There is a school of thought which says that Tiger Woods is the new Michael
Jordan, in the sense that he is ubiquitous and universally admired. It's a
solid argument, but no one is calling Tiger the greatest athlete in the world.
He is the greatest golfer. That's not to knock his athletic ability, but there
is a difference.
It's increasingly clear, though, who the greatest athlete in the world
probably is, or at least in our opinion (imagine that). Who, anywhere in
the world, is a better athlete than Lance Armstrong? His casual control of his
sport - imagine turning it on going uphill in the Alps as a mind game! - is
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It's not just his level of dominance, impressive as it is. Let's face
it - not many people can dominate cycling like this, and it's particularly
exceptional that an American is doing it, since it's not a huge sport here.
But what's even more impressive is this is a guy who had major, life-altering
cancer surgery, and not only came back from it, but came back better. Not only
did he come back better, but he had to completely retool his approach to his
sport to compensate for muscle mass which he can never recover.
In sports, we can think of almost no one who has suffered so greatly and
improved so hugely. The closest comparisons we can think of are actually
in music. Django Rheinhardt, the great guitarist, lost much of the use of
his fretting hand in a fire. Afterwards he could only use two fingers, and
became an even finer guitarist. Similarly, Frank Sinatra had two distinct stages
in his career, a youthful stage, and then after a crisis with his voice, he had
to completely rework his style. His later works were vastly superior in
many people's opinions.
But in sports, it's almost unheard of, and becoming greater after such
radical surgery is probably unparalleled. We can't imagine another athlete
who could even conceivably do what Armstrong has done.