Olympiad he also captured 400m Gold, becoming the only man ever to win both medals at the same event.
His extraordinary display shocked the world and he was crowned the fastest man on the planet, an accolade usually reserved for the quickest 100m athletes.
Michael maintained a fierce stranglehold over both disciplines over the next four years, claiming the 400m world record as his own whilst swatting aside the competition with ease on a regular basis.
However, in an unfortunate turn of events he was denied a chance to defend his 200m title due to injury problems, and would only claim 400m gold at the Sydney Olympics in the final chapter of his illustrious career.
The original Superman will never be forgotten for raising the bar in track and field to dizzying new heights, and can now be seen as the BBC’s resident analysis expert for athletic’s events held around the globe.
Click on the page numbers down below to continue the countdown.
The World’s Strongest Man 2017 marked the end of a friendship between two warriors that had initially garnered each others respect. Having battled alongside each other for five years in a race to be crowned the strongest man on Planet Earth.
Both men had toiled in the runner up categories for a number of years in an event dominated by the American giant Brian Shaw, and Lithaunian brute Zydrunas Savickas.
Eddie Hall’s ascendency to the throne culminated in 2017 with a titanic battle in the searing heat of Botswana.
A narrow one point margin handed Hall the title that he had craved like no other throughout his existence, much to the chagrin of his now sworn enemy Hafthor Bjornsson.
Eddie controlled the entire event from the offset, scoring high across each of the eight disciplines, It seemed as though this was his time, his moment had arrived.
Hafthor finished runner up once again and later threw shade on Hall’s victory, inferring that the contest was rigged in his favour after being denied a 15th rep in the Viking press by referee Magnus Ver Magnusson. Who controversially ruled that he had double dipped in an effort to gain an extra repetition, costing him a precious point.
Hall surpassed Hafthors total with relative ease however, gas still seemingly left in the tank, which would suggest that Hafthor’s petulance would only serve to make him seem bitter for his rivals success.
The Beast had also become the first man to ever deadlift 500kg the year previous, a Herculean feat that had never even been attempted.
Watched on by his childhood hero Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hall wrenched the Olympic bar from the ground, the iron plates contorting it’s shape, Hall stood tall as his nose began to bleed, refusing to budge against the irons will.
He had accomplished the unthinkable and will always be the man who broke down the barrier that many thought was impossible.
With both of his career aspirations conquered, Hall decided to retire from competition, citing both health reasons and a need to spend time with his family. The dream he had harboured since giving up swimming for strongman as a teenager had come to fruition and he felt it was time to step away for the next generation of athletes.
Enter Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, the Icelandic superstar has not only found fame for his superhuman exploits in strongman competition, but also for his predominant role in HBO’s Game Of Thrones. Starring as The Mountain, a frightening blood thirsty guard of the Lannister family.
Without question his stardom has attracted many more spectators to the sport which until recent years had almost a cult like following rather than the mainstream success it enjoys today.
These giants have to sacrifice everything in their being to reach the pinnacle of their profession, eating 10,000 calories per day is seen as routine in their world. Mammoth training sessions that strain and stretch every sinew in the human body is required to be the best.
In this regard I feel that this is where Hafthor may have lost his edge to Eddie in previous years. I do not doubt everything that he has given, but it was never quite enough in an era where The Beast stamped his authority across the realm of strongman.
Filming schedules, travel commitments, and mental fatigue will surely have a detrimental effect by not having 100 percent of your energy and focus on the task that lies ahead.
Success and failure is often decided by the most fractional margins in any elite level competition and I feel that Hall gained the upper hand in that five year period due to his sheer dedication and full blooded commitment, with no external distractions to concern himself with.
Bjornsson finally claimed the World Strongest Man’s golden trophy in 2018, one year removed from Hall’s retirement. The perennial runner up at last stepped onto the Champions pedestal, becoming only the 2nd Icelandic athlete to capture the prize after Magnus Ver Magnusson.
Without a shadow of a doubt, it is perceivable that Hafthor could go on to dominate the sport for many years to come as he seems to only get bigger and better as time passes us by.
His new deadlift record of 501kg in his own gym has courted controversy and like many others I believe it should be carried out in a contest setting, as it is impossible to recreate the tension and pressure that a live audience can generate.
But if the relative ease that he seemed to perform the lift is anything to go by then I would suggest that even greater things are on the horizon for this superhuman monster.
However, for Hafthor to cast aspersions on Hall’s accomplishments leaves a sour taste in the mouth. For a sport that had been forged on mutual respect since its inception, it does not bode well when a man who is destined for such great heights cannot accept defeat graciously.
To place doubt on a fellow competitor’s life of sacrifice leaves a stain on the sport in my view, and as far as Hall is concerned I believe his achievements speak for themselves and he doesn’t need to enter into the mud slinging that is present across various social media platforms.
Eddie’s name will always be entrenched in the public mind’s eye as the first man to deadlift half a tonne, much like Roger Bannister will never be forgotten as the first man to run the sub 4 minute mile.
Hafthor will surely go on to raise the bar both metaphorically and physically in strongman, with his fame and brand ever increasing in a sport that has finally received the respect and adulation it deserves.
I look forward to his impending deadlift record attempt in a competition setting which I feel is vital to cement his expanding legacy.
Rivalry is a crucial element in any sport, it entertains us the fans and often pushes the opposition into raising their performances to bold new heights which us as spectators can only sit back and admire.
In this case however it has quickly degenerated into a public slanging match, as the trading of insults has wrongly taken centre stage over both men’s colossal exploits.
In a world that has been turned on its head by such unprecedented events, a display of mutual respect from both camps would likely be welcomed with open arms.
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In an ever changing world where we currently do not have live sport to keep us entertained, I felt it would be an appropriate moment to look back on one of the most monumental feats in Football history as we near the four year anniversary of this heart warming story.
A team that had narrowly avoided relegation from the top flight the season before were crowned the new kings of the Premier League, ripping the crown from the grasp of the status quo that had maintained a stranglehold over the games top prizes for decades.
Pieced together from players plucked from obscurity, managed by a man who had never tasted success in his career, it was little Leicester City who defied the odds and landed a first Premier League title in their 132 year history.
Considered by bookmakers as mere relegation fodder, the season began with the club a massive 5000/1 to win the title, but as Leicester began to pick up wins they soon found themselves at the summit alongside the established cash rich outfits with many expecting an inevitable slide down the table.
It never materialised as Leicester soon became every body’s favourite second team, we all watched on in awe as they gave the big boys a thumb in the eye every week, a joy to behold in a game that had seemingly been lost in recent times due to the Billions of pounds awash within the Premier League.
Other teams had lavished absurd amounts of money on their clubs playing staff and wage bill in order to achieve their aspirations and here were Leicester City breaking the mould, shattering the convention that money would buy success, this was one Premiership Title that would be earned.
Heroes were beginning to emerge across the entire squad.
N’golo Kante was the little engine that could, his relentless and energetic displays left the opposition without a moments rest. This ball winning midfielder was recruited from French second division club Caen and was soon regarded as the most feared tackler in the division, a shrewd acquisition in anyone’s books.
Riyad Mahrez, an unknown entity at the time, was signed for a mere £400,000…an absolute snip in todays bloated transfer market. The silky Algerian lit up our television screens on a weekly basis with his trickery and skills, often seen dropping delightful passes over the opposition backline for his strike partner Jamie Vardy. He was later voted PFA player of the season for his pivotal role in the teams success with his creativity and 17 goals.
Jamie Vardy thrust himself into the limelight with his swashbuckling displays and electric pace, smashing home 24 league goals that season. The former Fleetwood Town frontman also etched his name into the Premier League history books, as he memorably eclipsed the record of former Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy for scoring in 11 consecutive matches.
Wes Morgan, the ageing club captain, manfully stitched together a back four comprised of performers that were cast aside by the established elite, told they weren’t good enough, players like Danny Simpson once of the mighty Manchester United.
He was a reliable and commanding presence week in, week out at centre back with his partner Robert Huth alongside him. Whilst Kasper Schmeichel, son of the legendary Peter, was consistently outstanding as the last line of defence in goal.
Claudio Ranieri had managed at a plethora of clubs across world Football, yet he had never managed to capture any major league titles. With his diminishing years in terms of age it seemed a strange appointment at the expense of the popular Nigel Pearson, who had masterminded the clubs great escape the previous season.
However, the 64 year old Italian presided over this extraordinary campaign with a reassuring calm, working his way into the public’s affection with his light hearted approach to weekly press conference’s and seemingly being indifferent to the mounting pressure as the season began to head into the home stretch.
When David met Goliath at the Etihad Stadium it was again Leicester who were expected to falter on the final charge. Faced with a Manchester City side that had a team assembled from the finest talent that money could buy, Sergio Aguero and his star studded team mates were expected to put the Foxes back into their hole.
Leicester and Robert Huth had not read the script however, as the German centre half thundered home two towering headers in a 3-1 victory that sent shockwaves through football. The miracle was edging ever closer.
Tottenham Hotspur began to emerge as the only real threat as the season drew to a conclusion, an ill tempered 2-2 draw with arch rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge would hand the title over to Claudio Ranieri’s men as Jamie Vardy threw a famous party at his house, in uplifting scenes that gave football fans across the nation a reason to dream again.
Serenaded onto the pitch in their final game of the season by famous Italian Tenor Andrea Bocelli, it was a fitting and emotional moment that encapsulated this incredible journey from the most unlikeliest Premier League Champions of all time.
A truly genuine feel good story that showed us that romance in football was indeed still alive as the rank outsiders bloodied the noses of the corporate big guns in a series of displays that seemed to show that the embodiment of the human spirit cannot be bought and sold.
What this team lacked in stardust was nullified by an unbreakable unity of mind, body, and soul that could not be overcome by the highest bidder.
For that reason this triumph shall go into folklore as one of the greatest of all time.
It’s what the self proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ has done throughout his entire existence, and every battle he has faced inside the ropes or in life itself, he has emerged undefeated.
Tyson’s rise to prominence is a story that needs to be heard and is a truly inspirational story that has transcended the world of just Boxing and sport.
His tale began on August 12th 1988, born into Irish travellers weighing only one pound and three months premature, he was given little to no hope of living by Doctors and medical personnel.
He survived and his father John named him after ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, the reigning World Heavyweight Champion at the time.
Fury left school at 11 years old to tarmac roads alongside his brothers and took up amateur boxing at the age of 14. Encouraged by his father a former bare knuckle fighter and professional boxer himself, with his family’s roots also running deep amongst the sport.
As Tyson began to make a name for himself in the fight game it became apparent that people did not take him seriously despite the fact that he had put together a relentless winning streak, dismantling every opponent he had faced.
A shot at glory.
His 26-0 record would eventually lead him to a showdown with Wladimir Klitschko however, who had presided over the division as champion for 10 years straight.
The build up to the bout was somewhat unorthodox, much like Fury himself, as he continued to act as court jester in press conferences, with Boxing purists and analysts alike giving the man who came from nothing barely a chance against the Ukranian giant.
With the fight taking place in Dusseldorf, Germany, he would be stepping into the Lion’s Den for the chance to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming World Heavyweight Champion.
The following 12 rounds from Fury was a masterclass on how to hit and not be hit as he outclassed Klitschko from the off and throughout, his ability to switch styles and nimble footwork totally bamboozling the defending champion.
Crowned as the new World Heavyweight Champion and capturing every belt in the division, Tyson had scaled the mountain that few ever believed he could.
The Gypsy from Morecambe was the new face of the Boxing world.
The price of success.
It soon became apparent that Tyson’s triumph would ultimately lead to his downfall, as he sat on his recently acquired throne he began to ponder what was next…? had the pinnacle of his career been reached…?
What followed became well documented in the media as Tyson had to relinquish all of his hard earned titles after testing positive for cocaine and being declared medically unfit by Doctors to fight.
Fury began to gain vast amounts of weight due to his excessive lifestyle and depressive episodes, a comeback seemed unlikely as he publicly announced he was diagnosed as bi-polar and at times didn’t want to live anymore.
However, as we entered 2018 Fury boldly stated that he would be making a comeback to the ring and was set on reclaiming the World Heavyweight Championship’s that he had never lost, the eye of the tiger had returned.
Shedding a monumental 10 stone in the run up to his return bout with Sefer Seferi, Fury cut a lean and mean figure as he picked up the win in his hometown of Manchester.
Another win against Francesco Pianeta followed with talk amongst the fight industry that a bout against The ‘Bronzed Bomber’ Deontay Wilder was on the horizon.
In an era where big match ups seem to take an age to negotiate, Fury quickly put pen to paper on the fight and both sides agreed to the bout taking place in the December of that year, with Tyson once again stepping into the backyard of his adversary at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.
Both men were undefeated going into the match up with Fury once again labelled as the underdog against the knockout artist Wilder.
Despite his two and a half years in the wilderness Fury controlled large portions of the fight, outboxing his opponent throughout with superior handwork and left right combinations.
With a win on points looming, it was Wilder who unleashed a devastating left right combination of his own in the final round, dropping Fury to the canvas in stunning fashion.
The arena and fans at home held their breath as it seemed that Tyson’s journey had ground to a shuddering halt.
As the referee began the count to 10, Tyson inexplicably began to rise to his feet in its latter stages, an iconic moment that seemed to symbolise his rise from the ashes.
A seismic return from the depths of depression and addiction that had taken hold of his life over the last number of years, an inspiration to anyone that feels like there is no way back from the brink.
Remarkably he closed out the fight on the offensive and as the final bell rang both men embraced in the ring. The match declared a draw with each combatant preserving their undefeated streaks.
Tyson was however widely recognised as the true victor amongst most pundits and fight fans.
With the first confrontation between them ending in such controversial fashion it was a only a matter of time before a rematch would take place to settle the ongoing dispute of who was truly the superior fighter.
The fight would take place on February 22nd 2020 at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, with Fury once again being given little hope against the explosive power of Wilder.
Fury’s stunning performance and systematic destruction of his adversary proved otherwise, as Wilder’s corner threw in the towel halfway through the 7th round to save him from a comprehensive and painful defeat. Which had seen him bleeding from the ear and placed on his backside twice already.
The Gypsy King’s redemption had come full circle as he was crowned the WBC Heavyweight Champion of the world without a blemish on his record.
His rise from obscurity to World Heavyweight Champion and subsequent fall from grace would have made a extraordinary story in its own right, yet it seems unfathomable that he has returned more charismatic and stronger than ever despite his underlying issues. As such his second Championship victory is rightly lauded as one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.
No stranger to publicity on the other side of the ropes, Fury has courted controversy on many occasion with his outspoken views on religion and sexuality bringing much criticism in the past.
However his popularity has soared as he has proved to be a champion inside and outside of the ring, supporting mental health charities and addiction welfare groups after donating the entirety of his purse from his 1st match up with Deontay Wilder, which amounted to a staggering £7 million.
Currently an ambassador for Frank Bruno’s mental health charity, the once maligned Gypsy King has turned public perception on its head with his generosity and willingness to open up in regards to his own difficulties that he has faced with drugs, alcohol, and mental illness throughout the tenure of his life.
Raised awareness of such crucial issues has inspired countless others to come forward, to not face their problems alone, and that in itself may be his biggest victory of all.
Alexander Chapman Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United on November 6th 1986. Inheriting a historic club on the wane toiling with mediocrity, he was tasked with turning its fortunes around.
It’s only major success coming in a previous era, lifting two league titles under Sir Matt Busby in the 1960’s culminating with the 1968 European Cup success against Benfica, capturing the nations hearts after the tragedy of the Munich air disaster.
He would take Manchester United on an epic era of unrivalled triumph and excitement for 27 years, this magnificent team and club was built in the image of the great man himself, the never say die attitude, the will to win, the desire to overcome with your back against the wall.
His success would not come instantaneous however, his first trophy not arriving until 1990 securing the FA cup against Crystal Palace, this heralded the start of a chapter that fans of the club will remember for the rest of their lives, and to be perfectly honest we were spoilt rotten!
The Cup Winners Cup duly followed in 1991 with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the final, my earliest footballing memory.
I was 7 years old at the time but I’ll never forget that night in Rotterdam, watching the drama unfold out on the pitch, captivated by the electric atmosphere and the sheer theatre as Mark Hughes fired in the tie clinching goal from an acute angle, the wild celebrations as captain fantastic Bryan Robson held the trophy aloft.
I was hooked on the beautiful game, Manchester United were my team.
Ferguson famously declared that he would “knock Liverpool off their perch” and 13 Premier League titles later he delivered on that prophecy, with some of the most enthralling and captivating football the game has ever seen, you could guarantee drama every time United were in action.
The comeback kings, the team that would never surrender, if United were 3-0 down with 10 minutes to go it was always still possible, streaming forwards like the red arrows until the death, no matter the opposition.
Who could forget the greatest comeback of all?
The Champions League Final of 1999, trailing 1-0 in the 90th minute against Bayern Munich at a sun kissed Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer snatching two late strikes at the death, capturing the historic treble.
Manchester United were box office every week under Sir Alex, seemingly doing the impossible time after time, so many moments and so many fantastic players had come through the doors at Carrington, Peter Schmeichel, Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and maybe the greatest of all time to lace up a pair of boots…..Cristiano Ronaldo.
The youth system was second to none, the great man presiding over the development of the class of 92, six players who would rise to prominence in the game and become some of the most decorated and gifted footballers of that generation.
Class of 92 Pictured below: Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes.
As the years rolled by and the league titles began to accumulate, it was a 2nd European Cup that Sir Alex craved on his CV, and in 2008 he delivered, with a victory over Chelsea in the first ever European Cup Final contested by two English teams.
As in the now tradition of the club, it came down to a nail biting finale on penalties, Edwin Van Der Sar saving Nicolas Anelka’s spot kick amongst the pouring rain in Moscow, handing United their 3rd European Cup trophy.
Back to back losses in the 2010 and 2011 finals followed, to a Barcelona team led by the incomparable Lionel Messi, who themselves may have had a claim to be the finest team of all time at that period in history.
The aforementioned triumph in 2008 was to be Sir Alex’s and United’s last, a thought hard to fathom in 2020 such as has been the clubs fall from grace since his departure in 2013, where he brought down the curtain on his astonishing career at United with a 13th Premier league title, again this being the clubs last.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the clubs woes since his exit, every managerial appointment seemingly more disappointing than the last, David Moyes an abject failure with Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho both delivering trophies in their reigns, but never the Premier League title or the European Cup, trophies that a club of this stature and history should be fighting for on a regular basis.
Each of them never truly grasped and embraced the spirit and values of the club that Sir Alex had manifested over his long and prestigious leadership, throwing our attacking principles to the wayside in order to justify the means, trophies were delivered, but at the cost of what made this club truly unique and loved around the globe.
Vast amounts of money has been squandered on mediocre players that have failed to deliver at the Theatre of Dreams, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Fred, Paul Pogba the list goes on.
All household names in their own right and have proved themselves to be big game players at other clubs, so why has the failure been consistent at United? I would lay the blame at a negative managerial approach and the vast amounts of money that is awash within the game today.
Big money contracts get signed and players come and go for obscene amounts of money, once a player earns £500,000 a week where does his motivation come from…?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has the keys to the castle and inherits the same problems mentioned above, he has an unenviable task of trying to bring back the glory days to our club, but players of his irk and desire are of a by-gone era.
How much would Eric Cantona have been worth in the modern game? bought for a now modest looking £1 million at the time by Sir Alex, he was the catalyst that propelled the club to their 1st league title in 27 years, a genius with the ball at his feet and a true joy to watch.
Defenders like Steve Bruce, solid as a rock at the heart of the defence and would run through brick walls for the team.
Box to box midfielders like Roy Keane, a true leader who never gave in, fought for every blade of grass on the pitch and failed to ever settle for second best.
Goal scoring machines like Cristiano Ronaldo, developing himself physically and technically on a daily basis until he became the greatest player on the planet.
The club seems to be in an eternal malaise with not only player recruitment being truly abysmal but a real lack of young talent coming through the ranks with Marcus Rashford being the only player to have truly broken through and I firmly believe he will become a truly world class player, whilst Jesse Lingard has seemingly gone into reverse over the past two years.
Rashford aside, the well has seemingly run dry, with this generation evidently more interested in the commercial aspects of the game rather than football itself, lacking in the basic fundamentals that will take you to the upper echelons of the sport…..hard work, commitment, and desire.
Sadly I feel Manchester United will be a long time in the wilderness, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City seemingly light years ahead on and off the pitch in terms of leadership, recruitment, and playing style.
If this trend continues at the club its hard to wonder where it will end, a slide into irrelevancy beckons.
However, I feel that this isn’t just an exclusive Manchester United issue with the ridiculous amounts of money awash within the game taking it away from the man in the street to be enjoyed, ticket prices always rising and multiple subscription services needed to just watch a game.
The premier league has become a relentless money making juggernaut that cannot be stopped and that along the way has created the era of the modern day footballer, which I can no longer personally get behind.