For the last few years I’ve had a license plate frame on the back of my car that reads: BICYCLE RACING, WORLD’S TOUGHEST SPORT. I’ll admit to being biased, but I’ve competed in a wide variety of sports — including soccer, cross country skiing, hockey, softball, baseball, tennis, basketball, running, wrestling, table tennis, golf and almost every form of motorcycle and ATV racing in existence — and nothing has compared to the challenge of competitive cycling. They’ve all been tough in their own way, but for pure lung-collapsing, heart-bursting, muscle-cramping, flesh-grating, body-slamming, will-shattering insanity, cycling is it. Smear me with butter and jam, because I am toast.
But for some reason I’ve been examining that statement more closely lately. How accurate is it? Can it be backed by scientific evidence? How do we define “toughest” in a sporting context?
So, naturally, I Googled the subject.
The most comprehensive piece I found was this one on ESPN.com. Their panel of experts ranked 60 sports in ten categories each and when the points were tallied, the nod went to boxing, followed by ice hockey and football. I can’t argue with that; any sport that requires a mouthpiece and often results in long-term dain bramage has my respect. But surely rugby (13th) and cross country skiing (30th) should rank higher. Triathlon isn’t even on the list, nor are motocross, aerobatic flying, rock climbing or mixed martial arts. C’mon, man! Cycling (distance) was way down in 20th place, tied with volleyball, of all things. Somehow baseball/softball, tennis and the pole vault were considered tougher.
Not surprisingly, this ESPN story generated a lot of discussion, comments and spin-off articles (just like this one).
USA Today.com put a slightly different angle on the topic by ranking the top ten toughest tasks in sports. That article put hitting a baseball at the top of the list. I kid you not. Behind that came race car driving and yes, pole vaulting. The Tour de France slotted in at number eight, deemed easier than returning a tennis serve and hitting a straight golf tee shot. That’s right, number eight.
One page in the Huffington Post suggested that kung fu volleyball might be the world’s toughest sport. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Can’t imagine how ESPN missed that one too.
Another author argued that polo was the world’s hardest sport. For another it was bodybuilding. Fishing and cheerleading each got votes, two activities that ESPN ranked 60th and 52nd, respectively.
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective and personal passion. I can understand how anyone with a specific sporting commitment might psychologically elevate its challenges compared to others.
So what do you think? In your opinion, what is the world’s toughest sport?