Olympics 2004: Athletics: Why Lewis Was Simply the Best; Frank Malley Recalls Some of the Finest Sporting Feats in Games History and Nominates His Top 20 Olympians of All Time
Byline: Frank Malley
FASTER, higher, stronger - that is the Olympic ideal which conjures nostalgic visions of sport's golden champions.
But who are the fastest, highest and strongest of all-time? Who deserves the ultimate accolade as the greatest Olympian?
Comparing different sports and eras is inevitably flawed because sportsmen can only beat the opposition of their day and who's to say that with modern training techniques and facilities past champions would not have surpassed today's icons?
But for the sake of debate, here is a shot at the 20 greatest Olympians of the modern Games, based on their medal hauls, toughness of opposition, profile of their event and impact and significance in the history of sport's greatest festival.
1. Carl Lewis - Greatest Olympian of all-time by whatever yardstick you apply. He brought unparalleled speed, grace and technique to athletics for a decade and his eight gold medals, earned against the toughest of opposition, speak for themselves. At his first Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 he won four golds at 100m, 200m, long jump and sprint relay. He won the 100m and long jump in 1988 and in 1992 added long jump and relay gold.
2. Jesse Owens - Pushed open gates of opportunity for generations of black athletes. Owens' achievements at the 1936 Berlin Games cannot be underestimated. In the face of Hitler's intimidating 'Aryan Supremacy', Owens lifted four golds in the 100m, 200m, sprint relay and long jump, singlehandedly rendering the mighty Third Reich ridiculous.
3. Steven Redgrave - Many might argue that Redgrave, who won his fifth successive gold in Sydney in the coxless fours, is the greatest Olympian of all time and it is a phenomenal achievement of enduring class and stamina.
4. Paavo Nurmi - Dominated distance running in the twenties, winning a record nine Olympic golds and adding three silvers for a record total of 12 Games medals.
No wonder they nicknamed him the Flying Finn.
5. Emil Zatopek - Marathon man or masochist? Whatever, this Czech army captain was the only man ever to win the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon - the first time he had run the event - in the same Games in Helsinki in 1952.
6. Mark Spitz - No swimmer in history is more deserving of the accolade 'champion of the world' than the man from California. Aged 22 he won seven gold medals in four days at the Munich Olympics, all in world records.
7. Lasse Viren - No-one perfected the art of peaking for competition quite like the languid Finn. Devastating last lap pace was his hallmark, but he will also be remembered for his courage and tenacity, never better demonstrated than when he fell in his first 10,000m Olympic final in Munich, yet jumped up to win in a world record 27:38.35.
8. Sebastian Coe - Only man to win successive gold medals in the 1500m - the Blue Riband of the track. Would have been even higher in the list but for the fact that his first triumph came in the boycott-hit 1980 Games.
9. Bob Beamon - The afternoon Beamon almost leapt out of the Mexico long jump pit will be remembered forever as arguably the single most fantastic feat in Olympic history. …