Recently, I was asked to share my opinion on what it takes to be the "Ultimate Athlete." At first, I thought I was being contacted to participate in this upcoming reality-type event, but alas, I was actually just asked to share my opinion on the matter. Damn, $100,000 sounded pretty good to me. Think of all the Power Gels I could buy with that.
Since this is an opinion post, and many people may be reading this who are not familiar with me, I'll provide you with a very brief bio. I do believe that my knowledge on the matter and my opinion on the subject actually has some substance and weight behind it, and didn't want readers to think I was just blowing hot air on the subject.
I grew up playing team sports. Eventually after participating and being exposed to many different types of sports, I began to specialize in one: field hockey. Yes, men do play field hockey, and no we don't wear skirts. I played field hockey for the better part of 20 years, where I eventually went on to captain the local university team (the UVIC Vikes). In my time, I also went to the Junior National Championships. Although I never went on beyond this level, a few of my teammates stayed with the game and made it to the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
After getting married in my late 20's, and then having children in my early 30's I grew tired of the game and somehow found myself running in my spare time to stay in shape. Over a couple of years, I gave into my competitive nature and began running competitively, both in road running and in trail running. I then specialized once again, and am now fully engaged in distance trail endurance events.
So, now back to this event competition and my opinion...
Ask any teenager about who they think is the best athlete and expect a wide-range of answers. Names like Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Roger Federer, Brett Favre and Wayne Gretzky would no doubt come up. Media-crazed teenagers. Those with a bit more knowledge on the amateur side of sports may throw out names like Michael Phelps, Simon Whitfield or Kenesia Bekele. However, I would hazard a guess and suggest that putting Tiger Woods on a windsurfer and expecting him to perform would simply not happen. Or, stick Lebron James in a collegiate-level water polo match and watch him rise to the challenge? I think not.
Individual versus Team Sports
I have always believed that the best athlete in the world is one who is diverse. One who can be put in a water polo game and compete, one who can downhill ski well, and one who would be put in a new sport and immediate pick it up and make an impact.
There are two different types of sports: those that are individually-based, and those that are team based. In my humble opinion, the best athletes in the world should be able to do both, and not only that, do all the sports very well. Individual sports are very easy to judge: run the fastest, lift the most, or last the longest. However, how exactly does one judge an individual participating in a team-based sport? No, I do not think it is impossible, but I do think it is very hard and can only be done by the experienced, trained eye. Soccer coaches picking rep. teams have done this criteria-based judging for years, so yes, it can be done. In PE class, games like speedball and endball are purposely designed to highlight team skills such as space, communication, off-ball movement, support and position. The best athlete in the world should have these team skills build into him or her.
I do not know, but I would guess that the 20 disciplines that are in competition with this "Ultimate Athlete" are all individually-based. Tangible results, easy to tabulate. If this is the case, I would say that this is too bad. Realistically, I would hope that there would be some team-based games that focus completely on those team skills (space, support, etc.). I encourage the organizers to phone me ahead of time to organize some endball for this competition next year (my rate is only $5,000).
Who is going to win
I do not know who is going to win this "Ultimate Athlete" event, but I think I know exactly the type of person who would be great at it. Obviously, if you had someone who had experience in all 20 disciplines they would have a supreme advantage over others who do not. Therefore, actual experience with all the disciplines is critical. I am not by any means saying that they need to be at an elite level at the 20 disciplines, but they would need to be competent at all. Furthermore, if someone is to be very good at all 20 disciplines, I would expect this "Ultimate Athlete" to be quite committed to athletics and the outdoors. In other words, I would not expect them to have a family, or even a job really. The ultimate athlete would be someone who pretty much just does this kind of thing for a living. And again, I would expect someone who is good at all 20 disciplines would also not be 19 years old. The "Ultimate Athlete" would have to have the wealth of experience, but also not be tied down with too many blue-collar duties...like a family.
What type of sport will win
So if it is strictly an individual-based competition, the athlete must have (besides experience) a supreme level of personal fitness. The five guiding area of fitness are: flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and body composition.
Clearly, if 20 disciplines are happening in 7 days, then the "Ultimate Athlete" would have to be more that just skilled and experienced. They would have to be able to compete throughout these 7 days at a high level. This means knowing what the need for their preparation (nutrition/hydration), competition, and also recovery (nutrition/hydration). I have a huge interest in the area of recovery and believe that the "Ultimate Athlete" would have to know a thing or two about it. Cardio and endurance would also be vital.
In the Olympics, a multi-sport event was created decades ago to find the ultimate athlete. It was called the decathlon (men) or heptathlon (women). Athletes have to be able to run, jump and throw and get points based on their results. Top athletes in these events are good at all disciplines, but specialize in a few. Same thing can be said about another multi-sport event: the triathlon. Athletes have to be really good at swimming, biking and running, but the top athletes in the world, at some point, were elite specialists in at least one area. Adventure racing is another multi-sport event where athletes are put to the test of kayaking, canoeing, orienteering, running, swimming, biking, skiing, or whatever. Nowadays, they really have thought of it all. There are some supreme adventure racers out there that are not household names. But they are wicked athletes.
In summary, the "Ultimate Athlete" will have/be...
- between the ages of 20-39
- no family tie-ups (ie. kids)
- a decent amount of experience in all 20 disciplines.
- specialist (ie. elite) in a few of the disciplines.
- great knowledge of outdoors (knowledge of Oregon is a bonus).
- been doing this kind of thing for most of their life.
- great level of fitness, especially cardio and endurance.
- previous experience in multi-sport type events (such as adventure racing, triathlon, etc.)