June 30, 2010

Canada's Top 100: The Greatest Athletes of All Time

Who is the greatest Canadian athlete of all time? Wayne Gretzky? Bobby Orr? Steve Nash? Terry Fox? Cindy Klassen?

That is the question that author Maggie Mooney and the Canadian Sport Advisory Council try to answer in Wiley's new book, Canada's Top 100: The Greatest Athletes of All Time.

Buy the Book - Amazon.ca - Chapters - Amazon.com

The author goes about her task by developing a point system complete with a mathematical formula to create a ranked list of 100 to 1. We do not get to see the point system or formula, which is disappointing. It is hinted that accumulation of awards and prizes are counted, as well as Olympic and World Championship medals and professional sports championships. Of course Hall of Fame inductions must be looked upon nicely too.

The ranked list was then submitted to the expert (though Vancouver biased) panel: Robin Brown (CBC Radio), Cam Cole (Vancouver Sun), Marry Jollimore (formerly CBC, Time, Globe & Mail), Wendy Long (Canadian Sports Hall of Fame), Gary Mason (Globe & Mail, Vancouver based), Mary Ornsby (Sports Editor Toronto Star), Jim Robson (formerly Canucks play by play voice), Jim Taylor (Vancouver sports writing icon) and Ed Willes (Vancouver Province), as well as the author, who is from Gabriola Island, BC. Does this panel know their stuff? Absolutely! Is it the best panel possible? No.

The panel eliminated the roboticism of the formula system by debating opinions. As the author says, "opinions were expressed - many contradictory, all well informed and passionate." Slowly, the top 100 list was reordered and reranked.

The result is the definitive - or at least defensible - list of the 100 greatest Canadian athletes of all time.

Now obviously this is no easy task. It is so hard to compare hockey players from era to era. Imagine how hard it is to compare different sports and different eras. How does Gordie Howe's long hockey career compare to the paralympic wonders of Chantel Petitclerc? How does a single sport star like Steve Nash compare to a multiple sport stars like Lionel Conacher or Bobbie Rosenfeld? And where does Terry Fox fit in?

Complicating matters is the definition of great. I continually struggle with this myself, and I was so happy to see the author acknowledge this problem. The definition of greatness varies from person to person more than we realize. I was glad to see the author come to the same conclusion that I have - that greatness goes hand in hand with legacy.

So with all that in mind, who is Canada's greatest athlete? It probably comes as no surprise that Wayne Gretzky was named #1. In fact, 30 of the top 100 athletes were hockey players (including Lionel Conacher, Jack Bionda and Bobbi Rosenfeld who also excelled in other sports). Howe, Orr, Richard, Lemieux . . . all the usual suspects as well as women players Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela James. Although how Wickenheiser outranked Jean Beliveau will be one of probably 100 great debates.

My biggest debate in my mind is not hockey's dominance, but Terry Fox's place. While Gretzky is named #1, Fox isn't ranked at all. Instead, he is almost ranked as 1a with his Special Honour status.

That is a complete cop out.

In most people's minds, there is only one non-hockey player who could possibly be ranked as Canada's greatest athlete. In many minds, only Terry Fox could challenge Wayne Gretzky for this amazing honour. In my own hockey-obsessed mind, I think Terry Fox's legacy - his greatness - out ranks that of The Great One.

But my opinion matters not to most. That's why I so wanted to see this debate settled - definitively or defesnibly - by this book Canada's Top 100: The Greatest Athletes of All Time.

All in all, the book is a good read with great photography. It will undoubtedly stir debate and interest, and teach every reader something new about Canadian sporting history.


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