David Leggat on sport
David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Corlett still greatest but Adams in hunt


New Zealand's greatest woman athlete? Valerie Adams, right?

Hang on a moment.

There's no question she is a fabulous competitor; Olympic gold medallist, three-time world champion, twice Commonwealth champion, winner of the world title by the biggest margin, 1.19m, in championship history, with the longest outdoor throw, 21.24m in 11 years, and still only 26.

And so her win in Daegu this week prompted the thought: who deserves the title of the champion of champions.

First off, this is wholly subjective.

There is no easy, logical way to compare, say, a squash player, with a board sailor, with a netballer, with a triathlete, with a cyclist, with a couple of athletes.

What you can say with some confidence is that Adams is, if not the country's greatest, well down the track to getting that accolade.

To this mind, in rough chronological order, the names which would have to be in a grand final would be Yvette Corlett, Erin Baker, Susan Devoy, Barbara Kendall, Sarah Ulmer, Irene van Dyk and Adams.

Supreme goal shooter van Dyk is the odd one out; a team player among individuals. There is a line of thought that if you're part of a team you cannot/should not be singled out.

Perhaps that's why the country's supreme sports award, which began in 1949 and has had 60 winners, has gone to only three All Blacks (Ron Jarden in 1952, Don Clarke in 1959 and Wilson Whineray six years later) and four cricketers (Bert Sutcliffe in 1949, John Reid in 1955, Glenn Turner in 1973 and Richard Hadlee in 1980 and 1986) along with two sailors, Chris Bouzaid of One Ton Cup fame in 1969, and Peter Blake aboard Steinlager in 1990, both leaders
of successful crews.

Elsewhere it is singles or teams en bloc all the way.

In Van Dyk's case, the argument could go that she needs her teammates to get her the ball to do her job. No delivery, no goal. Also midcourter Sandra Edge didn't pot goals but she was possibly the greatest pure netball player the Silver Ferns have had.

Devoy won four world squash titles from 1985-92 and eight British Open crowns over the same time.

She was by a street the game's finest player, a tough, feisty competitor, but squash was not as high profile a sport as some of the others. Not that her achievements are any poorer for that.

Kendall won Olympic board sailing gold, silver and bronze medals at three successive regattas from Barcelona in 1992. For good measure, she finished fourth and sixth, aged 40, at the next two.

From one "golden girl" to another: Ulmer, the Olympic gold medallist in the 3000m individual pursuit at Athens in 2004, and in a slashing world record time of 3m 24.537s.

Baker was a formidably good multi-sporter, a singleminded, athlete who won the world triathlon, duathlon and ironman titles between 1989-91. She beat the best, consistently, but if Olympic glory is a key criteria in all this, she pre-dated multisport's entry into the quadrennial show.

That leaves Adams and Corlett, or Williams as she was 57 years ago.
Despite Adams' powerful case, this vote goes to Williams.

She is New Zealand's first woman Olympic champion, leaping 6.24m at Helsinki. She broke the ceiling.

She set a world record in Gisborne in 1954, 6.29m, and also won four Empire Games golds - when that meant rather more than it does now - at Auckland and Vancouver either side of Finland.

Two long jumps, a discus and a shot put gold testify to her allround gifts. Had the heptathlon been on the Olympic programme she would have been a short-priced favourite.

So Corlett for now, but give Adams time. The world record stands at a seemingly unreachable 22.63m set by Russian Natalya Lisovskaya 24 years ago, aka the drug era.

For now a second gold in London next year is the priority. After that it could be time for a rankings reassessment.

- NZ Herald

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