Tag Archives: people

50 Greatest British sports stars of all-time: 20-11

In this penultimate instalment of the series, Kureen gracefully glides towards the upper echelon of the British sporting elite.

To view the first three parts click on the links below;
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20: Sir Walter HammondWalter Hammond

A world-class batsman, inspirational captain, brilliant fielder and tidy, albeit reluctant, medium paced bowler, Hammond appeared in 85 Test matches, compiling an at the time Test record individual score of 336 not out, despite losing years of his career to the second World War.

In addition to his cricketing prowess, Hammond made a handful of appearance as right winger for Bristol Rovers, but in spite of his obvious footballing talent only had eyes for cricket. A glittering 20 year international career finally ended at the age of 43, although a rivalry with the legendary Sir Donald Bradman bred a life-long inferiority complex.

19: Tony McCoy

The 2010 BBC sports personality of the year has won 19 consecutive Champion Jockey titles, and more than 4,300 races all told.

Particularly adept at riding poor horses to unlikely victories, McCoy continues to excel into his 40’s, showing no sign of retiring from the saddle any time soon.  At 5’10” he also stands considerably taller than most jockeys, making his success all the more improbable.

18: Johnny Wilkinson

Kicking the winning drop goal for England at the 2003 Rugby World Cup made Surrey born Wilkinson an instant national icon at the tender age of 23.

Injuries blighted his career throughout, but he still managed to play 91 Tests and score a record 1,169 points for his country. He represented Newcastle Falcons with distinction for 12 years, before a 5-year spell in France with Toulon culminated with Wilkinson leading his team to two cup final wins in his final brace of competitive appearances.

17: Jim LakerJim Laker

Laker’s long-standing first-class bowling record analysis of 19 for 90, achieved against Australia in 1956, is unlikely to be bettered, and amazingly came just weeks after the spin bowler had taken all ten wickets in an innings against the touring Australians in a  warm up match against his county side Surrey.

A Yorkshireman, Laker never actually represented his native county due to settling in London following World War II, instead forming a deadly spin-combo with Tony Lock for both club and country. His record of 193 Test scalps at 21.57 apiece places him firmly among the great tweakers.

16: Dame Kelly Holmes

Inspired by Steve Ovett, Holmes began her competitive athletics career at the age of just 12, winning the British girl’s 1500m the following year. By 1988 she had turned her back on the sport to join the army, only returning to the track four years later.

A succession of debilitating injuries appeared to have denied Holmes gold medals at the major games, until in 2004, at the grand age of 34, she produced nerveless, perfectly paced runs to take gold in both the 800 and 1500 metre races. Holmes later admitted that she had contemplated suicide during the darker days, citing meditation as a practice that transformed her life.

15: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean

Few sports people have ever come close to emulating the popularity of Torvill and Dean, who came to national prominence when they scored 12 perfect 6’s on their way to Olympic figure skating gold in Sarajevo in 1984.

Turning professional later that year (rules prohibited them from earning any money from skating if they wanted to perform at the Olympics), the duo choreographed a series of successful musical shows on ice, before returning to the pro arena a decade later to take bronze in Lillehammer.

14: Sir Christopher Hoy

The most decorated cyclist of all-time is an 11-time World champion, six-time Olympic champion, and Britain’s most successful Olympian, leading team GB out for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.

A legendary sprint cyclist, Hoy’s individual success carried over into team cycling, where he represented various teams, most notably ‘Team Sky’ in 2008. Never one to rest on his laurels, the Edinburgh born 39 year-old turned his attention to motor sport in 2014, belatedly announcing his intention to compete for Nissan at 24 hours of Le Mans in 2016.

13: Sir Bobby Charlton

The creative catalyst for England’s 1966 World Cup glory remains one of the world’s most beloved sporting figures almost half a century after his career zenith.

The 1958 Munich air disaster deprived Manchester United of a slew of their exciting ‘Busby Babes’ squad, with Charlton himself considering retiring from the game due to the trauma. Thankfully for United and England he didn’t, going on to become one of the finest number tens the world has ever seen, with the Ballon d’Or awarded to him at the end of the same year that he held the Jules Rimet trophy aloft.

12: Daley Thompson

At a time when the original A-Team was in its prime Britain boasted its own action man in Daley Thompson, a muscle-bound decathlon competitor who struck gold at both the 1980 and 1984 Olympic games, breaking the world record for the event on four separate occasions.

That his feats often go overlooked in the nation’s sporting annals is possibly testament to a lack of perceived conformity, most notably when Thompson whistled his way through the national anthem whilst stood atop the podium in Los Angeles in ’84.  

11: Sir Ben Ainslie

The most successful Olympic sailor of all-time, Ainslie won silver at his first games in 1996, aged just 19, this would be his last time tasting defeat on the grandest stage, with gold following at the next five Olympics to go alongside his 11 World titles.

Sir Ben Ainslie

More recently Ainslie was hailed as the mastermind behind Oracle Team USA’s stunning comeback to win the 2013 America’s Cup 9-8, the Brit providing an unlikely remedy to the team’s warring crew and hefty fines as they turned around a seemingly insurmountable 8-1 deficit.

Tomorrow we delve into the top 10. Who made it? Who missed out? Why the need for so many questions in the closing paragraph? All will be revealed tomorrow.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

50 greatest British sports stars of all-time: 50-41

All this week Kureen will be counting down the 50 greatest British sports stars of all-time.

Andrew Flintoff: Narrowly missed the cut
Andrew Flintoff: Narrowly missed the cut

The 50 explained

There are some notable absentees from the list who just missed the cut. The likes of World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, Ashes hero Andrew Flintoff, sailing superstar Ellen MacArthur, and former French Open tennis champion Sue Barker among them.

The top 50 is based upon the quality of the performer, not their star status. Hence the lack of a David Beckham or perennial underdogs Tim Henman, Frank Bruno and Sir Henry Cooper, who when push comes to shove were very good, but not great.

50: Sally Gunnell

Sally Gunnell remains the only woman to have won the European, World, Commonwealth and Olympic 400 metre hurdles titles. She is additionally the only British woman to have won those four titles in any individual event.

Her gold run in the major championships began in 1992 when she took the Olympic title in Barcelona, followed by a world record obliterating run at the World Championships the following year.

49. John Charles

Rated by many as the greatest ever all-round footballer to come from the British isles, Charles became a Leeds United icon in the 1950’s, before departing Elland Road to join Juventus in 1957 for a British record transfer fee of £65,000.

The Welshman flourished in Turin, leading the Serie A scoring charts with 28 goals in his inaugural season, as his new side won the league title. He placed third in the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) in 1959, and was voted Juve’s best ever foreign player during the club’s centenary celebrations in 1997, having netted 108 times in just 155 league matches, despite playing a third of those as a defender.

48: Lewis Hamilton

Few British sporting icons have polarised opinion like two-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton; be it his on-off relationship with Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, a snarky arrogance or a perceived lack of patriotism, Hamilton is not held in the esteem usually associated with elite drivers from these shores.

After a staggering rise through karting, Formula Renault, Formula Three and GP2, Hamilton was snapped up by McLaren to partner double World Champion Fernando Alonso. The two couldn’t stand each other, but it was the Brit who outlasted his erstwhile colleague, collecting the world title in 2008, before a move to Mercedes brought another six years later.

47: Steve Ovett

Building his reputation as an athlete who could achieve remarkable times in disparate distances during the 1970’s, it was during the 1980 Moscow Olympics that Ovett’s rivalry with fellow Brit Sebastian Coe reached its peak.

Steve Ovett

Both men contested the 800m and 1500m distances, with Ovett surprising 800m favourite Coe by taking the title, and then experiencing a reversal of roles, with his three-year unbeaten streak over 1500m ending – Ovett settling for bronze as Coe kicked late to triumph.

46: Paula Radcliffe

The current women’s marathon world record holder would sit(or squat) far higher in the list if it wasn’t for her penchant to freeze on the biggest stage.

An incredible, dedicated long distance runner, Radcliffe has won enough gold to make even King Midas envious. Five Olympic finals failed to yield a medal, happily she fared better in the World Championships; securing marathon victory in 2005, and 10,000m silver in 1999.

45: Rory McIlroy

Rory Macilroy

The Northern Irish golfer appears to have the world at his feet at just 26 years of age. Indeed, in five years time he will probably make the top 10 of this list, such is the upside of a player who has been swinging a club since the age of three.

With four majors already in the bag, and inevitable comparisons to a young, pre-scandal Tiger Woods, golf’s current world number one won both the PGA and Open Championships in 2014, and has already snaffled three titles on the tour this year. There’s no ceiling to his potential, as long as he doesn’t become distracted by extra curricular enterprises.

44: Charlotte Edwards

England’s current women’s cricket captain is one of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.

The only woman to score more than 2000 runs in T20 matches, Edwards made her international bow at just 16 years of age, remaining at the top of her craft for the next two decades. In 2014 she was part of the group of England players to be awarded central contracts by the ECB, another major milestone for the women’s game.

43: Nigel Mansell

Mansell often cut a grey, monotone mannequin among the glitz and glamour of motor racing, but it was from inside the cockpit that he came to life.

Having seen world titles snatched away on the final day of more than one season, 1992 finally brought the moustachioed Brummie the F1 championship he craved, with a little help from the unparalleled early 90’s Williams team. Within six months he’d become the first man to simultaneously hold that title and the CART Indy world series when he triumphed in his début season in America.

42: Sir Roger Bannister

With the 1952 Helsinki Olympics failing to provide the tonic of a 1500m medal that Bannister had long expected, the athlete became obsessed with another goal; becoming the first person to break the 4 minute mile.

6 May 1954:  Roger Bannister breaks the 4 Minute Mile in 3 Minutes 59.4 Seconds. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/Getty Images
6 May 1954: Roger Bannister breaks the 4 Minute Mile in 3 Minutes 59.4 Seconds. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/Getty Images

The feat was achieved in Oxford in 1954, with the stadium announcer drowned out by a fanatical support in the stands after uttering the number three (the final time was actually 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.) Bannister managed this with only sporadic training while he studied to become a junior doctor.

41: Bunny Austin

Henry Wilfred “Bunny” Austin played during an era of high quality tennis players, thus missing out on Grand Slam glory despite reaching five major finals in all, .

He and Fred Perry ensured that Britain had a tight grip on the Davis Cup from 1933-36, with the tandem beating all-comers for four years before both wound down their careers. Austin is widely considered the greatest male player not to win a Grand Slam.

Bunny Austin only at number 41??? Come back tomorrow to find out who kept the legend of SW19 out of the top 40, as we focus on positions 40th down to 31st.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.