Distinguished journalist Joe Posnanski, a columnist for the NBC SportsWorld website, recently compiled a list of top 100 all-time Olympians.
He begins with these words: “Can you definitely rank over a century’s worth of Olympians from a wide array of sports and disciplines? No, but let’s try anyway.”
Posnanski’s ambitious project includes two legendary athletes from Japan: gymnast Sawao Kato (No. 23), who amassed a collection of 12 Olympic medals, including eight golds from the 1968 Mexico City Games, 1972 Munich Olympics and 1976 Montreal Games; and judoka Tadahiro Nomura (No. 62), who captured first-place medals in the extra lighweight division in 1996 in Atlanta, in 2000 in Sydney and 2004 in Athens.
Posnanski’s top 10: 1. Jesse Owens (track and field, United States); 2. Michael Phelps (swimming, U.S.); 3. Larisa Latynina (gymnastics, Soviet Union); 4. Usain Bolt (track and field, Jamaica); 5. Carl Lewis (track and field, U.S.); 6. Mark Spitz (swimming, U.S.); 7. Paavo Nurmi (track and field, Finland); 8. Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track and field, U.S.); 9. Nadia Comaneci (gymnastics, Romania); 10. Florence Griffith-Joyner (track and field, U.S.).
Phelps, whose resume includes 22 medals (18 golds) and the amazing sprinter Bolt, who has earned worldwide acclaim by taking home the gold in the 100-, 200- and 4×100-meter relay at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games, are still active, and both are planning to chase more Olympic medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Also on the list: American discus legend Al Oerter (No. 26). His unprecedented streak of four straight golds began in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, and included a triumph at the 1964 Tokyo Games, and Abebe Bikila at No. 28, the Ethiopian marathon great who repeated as the men’s winner in Japan’s capital city with shoes on his feet after famously running barefoot to claim the gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
One curious omission: Distance runner Billy Mills, the American whose triumph in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is considered by many to be the greatest upset in Olympics history.
Meanwhile, boxing aficionados may appreciate that Posnanski included two legendary world heavyweight champions on his list, though another pundit’s top 100 might list them both higher. Joe Frazier, a 1964 Olympic gold medalist at heayweight, is ranked 79th, and the man then known as Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), the light-heavyweight champ at the Rome Games, is 80th.