Toughest Athlete, Toughest Sport

There is often a debate that comes up when athletes discuss the merits of their sport. Which sport is the hardest, and who is the best kind of athlete in the world?

My father thinks it ridiculous when people claim to be the world's greatest whatever. "How do they know that someone is a South American village isn't better?" he would say. Without a definition of world's greatest, how can one claim the title?

The same applies for a best athlete or toughest sport claim. Please read on and express your thoughts!

It would be hard to put parameters around sports, athletes, and events to claim a winner, but the discussion is always fun. Activities should be broken down into at least strength/power, endurance, skill, and mental toughness.

Perhaps there should be a category for number of participants involved or the accessibility of the sport. For example, professional football may be a tough sport, but not many people play it. On the other hand because getting in to the top level is difficult, maybe football should be rated higher than other sports.

We need to also differentiate individual sports from team sports, and within team sports the individual positions.

Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run) is touted as the hardest one day endurance event. The event combines multiple sport disciplines and has its origin as a contest to see who was the best athlete amongst people with varying expertise. Running and cycling each have 24 hour events that are also challenging. Even car racing has 24 hour events such as Le Mans. When multiple day events and outside elements are taken into account, a different angle needs to be taken.

Can Le Mans be compared to the others because it uses multiple drivers and a support crew? It may be better than to compare the sport with other long events such as Iditarod (dogs), America's Cup (yachts), or the Giro d'Italia (cycling).

Mixed martial arts combines various arts and without a doubt takes power, strength, skill, and mental toughness. Fans of the sport claim that its competitors are the best athletes because they have to use multiple disciplines in order to succeed. These athletes have to be solid like a bodybuilder yet flexible like a gymnast.

Similar to these athletes, gymnast have to be well rounded and balanced and the same can be said of mountain climbers (Mt. Everest challenges). Some may claim that the differences are too great and the elements of difficulty too varied to put these athletes on the same judging platform.

An argument can be made for events and athletes that either depend on a team, or some outside element in order to be successful. Rodeo events including bull riding/events on horseback, and big wave surfing all merit mention. A lot of skill, strength, and stamina are involved with these types of events. There is also a crucial link with an outside element or being that must be considered.

How does the outside influence affect a run for the title? Team sports such as water polo, crew (rowing), and popular professional sports develop athletes but success can rarely be attributed to one athlete. Is it fair to give the best athlete title to one person who could not perform without the assistance of others?

My intent is not to provide answers, but merely to foster discussion. If the job of picking the top 3 where yours, who would make your list and why?

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