World's Top 50 Sportspeople In 2003 : One Man's View From Downunder

The top 50 sports people
By Jon Anderson
December 31, 2003

WHAT criteria do you use when asked to name the top 50 sports-people in the world? Recent brilliance? Marketing appeal? Longevity? Total domination? Sportsmanship? Or a ranking based on the numbers who play a particular sport?

For me it was all of the above, plus a lot of reading, research and phone calls to catch up with overseas performances in 2003.

I do not put this up as a definitive list, more as one person’s view on the respective capabilities of our greatest.

Clearly Tiger Woods wasn’t as dominant in 2003 as past years - he didn’t win a major - yet the overall package is still high on my list.

Soccer star Zinedine Zidane has to be ranked very high, given he is considered the best player in the world’s biggest sport.

Then you have to try to rate a one-legged athlete such as Marlon Shirley, against a sprinter such as Maurice Greene.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my selections. But, for better or worse, here’s my Top 50 sportspeople as they stand at the end of 2003.

50 Alex Rodriguez, United States, Baseball
TEXAS Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player, even though his team finished last in the Western Conference. Scored most home runs (47) in the 2003 season.

49 Muthiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka, Cricket
THE greatest off-spinner in the game’s history and currently the world’s best bowler. He’s close to 500 Test wickets at the remarkable average of just over 23.

48 Jeff Gordon, United States, NASCAR
THE king of the circuit in the US, Gordon has dominated his sport for a decade. Among his numerous honours since his debut year of 1992 are four Winston Cups (NASCAR’s major trophy) and two Daytona 500s.

47 David Hall, Australia, Wheelchair Tennis
WON 10 of his 12 tournaments in 2003, including a seventh US Open.

46 Raul, Spain, Soccer
PART of the greatest array of talent ever assembled in one team, the brilliant Real Madrid. A great favourite with Real fans because he is a Spaniard among a United Nations of fantastic players. Eighth in the recent World Player of the Year awards.

45 Jenny Thompson, United States, Swimming
AT 30, the veteran of world swimming yet still a force in butterfly and freestyle.

44 Andy Roddick, United States, Tennis
A RARE talent, and although he is the current world No.1 he needs longevity before he can rival Andre Agassi.

43 Carolina Kluft, Sweden, Heptathlon
AT 20, and as the third best-performed heptathlete of all-time, Kluft is a marketing dream. In winning the gold medal in this year’s world championships in Paris, Kluft captivated a crowd that was desperate for hometown favourite Eunice Barber to win. On the opening day Kluft notched up personal bests in every event in the Stade de France stadium. Her reactions, demonstrative yet natural, thrilled the crowd, such as her backflip after a PB in the high jump and her running on the spot in glee. She was born to be an athlete, her mother being a former national long jumper and father a first division soccer player. In Paris, it came down to the long jump, her first two attempts ending in fouls. When she nailed her third and final leap (6.68m) the crowd exploded and a star was born. Watch for her in Athens next year

42 Roger Federer, Switzerland, Tennis
NOT rated No.1 on the computer but certainly there by the players. Beat Mark Philippoussis in the final at Wimbledon this year, his first grand slam success.

41 Pedro Martinez, Dominican Republic, Baseball
THE 32-year-old plays for the Boston Red Sox and is rated the best pitcher in the game. And for that, he is extremely well paid - more than $20 million a year.

40 Kobe Bryant , United States, Basketball
HIS off-field activities have overshadowed his brilliance on the court for the LA Lakers.

39 Hannah Stockbauer, Germany, Swimming
WON the 400m, 800m and 1500m at the world championships in Barcelona.

38 Marlon Shirley, United States, Paralympics
ABANDONED by his drug-addict mother on the streets of Nevada when he was three, Shirley was in an orphanage at five. And two years later he lost his left leg when he fell from a rideon lawn mower. Soon after the accident, he was adopted by a Mormon family from Utah and then found a new friend in the form of a prosthetic leg. In August this year Shirley, with prosthetic, became the first amputee to break 11 seconds for the 100 metres. Think about it. You and I were never able to break 11 seconds. Shirley does it with one leg. He has now set his sights on bigger fish: “Biomechanically and anatomically, I’m missing the most important parts of what it takes to be a sprinter,” he said. "Can you imagine an amputee lining up in the same races as world-class able-bodied athletes? “That would be huge.” I agree.

37 Lisa Leslie, United States, Basketball
LAUREN Jackson won the MVP in the US women’s league this year but big Lisa is still Jackson’s No. 1 rival.

36 Marion Jones, United States, Atheletics
INACTIVE of late after becoming a mother but Marion is still the queen of the sprinting track and is set to prove it in Athens.

35 Brett Favre, United States, American Football
TILL going strong for Green Bay, the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player remains the game’s premier quarter-back.

34 Peter Reid, Canada, Triathlon
TOUGH enough to win three successive Hawaiian ironman titles.

33 Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium, Tennis
IN winning two majors and getting to No.1, she proved herself Belgium’s best sportsperson since cycling legend Eddie Merckx.

32 Lauren Jackson, Australia, Basketball
FOR a white girl from the land of prawns and skippy to become Most Valuable Player in the US women’s league is just huge.

31 Ernie Els, South Africa, Golf
HE’S not Tiger but his form over the past 18 months isn’t that far behind. In another era, he would be a worthy world No. 1.

30 Albert Pujols, Dominican Republic, Baseball
A HOME-run specialist for the St Louis Cardinals. Only 23, the right-hander topped Major League Baseball’s National League batting this year, his 43 home runs coming at an average of .359.

29 Inge de Bruijn, Netherlands, Swimming
TWO gold medals at this year’s world championships keeps her at the top of the heap in womens swimming.

28 Michael Phelps, United States, Swimming
MANY would have him higher but for me he has to repeat his 2003 form at next years Olympics.

27 Andrew Johns, Australia, Rugby League
CLEARLY the best in his sport, maybe the best of all time.

26 Valentino Rossi, Italy, MotoGP
JUST 24, yet already the holder of three world titles and set to re-write the record books.

25 David Beckham, England, Soccer
HE may not be the best in his sport but is there a better-known sportsperson on the planet? Fine player though he is, he makes the list more because of his status as a sporting icon.

24 Annika Sorenstam, Sweden, Golf
THE world’s best female player continues to dominate her sport in a Tiger-like manner.

23 Lennox Lewis, England, Boxing
IF you are the world heavyweight champion and a technically sound boxer, you deserve bragging rights. The reality is Lewis has never received the acclaim he’s due, probably because of the boxers who preceded him. Mike Tyson was excitement through pain and ugliness, Joe Frazier the master of the left hook, Sonny Liston mean and nasty and Ali simply the greatest. And then there is Lewis, a craftsman of the ring who has always got the job done, other than a couple of shock knockout losses, which can always happen with the big bangers. He has a great left hook, is a mountain of a man and hits well with the right. But he lacks an opponent of standing to give him the superfight he needs for true recognition.

22 Thierry Henry, France, Soccer
THE magnificent Arsenal striker finished second behind Zinedine Zidane in the World Player of the Year award and now ranks firmly alongside ZZ and Ronaldo as one of the worldÆs best. Chelsea must think so, too … . the club recently offered, unsuccessfully, more than $120 million to buy him.

21 Grant Hackett, Australia, Swimming
UNBEATEN in his pet event, the 1500m, in seven years and second only to Ian Thorpe in world swimming.

20 Jonny Wilkinson, England, Rugby Union
HE of the golden left leg won a World Cup for his country with a right-foot drop goal against Australia.

19 Matthew Hayden, Australia, Cricket
A RUN machine who continues to reshape the record books. His 380 against Zimbabwe in October was the highest individual Test score in history.

18 Paula Radcliffe, England, Athletics
HAS rewritten distance running records to the point where she is running marathon times competitive with all but the elite men.

17 Janica Kostelic, Croatia, Alpine skiing
HER name means nothing in Australia yet on the slopes of Europe she is a superstar. Just 21, Kostelic’s career was in doubt in 2001 when she seriously injured her knee, an occupational hazard in her sport. Her return shocked her surgeon, but within 12 months she lined up at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Hopeful rather than confident, Kostelic won gold in the slalom, giant slalom and combined run to be described as the best alpine skier in the history of the Games. An estimated 200,000 welcomed her home in Zagreb after the Olympics. She backed up at this year’s world championships in St Moritz with gold in the slalom and combined run. Kostelic, who is described as incredibly tough and focused, also won the overall World Cup slalom title to dominate her sport. Her father, Ante, is a former national handball player and brother Ivica one of the world’s best slalom racers.

16 Roy Jones Jr, United States, Boxing
IS surely now alongside Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson as an all-time great of the ring.

15 Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia, Athletics
IN the 10,000m at the world championships, world cross-country champion Bekele outkicked his idol and compatriot Haile Gebrselassie.

14 Tim Duncan, United States, Basketball
THE San Antonio Spurs star was best in the NBA in the regular season and finals and is ready to take Shaq’s crown.

13 Michael Schumacher, Germany, Formula 1
NOT as dominant in 2003, yet a supreme technician in a sport that has as much reliance on machinery as human ability.

12 Layne Beachley, Australia, Surfing
SIX years in a row she has walked off with the women’s world title. Now she’s talking about taking on the men.

11 Andre Agassi, United States, Tennis
NO longer the best, no longer No.1, but clearly the top attraction in the men’s game.

10 Sachin Tendulkar, India, Cricket
YES, he plays a sport played by few nations, but he does it at a level rarely seen before. The critics will point to his demotion from the world’s top-10 batsmen for the first time in a decade as a sign his powers are waning. The reality is Tendulkar remains the player most cricket fans would choose as the finest batsmen in the modern game. And while his sport may not be mainstream, like soccer, Tendulkar is as big as Beckham on the sub-continent. Full-time bodyguards ensure his millions of Indian fans don’t get too close to a man who regularly uses disguises so he can maintain a normal life.

9 Maria Mutola, Mozambique, Athletics
THE most dominant athlete in the world, going through 2003 unbeaten in the 800m. And she didn’t just win her races; she totally outclassed all her opponents and was rewarded by becoming the first woman to land Europe’s Golden League jackpot outright by winning every race of the season. The $1.3 million prize made her the highest-earning female athlete in history and took her year’s earnings to more than $1.6 million from IAAF events alone. The highlight of Mutola’s year was the 800m world title in Paris in August.

8 Ronaldo, Brazil, Soccer
IF Zinedine Zidane reigns supreme as the best playmaker in soccer, then Ronaldo is up there with the best in front of goal. The Brazilian, 27, has been considered among the world’s top strikers since his teen years and has overcome a number of injury setbacks to re-establish himself among the elite. He was top scorer at last year’s World Cup finals with eight goals, making amends for his mystery withdrawal from the 1998 final, which Brazil lost 3-0 to France. Since signing for Real Madrid, Ronaldo has made himself at home in a team of superstars. As if he wasn’t popular enough already with Real fans, he achieved legend status when he scored the first goal in a 2-1 win at arch rival Barcelona in early December. It was Real’s first win at the Nou Camp for 20 years, setting off huge celebrations in Madrid.

7 Shaquille O’Neal, United States, Basketball
IN a sport dominated by giants, “Shaq” is the biggest of them all. When the mood takes him, he remains the NBA’s dominant force, even if Tim Duncan is narrowing the margin. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, Shaq has provided some memorable quotes over the years. Take his trip to Greece where he did the regular sightseeing thing. Asked on his return if he had been to the Parthenon, Shaq replied: “Hey man, I went to so many discos. How do you expect me to remember the names of each one?” O’Neal is the backbone of a Lakers team that won three straight NBA titles between 2000 and 2002.

6 Ian Thorpe, Australia, Swimming
MICHAEL Phelps might be the buzzword, but Thorpe is still the world’s No.1 swimmer. Agreed, Phelps was the star of 2003, yet Thorpe remains the biggest name in swimming. That his world championships tally of three gold and a bronze could be deemed good, rather than brilliant, highlights the levels Thorpe has set. When it comes to the Athens Olympics he will be the key player in terms of hype, but his reputation is on the line as never before.

5 Serena Williams, United States, Tennis
NOT No.1 on the rankings but clearly the best on her day and the most marketable. She won the Australian Open and Wimbledon before the death of her half sister and injury ruined the second half of 2003. The reality is the younger Williams is the most powerful force in the history of women’s tennis and, as Nike will tell you, worth millions as the face of its products. Whether she can maintain the rage will determine where she finishes on the all-time list. On 2002 and early 2003 form, watch out Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

4 Barry Bonds, United States, Baseball
THE San Francisco Giants slugger is closing in on Hank Aaron’s Major League Baseball home-run record and remains the most dangerous hitter in the game. In 18 MLB seasons, (seven with Pittsburgh, 11 with San Francisco) he has scored 658 homers. Another 98 will see him eclipse the 755 by Aaron that has stood since 1976. Bonds turns 40 in July. But in a sport in which age and fitness are not crucial, that record is well within his reach. But Bonds is more than just a big hitter. He is considered possibly the best left-fielder of all time, is a great thrower and is the only player in MLB history to reach the 500 runs-500 stolen bases double. He has won the MVP award three times and finished second on another occasion. In short, Bonds is the complete package.

3 Lance Armstrong, United States, Cycling
COMPETES in a sport riddled by drugs but has tested clean whenever the dope-testers have knocked on his door in the middle of the night. He and Miguel Indurain are the only men to win five straight titles in what is arguably the world’s toughest individual event, the Tour de France. Armstrong has already signalled his intention to grab that honour on his own with a sixth win in 2004. It is well documented that Armstrong contracted an advanced form of testicular cancer in 1996 and was given only a 50 per cent chance of survival. But intense treatment allowed him to return to riding a year later and he has since established the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer research and awareness. Armstrong’s cycling achievements since beating his health scare are remarkable.

2 Zinedine Zidane, France, Soccer
Soccer is the biggest sport in the world by a long, long way and the midfield maestro was voted its World Player of the Year (for the third time) in 2003. He’s the man who makes the play for France and Real Madrid, quite an achievement in a Real team that fields such stars as Roberto Carlos, Raul, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and David Beckham. And his importance to France was highlighted at the 2002 World Cup finals, when he missed the first couple of games with injury. France was the pre-tournament favourite. But without Zidane, it spluttered and stuttered to an early exit. He is still the most expensive player in soccer history. Real paid Italian giant Juventus $111 million for him in 2001.

1 Tiger Woods, United States, Golf
HAD a “shocker” of a season in 2003 by his standards, winning just five times and missing a major victory for the first time in five years. But for all that, he remains the leading figure in world sport, the face of Nike, the face of golf and one of the few people capable of moving beyond sport to exert an influence. What makes Tiger even more of a phenomenon is that he doesn’t fit the classic description of a world sports star; he has a Thai mother and a black father. But Tiger is so good, so dominant, in his chosen sport that for years he held a psychological edge over opponents. He was good enough to make other world-class players feel inadequate. Not too many people in any sport have been able to say that. Slowly, other players are closing the gap. But, for now at least, Tiger Woods still has golf very firmly in his grip.

Herald Sun

And the sad thing is that the journalist knows it too…

Thor, who is your beef with???..

One thing that caught my eye the most was…

25 David Beckham, England, Soccer
HE may not be the best in his sport but is there a better-known sportsperson on the planet? Fine player though he is, he makes the list more because of his status as a sporting icon. . That is Bullshit.


  1. Zinedine Zidane<<<< OVER, OVERRATED. Ain’t the complete article and hes an old man.

Its a bloody good job he put Lance Armstrong in the top 5, never gonna argue with that.

aint no sprinters on that list at all…probably representative of the season sprinters in general had…slow, or controversial

At least this is more balanced than the American ‘top athletes’ lists, where they only listed NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL players.

As with any list - it evokes arguments. As for fotball (soccer) I think Thierry Henry has to rate as the unluckiest player - if he played in any European league and not in England he would of won the MVP award.

I have not read the top 50 totally will do and will comment further.

Many journos view their job as “informing and entertaining”. I think this has been achieved by this provocative list. I certainly had not heard of, or been aware of, some of the names and their achievements, so although there will always be sins of omission, and disputes over priority, it is still a list to hold some interest. These sorts of projects are always subjective and he would have known he would take a bashing from many quarters. Good on him anyway for having the balls to express his opinion.

While I don’t feel qualified to talk about the list as a whole, the ‘soccer’ players are well wide of the mark.

Pavel Nedved was clearly the best player in 2003, and he was followed by a trio of strikers - Makaay, Henry and Van Nistelrooij. The three chosen on the list wouldn’t / shouldn’t have made most people’s top fives for the year.