"The 100 Fittest Men of All Time"

The good folks at Men's Health, who brought us that list of the 25 best beach bodies, are at it again. This time they've decided to compile a list of the 100 fittest men of all time.

My attention was drawn to this when Swimming World ran an article about how Michael Phelps had been named number one on the list. Comparing athletes and fitness levels across sports is, of course, a useless exercise, as this blog has pointed out before. Many of the highly specialized physiques which are perfect for one sport would be near useless in others.

But even within a sport, some of the Men's Health rankings are baffling. Why is the old time distance runner Paavo Nurmi listed at #36 but Haile Gebrselassie not included at all? Why is Carl Lewis at #31 ranked 28 spots ahead of Usain Bolt, who is clearly the better runner?

The whole thing is a weird mishmosh of fitness promoters (like Jack Lalanne, #4, shown below), show business types, and even a few body body builders, like Steve Reeves at #27 and Arnold Schwarzenegger at #3, along with the athletes. (Are body builders really fit? Are actors?)

There were actually a few unexpected and thoughtful choices, old time strongmen like Eugene Sandow (#19) and Alexander Zass (#42), turn of the century wrestler and strongman George Hackenschmidt at #39 (shown below), and also Harry Houdini, the old time escape artist, at #69.

The editors tried hard -- perhaps too hard -- to be inclusive. There are football, basketball, hockey, soccer, rugby, volleyball, and baseball players, as well as swimmers, divers, runners, triathletes, decathletes, cyclists, boxers, wrestlers, mixed martial artists, lifters, surfers, a mountain climber, a rock climber, a Paralympian, a gymnast, and even a rapper. (Why no rowers?)

The inclusion of actors makes one wonder exactly what the standards were. Exactly what have Hugh Jackman (#53) and Daniel Craig (#50) ever done athletically other than take steroids and doff their shirts for the camera? Should Jackie Chan at #62 really rank ahead of Mark Spitz at #88? Should Brad Pitt at #57 really have been ranked ahead of three-time world Ironman Triathlon champion Craig Alexander at #58? Should Gerard Butler (#22) rank ahead of Jesse Owens (#29)? Should Mark Wahlberg (#17) rank ahead of Michael Jordan (#21)? And how about Sylvester Stallone, at #12, ahead of all of the above? Here's Sly in his pre-steroid phase:

The number of athletes who have been obvious dopers is a little dismaying: Ken Shamrock at #93, Tiger Woods at #86, Wanderlei Silva at #66, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) at #46, Marius Pudzianowski at #26, and Arnold at #3. They even included Lance Armstrong at #8. (Why not Ben Johnson?)

The article also included a number of exercise popularizers, like Billy Blanks (inventor of TaeBo) at #92, Tony Horton (inventor of P90X) at #80, and Charles Atlas (remember him?) at #43. They even included B.J. Gaddour (ever heard of him?), who created an exercise video for Men's Health, at #76. B.J. ranks ahead of Michael Johnson, the world record holder in the 400 meter run. My personal favorite was #20, Richard Simmons:

Did they rank Richard at #20 as an affront to Michael Jordan (#21)? Or did they include Richard to make the rest of us feel good about ourselves by comparison?

Hard to figure how those discerning minds at Men's Health work.

A far more accurate title for the article would have been, "The 100 most famous people associated with physical fitness."