Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Top Ten Jocks of the Decade

I hope it doesn’t bother you all that I’m going to get a bit jocky over the next three weeks. It’s just that this is March Madness and, aside from the glorious three weeks that constitute the Tour de France and the month of October when real baseball is played, this is my favorite time of the year. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of good India pics coming for Photo Friday, but sports is what got me into this mess so for a couple of posts I’m going to give it its due.

But we’ll start outside of basketball and move into a conversation I had in McLeod at my local cricket hangout (Indian fast food place that shows cricket matches on a 17” screen). Star Sports (ESPN Asia partner) was showing the annual Laureus Global Sports awards show. It’s the international equivalent of the ESPY’s so it’s rare that an American Football player gets anything – but everyone else is up for grabs.

They gave their male athlete of the year to Usain Bolt and female athlete to Russian Pole Vaulter (who just missed the podium in back to back World Championships) Yelena Isinbayeva. Then the panel of experts had a discussion (no official awards) as to their athletes of the decade. Lots of names went up and no consensus was made. At the Indian place in McLeod their list consisted of 25 cricket players, Bolt and Michael Phelps.

My list went like this:

1) Tiger Woods - Let’s get serious here. Golf is a crap shoot. It’s not a matter of a great athlete pushing harder, or doing their best. You have to be awesome all the time. Golf is the hardest sport in the world in terms of consistency and this guy has aced the field (nah, I ain’t goin’ there…). Sure golfers are a bunch of stuck up rich boys and even Tiger couldn’t change that. There hasn’t been a ‘Tiger Woods Factor’ bringing minorities to the tour, but that’s not his fault. He rewrote the book in the most difficult test of athletic precision.

2) Roger Federer - If tennis was as unpredictable as golf, Federer would be number one on this list. But it’s not. If you’re good, you’re going to kick everyone’s ass. And that’s what Federer has done. With at least five more majors to go (dude’s only 27-years-old) he’s just started rewriting the record books. I remember when Doctor J stopped attacking the rim and started shooting jump shots in his late 20’s and early 30’s. He was still the best player in the game and that’s where Federer is going now.

3) Michael Phelps - I grew up in a swimming family and, after one season of chlorine poisoning, hated the sport so much I became a diver. I play in a rock band where everyone except the drummer is a swimmer. Let me tell you from personal experience – these cats are not normal. This is the worst most horrible sport in the world. Aside from the fitness thing, swimming is like putting chalk in your teeth and writing your name on the board 100 times. It’s just awful. It’s unwatchable unless you’ve got a horse in the race. My horse is Michael Phelps and I seriously don’t know how anyone can give the guy a ration over taking a bong hit. Please Michael, take many more.

4) Lance Armstrong - Now we’re getting into the ugly 00’s discussion on steroids. Lance was a doper. There’s no question. In French grand jury testimony his teammate Frankie Andreu (as well as Andreu’s wife) testified that in the hospital room, Lance told the doctor he’d done every performance-enhancing drug in the book. And because he’d all of them he was on his death bed. I follow cycling religiously and I know what kind of rider he was during that period. He was a one-day specialist, way too big to be a Tour de France winner. There’s no way he took those needles while he was the 7-time champ. Those are clean wins. As will, hopefully be the 8th, Mr Contador!

5) Shawn White - I just watched this guy win his second gold medal at the age of 23. Isn’t this guy 40 or something? From the age of four, Shawn White has taken me into a sport that didn’t exist when I was growing up. I was one of those short, flippy-twisty dudes so if this sport would have been around when I was a kid, I would have spent my youth on a ski hill instead of a swimming pool (OK, I didn’t have that kind of jack, but you get where I’m going).

6) Kobe Bryant - I met this cat in 1999 after he’d been voted into the starting lineup of the NBA All-Star game while he was the 6th Man on the Lakers. On the eve of the All-Star game, Adidas flew the 19-year-old on a private jet to the Atlanta Super Show (a sports industry trade show) to do a product presentation for his new shoe. In a crowd full of industry big wigs, he sold his shoe better than the 50 professional salesmen sitting in front of him. And then he went on to be a better clutch shooter than Jordan (last decade’s top athlete).

7) Serena Williams - This woman is a hyper athlete who’s only nemesis is boredom. She’s won half her grand slams ten pounds overweight so when she’s in shape nobody can touch her. It’s a shame she didn’t pick up soccer because she’d be as dominant as any woman out there if she did.

8) Albert Pujols - I’m still on the doping bandwagon. Pujols took a few weeks off in 2006 for an ‘abdominal strain’ which, for a young guy, is precisely the result of doing steroids. I’m pretty sure he, like A-Rod, Manny, McGuire, Bonds, Nomah, Sosa – the list is too long, was a doper. But I also think that episode, as well as his god-given talent, made him give up the spike and just rake. He stands above all the rest and it’s not just because of his physical makeup. This guy is the most complete hitter since Ted Williams.

9) Peyton Manning - Only one football player on this list and I’m sure that’s because football is the ultimate team sport. It’s not a team sport, it’s an organizational sport. You need a coach and a dozen great players to win a title. Dan Marino may have been the best QB in the history of the league and all he’s got for it is a piss-yellow jacket. Peyton’s four MVP’s get him on the list, but more than that, the fact that he’s his own offensive coordinator keeps him here.

10) Shaquille O’Neal – He’s a bit like Serena in the fact that he’s dominated a major global sport while being out of shape for much of it. There’s only about three months out of the year that really interest him, but he’s been the biggest force in the game when those three months come around. Sure he’s got a big body, but so did Kareem and Kareem took care of himself (lungs aside…). If he were a bit more coachable (free throws, conditioning) he could (read: should) be on the top of this list.

Honorable Mention

Tim Duncan - Again, as much as I don’t watch anything but the last ten minutes of an NBA game, I have to admit, I always stop the clicker when I see Tim Duncan. Every time I watch him, no matter if it’s the first quarter of a pre-season game or the waning minutes of the NBA Finals, he’s beating his opponents. He’s the most skilled, unspectacular player in sports history and he’s got four rings to prove it. If only he’d been an Oakland Rader: Just Win Baby. That’s all he does

Guo – Just Google her. I’m sure there are other Olympians out there, who have dominated, but she’s the best diver since Louganis and she goes on my list.

Usain Bolt – He happened too late in the decade to be a 10-year phenomenon. But sheeyaaah.

Haile Gebrselassie – Lots of his best moments were in the 90’s but he was pretty much unbeatable in the 00’s. Should have made his mark in the marathon to be considered the ‘best distance runner’ of all time.

Tony Hawk – Shawn White owes everything to this cat. But Hawk was not competing against the same caliber of freaks White is beating.

Pudge Rodriguez – Pudge is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen. And yeah, I’ve seen Pujols play too. Defensively, Pudge has denied as many runs as Hank Aaron scored. The only thing that keeps him out of the top ten is that I’m a catcher and, just like Guo, my journalistic non-bias puts him in the honorable mention category.

Brett Favre… Jesus, I just can’t talk about it.

Zendine Zedane. I’ve had the absolute privilege to watch this magician play twice in World Cup games. He’s the combination of Kobe, Duncan and Pudge. For six years the French won everything. Amazing skills; amazing athleticism; complete competitor. But the head-butt… Dude, it was the World Cup Final, not the film version of M*A*S*H (Spear Chucker Jones).

Lebron. Win something! (yeah, the Gold Medal does count…)

Sachin Tendulkar. The guy has rewritten the batting record books like Favre did the NFL passing records. It’s a different game now, but it was really cool to see his last couple swats when he broke the ODI 200 run mark. He’s not in my top because none of you know what the hell that means. C’mon America! Cricket is LIFE!!

Boxers: Greatest athletes; dumb foks – ALL OF THEM!

Michael Schumacker? Drivers may be athletes, but it’s not their athleticism that gets them wins. It’s balls and a good car.

OK, who am I leaving out? No Hockey players (Gretzky screwed that pooch – maybe Crosby at some point?), no handicapped athletes or long distance runners (none of them have dominated) and no race car drivers, poker players or female pool players (yeah, I watch them bend over the table). Rock climbers? Paddlers? Tell Me!

(Coming soon – Weirdest All-Time Athletes!)

p.s. anyone who wants in on the NCAA pool can email me at tomhaig@hotmail.com.


  1. You forgot Kevin Martin!

  2. Brett Farve - See you again next year in Purple. - Andre

    PS - Lance had another girl.

  3. As far as climbers go, there are so many diferent styles that it is hard to pick just one as the greatest. But these people could all contend Chris Sharma, Dean Potter, Beth Rodden, Lisa Rands. HM goes to Ed Vieturs (more mountaineering..but still amazing) and Lynn Hill - maybe not this decade though. -Devin