Greatest American track & field athlete ever


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Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 12:31 pm

In the spirit of having more directed track talk, here's a good debate. Who is the greatest American track & field athlete ever? Qualifications to consider are Olympic medals, U.S. championships, World Championships (even though they only go back 20 years), world records, and maybe other intangible qualities. A few nominees:

Michael Johnson
Carl Lewis
Frank Shorter (if you want to include the marathon)


Others?
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 12:42 pm

Shorter ??

As good as Frank was, I don't think he qualifies as one of the best ever. How 'bout Oerter?
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 12:44 pm

Al Oerter's 4 consecutive Olympic golds are better than Carl, Jesse, etc, because he was NOT the favorite in at least 3 of the 4.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 12:48 pm

Yeah, but Carl has 9 gold spread over 3 different events (4 if you include the relay) !!
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby 197hjsteve » Thu Jun 26, 2003 12:50 pm

It is not even close. It's Carl.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby LongTimeSubscriber » Thu Jun 26, 2003 12:52 pm

Since it is impossible to have any relevant discussion without guidelines and other parameters, may I recommend that the moderator of this chatroom eliminate this and all other 'greatest' topics or at least move them to the 'historical' list.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 1:01 pm

>Since it is impossible to have any relevant
>discussion without guidelines and other
>parameters, may I recommend that the moderator of
>this chatroom eliminate this and all other
>'greatest' topics or at least move them to the
>'historical' list.

People complain about the food threads and other non-sense, so I try to start a thread with reasonable debate about track. Well, someone gripes about that, too. Yeah, it may be hard to establish guidelines and parameters for such discussion. That's what makes debating them so great. You state your case, I state mine, we debate about it, and neither of us is undisputably correct. That's what makes for great sports discussions. If we have to have parameters, what are we suppossed to do? Debate the world leader lists? That might go something like this: I think XYZ has the best mark in event ABC. No, you're wrong! Such debate would be silly because world lists are in black and white. It's the undefinable that makes sports debates fun.

I thought we wanted more track threads. If not, bring on the food guy.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 1:05 pm

>Since it is impossible to have any relevant
>discussion without guidelines and other
>parameters, may I recommend that the moderator of
>this chatroom eliminate this and all other
>'greatest' topics or at least move them to the
>'historical' list.


errrr...this is the historical site....has to be Carl (unfortunately)...
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 1:06 pm

Apologies...just noticed gh just moved it here.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 1:10 pm

My vote for Greatest T&F American Athlete is

1) Carl Lewis (noone even close in my book, he dominated the world for over a decade in several events, at top speed he may be the fastest man God has ever created)

But MJ's 200 might be the greatest single performance of all-time (maybe Beamon's LJ was close)

But the greatest american athlete ever was Jim Thorpe, he just didn't compete in track very long.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby tafnut » Thu Jun 26, 2003 4:13 pm

This is old news, but given the conditions, Bob Hayes' Oly anchor was the fastest anyone has ever run.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jun 26, 2003 6:32 pm

Carl Lewis and Al Oerter were both incredible competitors, both winning Oly Gold in the same event four times. That's incredible when you factor in all the things that can go wrong, whether it's injuries, age, etc. Amazing. Carl jumped his best when Powell broke the LJ record in that epic battle in Tokyo. He didn't win, but he came through with his best ever. Oerter pulled the same thing out of a hat time and time again.

Carl gets the nod because of his versatility, with big Al in second. And I'm a middle/long distance fan!
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 27, 2003 4:27 am

What's this "unfortunately" Carl Lewis crap?

I know people think I get hung up on World Rankings, but they're a great way to boil complex seasonal records down to a single number. So consider this:

The only athletes that ranked ahead of Lewis in the 100m between 1981 and 1988 served suspension time for doping offenses.

No one has scored more rankings points in a single running event than Carl Lewis has in the 100m.

No one has scored more rankings points in a single event that Carl Lewis has in the LJ (not even Bubka).

Between 1984 and 1991, Lewis was five-for-five in the OG and WC 100m.

Lewis held low-altitude (i.e., real) WRs for 100m, 200m, and LJ -- at one point, he held all three.

Lewis had Mike Powell so psyched out that when Powell set the WR, he didn't celebrate until Lewis was done -- he still says to this day he was convinced he'd have to break it again in order to beat Carl. Even in losing, Lewis put up four of history's seven longest jumps (up to that point).

And then, of course, there are those 4 OG wins in the LJ (plus two WC) and a really long winning streak.

If your definition of "greatest" is to be at the top in multiple events for an unreasonably long time, then it can't be anyone but Lewis. If you're looking at simple dominance of a single event, then it's probably Bubka or Moses (and Bubka had too many OG failures).
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby gh » Fri Jun 27, 2003 6:25 am

>>Lewis had Mike
>Powell so psyched out that when Powell set the
>WR, he didn't celebrate until Lewis was done --
>he still says to this day he was convinced he'd
>have to break it again in order to beat Carl.>

Terrific stats, backing up what's a slam-dunk conclusion: Carl is so clearly the best that you can't even see 2nd-place behind him.

But the Powell-no-celebrate thing didn't happen. As one who was there, I can tell you that he--like everybody else in the stadium not named Carl Lewis--went beserko. Not as beserko as he did after Lewis's last jump, bearhugging the judge, but he was massively demonstrative. How could he not have been?
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 27, 2003 9:54 am

Reread your T&FN from November 1991. He was happy, but he was reserved. He was quoted there, as well as in subsequent interviews, as immediately thinking it wouldn't hold up.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Bob H » Fri Jun 27, 2003 10:09 am

Sorry, I'm with gh on this one. Not only was I there, but I've also seen the video of his reaction many times. He was definitely excited.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 27, 2003 10:15 am

OK, I get the point. What I'm trying to say here is that he was more excited about beating Lewis than breaking the record, probably because he thought it was a harder thing to do.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 27, 2003 5:26 pm

Squire's point is well taken as the competition aspect almost overshadowed Powell's WR. That was the most exciting track competition which I have ever seen. The television coverage was extraordinary for a jumping event. Although Powell won, Lewis's series seemed almost as impressive.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 27, 2003 5:45 pm

right.... 18 posts on this topic already and no mention of JJK!!! Deary deary me!
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 27, 2003 6:41 pm

>What's this "unfortunately" Carl Lewis
>crap?
...
The only athletes that
>ranked ahead of Lewis in the 100m between 1981
>and 1988 served suspension time for doping
>offenses.


Unfortunately, it appears big $$$$ and a complicit American Federation kept Lewis from serving suspensions along with the guys you mention above.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Sun Jun 29, 2003 11:47 am

There's no question in my mind that Jesse Owens must rank ahead of Carl Lewis. Don't get me wrong -- Lewis is right there near the top, but just not a match for Owens in my opinion.

1. I would say the strongest argument for Lewis is his 9 Olympic gold medals. Owens won 4 at the 1936 Olympics, and then the next two Olympics ('40 and '44) were cancelled due to WW II. Even without the cancellations, my understanding is that, for financial reasons and just in terms of the norm for that era, the kind of career longevity we see today was just not typical back in Owens's day. I am projecting -- for what it's worth -- that had Owens competed in an era in which T&F athletes could have long careers, he'd have more closely rivaled (or even exceeded) Lewis's number of Olympic golds.

2. Even with Owens's much shorter career span, excluding relays, Owens broke more world records in one afternoon (three, with a fourth one tied, at the 1935 Big Ten championships) than Lewis did in his entire career (twice he held the 100m WR)! That's a fact! (See summary of Owens's accomplishments at:

http://www.jesseowens.com/jobio2.html

3. Nor can one argue that Owens's records were "cheap" in the sense of the sport being relatively early in its history. Owens's long jump world record (26-8¼) lasted for 25 years (1935-1960), which is even greater longevity than Bob Beamon's LJ record (23 years, 1968-1991). Heck, Owens's 1935 jump of 26-8¼ would even be considered an excellent jump today!

4. As if the above-named accomplishments weren't enough, Owens was also a world record 220 hurdler. Mastering two skills such as sprinting and long jumping is difficult enough, but Owens excelled at a third difficult discipline.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Sun Jun 29, 2003 1:36 pm

I'll Bet C.J. Hunter could run the 100M under 2 or 3 minutes. Just kidding.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Mon Jun 30, 2003 1:12 am

I didn't see anyone name Edwin Moses to this list.

Two-time Olympic champ at the 400m hurdles, undefeated for ten years (even the incomprable Carl Lewis couldn't claim that title), multiple World Record setter. Moses started his reign as a junior from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia; his reign ended with a bronze medal in the Seoul Olympics. Always a classy guy who redefined how the 400 hurdles race was run.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Mon Jun 30, 2003 8:21 am

No question that Moses is up there. Had he been able to win the '88 Olympic gold, some people probably would have considered it an "asterisked-Oerter" performance. He would have won gold in '76, '84, and (hypothetically) '88, and what would have been the only omission ('80) was when the U.S. boycotted the Games. Barring the most bizarre circumstances, Moses should easily have won the gold in '80. However unfair it may be, though, the lack of a gold in '88 probably drops Moses a notch.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Mon Jun 30, 2003 1:47 pm

>I didn't see anyone name Edwin Moses to this
>list.

I did. I said that if you your definition of "greatest" is domination of a single event, it's got to be Moses.

I think Owens was great. I also think he is terribly over-rated. No one ever realizes that he was the world's best 100 man for only one year -- 1936. He was tops in the 200 only for 1935 and 1936. His best event was the long jump, but it's a bit of a stretch to say that his career accomplishments in the LJ top Carl's.

As for WRs, the ratification system back then was wierd at times. The ATFS does not question the validity of Charley Paddock's 10.2, which was run 14 years before Owens' WR. (Paddock's time was not accepted as a WR because it was for 110y rather than 100m, even though he ran FURTHER than 100m). The ratification system now has just one problem -- altitude. Carl had the low-altitude WRs for the 100 for most of the '80s, the 200 from 1983 to 1988, and the LJ from '81 to '91.

I just can't give the title of "greatest" to someone based on one season plus one meet, and that's what Owens has going for him -- 1936 plus the '35 Big Ten meet. I look at accomplishments, so if you're going to argue about the nebulous idea of "talent", I'm out.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby luv2run » Tue Jul 01, 2003 1:03 pm

You are limiting us to "modern" choices. How about:

Jim Thorpe (in my mind the greatest athlete in recorded history)
Bob Mathias
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby 197hjsteve » Tue Jul 01, 2003 1:30 pm

j squire, here's one just for you....

being an obvious Ohio resident, who is Ohio State's greatest athlete ?

A few basketballers, a few track athletes, a few footballers, and one golfer come to mind...

let's see your rankings of the top 5. Or anybody else for that matter.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Tue Jul 01, 2003 2:21 pm

Golfers aren't athletes.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby 197hjsteve » Tue Jul 01, 2003 2:28 pm

tell Tiger that.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Tue Jul 01, 2003 3:24 pm

Um, again, it comes down to your definition of "greatest". Does the inherent athleticism of a sport count? Are you looking for the athlete who dominated his sport the most?

If you're just looking for the athletes who dominated their sports the most, then here it is in order and by sport:

Men's Golf -- Jack Nicklaus
Men's Track -- Edwin Moses
Figure Skating -- Scott Hamilton (I once lived on Scott Hamilton Street)
Football -- Alan Page (Ohio has more Pro HOF members than California!)
Basketball -- Jerry Lucas
Baseball -- Mike Schmidt
Women's Track -- Madeline Manning
Boxing -- Jim Jeffries
Hockey -- Ohio has no players in the Hockey Hall of Fame
Women's Golf -- Ohio has no players in the LPGA Hall of Fame

I'm sure I'm missing a few sports, but these are the ones that immediately jump to mind. Some will want to eliminate Nicklaus and Hamilton on technicalities of "athleticism", although I'd like to see a non-athlete hit a ball 300 yards or do a front-flip on skates. Nevertheless, these are all great champions regardless of athletic ability.

Overall, I'd go:
1) Nicklaus
2) Moses
3) Owens
4) Hamilton
5) either Dillard, Davis or Davenport

Ohio is track-heavy and basketball-light. Ohio also can claim the greatest American-born black long-distance runner (Ted Corbitt) and one of the first five American-born blacks to run a sub-4:00 mile (Reggie McAfee).

Now if you want the greatest athletes from Toledo, I've got you covered to the top 20 or so!
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:17 pm

Can't go with Moses. He was fantastic in big meets, but he also picked and choosed, not racing as much as his competitors - so he was smart in one way, and scared in another. His "streak" was also b.s.. I was at the Mt. Sac Relays in '77 when he lost to Sam Turner - but the officials handed the race to the Oly champ - despite the finish line cam showing the teenage Turner had nipped Moses. Disgraceful. (I think the streak may actually have been claimed to begin later that year, but Moses lost that race) Also disgraceful was his behavior toward the winner, and the TV crew, after he finished third at the '88 Games.

Have to go with Carl. So dominant in the LJ that it may be 30 years or more before someone that dominating comes along.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:40 pm

>Can't go with Moses. He was fantastic in big
>meets, but he also picked and choosed, not racing
>as much as his competitors - so he was smart in
>one way, and scared in another. His "streak"
>was also b.s.. I was at the Mt. Sac Relays in
>'77 when he lost to Sam Turner - but the
>officials handed the race to the Oly champ -
>despite the finish line cam showing the teenage
>Turner had nipped Moses. Disgraceful. (I think
>the streak may actually have been claimed to
>begin later that year, but Moses lost that race)
>Also disgraceful was his behavior toward the
>winner, and the TV crew, after he finished third
>at the '88 Games.

Have to go with Carl. So
>dominant in the LJ that it may be 30 years or
>more before someone that dominating comes along.
>

Yes, his winning streak began in 1977. Despite his attitude, he was a superb athlete and immensely raised the profile of his event.

When it comes to winning streaks, most people automatically think "Oh, Edwin Moses". However, Iolanda Balas is getting a raw deal! She had a winning streak of 140 competitions, spanning 11 years. She improved upon the WR a total of 13 times, taking it from 1.75m (1956) to 1.91m (1961), and won the 1960 and 1964 Olympics to boot.

Her WR jump of 1.91m was (at the time) 7cm higher than the 2nd best all-time jumper. That WR lasted for ten years.


I would therefore rank Iolanda Balas above Edwin Moses so far as "Greatest Athletes" are concerned, but seeing as this thread is about American athletes, I gotta go with Jackie Joyner-Kersee. (Also my candidate for greatest athlete of all time).
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Tue Jul 01, 2003 5:45 pm

I will readily acknowledge, as was noted in one of the previous posts, that the weak spot in the argument for Jesse Owens is that his major accomplishments were confined to two years, 1935 and 1936. However, I'm not sure that you all appreciate how truly mindboggling these accomplishments were!

In addition to those I stated in my previous message above (including that Owens set more world records in a single afternoon than Carl Lewis did in his whole career, excluding relays), I'd like to throw out another fact...

Owens's 1935 long jump of 26-8 1/4 (a world record that stood for 25 years) would have been good enough to qualify for the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. Yes, that's right, 2000.

http://www.trackandfieldnews.com/specia ... en/lj.html
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Wed Jul 02, 2003 3:26 pm

Has to be Carl Lewis

After that it gets tight, my top 10 (male athletes) goes:
2. Oerter
3. MJ
4. Owens
5. Moses
6. Jim Thorpe
7. Mathias
8. Rafer Johnson
9. Parry O'Brien
10. Warmerdam
HM: Lon Myers
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby swamprunner » Thu Jul 03, 2003 5:52 am

Anybody remember a guy named Jim Ryun?

He may not have been the greatest American track and field athlete (In my book he may well have been), but the fact that he has not even been mentioned suprises me.

Just like Jesse Owens's performances were not only outstanding for their era but stood the test of time as well, so did Ryun's. This guy ran 3:53 for the mile on a dirt track as a teenager. No one, Alan Webb included, has come close to that almost 40 years later.

Granted, he did not dominate as thoroughly or for as long as Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson, but Jim certainly deserves honorable mention at the least.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jul 03, 2003 8:40 am

Ryun held world records not only in the mile and 1,500 meters, but also at 880 yards (a distance that, up until perhaps the mid-70s, used to be contested regularly in the U.S., if not elsewhere).

As many of you are aware, Ryun is now a member of the U.S. House of Reps. He still operates a running camp, the website for which has a summary of his running accomplishments and online videos of a few of his most momentous races (playable if your computer has the necessary media software). The site is at: http://www.ryunrunning.com/
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jul 03, 2003 10:19 am

>Owens set more world records in a single
>afternoon than Carl Lewis did in his whole
>career, excluding relays.

If you mean officially-recognized WRs, then you're right. The problem is that in 1936 there were more than twice as many running events as now, with imperial and metric distances.

At the 1935 Big 10 meet, Owens ran 9.4 to tie the 100y WR. He'd already done that many times, as had several other athletes. He set a WR in the 220y at 20.3 (and was credited with the 200m record at the same time). The IAAF did not distinguish between times on a straightaway and around a curve back then; Australia's James Carlton had run 20.5 around a turn, so Owen's mark was slightly inferior. Another record was the 220y hurdles -- run only in the USA, it's hard to call a mark in that event a "World Record". His best mark that day was definitely the LJ -- more on that later.

Lewis competed at a time that all sprint WRs were altitude-aided. Lewis set 3 officially-recognized WRs for the 100. When you include unofficial low-altitude WRs, he set 6 in the 100, one in the 200, and three in the LJ.

Owens' LJ mark stood for 25 years, while Lewis' three low-alt. marks stood for a total of 10. Owens improved on the previous WR by less than 2% while Lewis' three marks improved it by more than 2%. Finally, Lewis also set the indoor WR in the LJ -- and it still stands today.

As far as WRs go, I think Lewis has at least as much to point to as Owens. As far as other accomplishments go, it's not even close.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jul 03, 2003 10:24 am

>Ryun held world records not only in the mile and
>1,500 meters, but also at 880 yards (a distance
>that, up until perhaps the mid-70s, used to be
>contested regularly in the U.S., if not
>elsewhere).

Yes, but . . . he ran 880y in 1:44.9, which is intrinsically equal to the 1:44.3 that Snell ran in 1962. Snell ran his on a 385y grass track, while Ryun ran his on a 440y cinder track. I don't think that an 800m intermediate time was taken for Ryun.

In the early 1970s, Rick Wohlhuter set an 880y WR and got cheated out of an 800m WR because meet management hadn't bothered to put down a line at 800m.
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby Guest » Thu Jul 03, 2003 12:42 pm

Here's the true test. :)

As I noted above, Jesse Owens's 1935 LJ would still have been good enough to place him on the U.S. Olympic team in 2000 -- 65 years later.

According to Carl Lewis's athlete bio at http://www.usatf.org , his LJ PR is:

29-1.25/8.87m '91

(presumably from his '91 WC battle with Mike Powell).

So, will a jump of 29-1.25 still be good enough to make the Olympic team in 2056 (1991 + 65) ?

The only way I'm going to know for sure is if I live to 94. :) We'll know sooner (perhaps within 10 or 20 years) if one or more U.S. jumpers start hitting 29-6 (which would be a pretty strong sign).
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Re: Greatest American track & field athlete ever

Postby gh » Wed Jul 30, 2003 5:33 pm

>Al Oerter's 4 consecutive Olympic golds are
>better than Carl, Jesse, etc, because he was NOT
>the favorite in at least 3 of the 4.>>

Actually, T&FN's international panel of experts had him tabbed to win in both '60 (almost unanimously) and '64 (narrowly, over Danek).
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