x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Perfect moments in sporting lives

It's got to be perfect ... it's got to be worth it; Too many people take second best, But I won't take anything less; It's got to be perfect...

It's got to be perfect ... it's got to be worth it; Too many people take second best, But I won't take anything less; It's got to be perfect... So sang Fairground Attraction and so performed Nadia Comaneci on July 18 1976 when she captivated the world by scoring a "perfect 10" on the uneven bars in the gymnastics' arena at the Montreal Olympics, a feat she would achieve seven times in all during the Games.

But the 14-year-old Romanian was neither the first nor the last athlete to touch "perfection" and before you holler Yesss! Let's hear it for Torvill and Dean, I, for one, do not regard any pastime that includes the word "dance" (or "synchronised", "rhythmic" or "trampoline" for that matter) as a sport, which excludes Britain's ice-dancing couple from this particular debate. No doubt you will have your own thoughts on the subject of "sporting perfection", and so, in the hope of sparking a round of good-natured debate, here are my personal nominees:

Jim Laker: The Surrey off-spinner took all 10 Australian second-innings wickets at the cost of 53 runs in the fourth Test at Old Trafford during the 1956 Ashes series, a record equalled by India's Anil Kumble against Pakistan in Delhi 43 years later. But Laker had earlier plundered nine wickets during the Aussies' first knock leaving him with the astonishing match figures of 19 for 90. Frankie Dettori: "As a serious and frequently skint punter in my early days as an apprentice, I am thrilled to have helped you all clean up. It's great making dreams happen." That was the message for delighted racegoers from Frankie Dettori on an unforgettable Saturday afternoon at Ascot in 1996 after he had ridden all seven winners (and made seven trademark flying dismounts) at the September meeting. The Dettori winners' combined odds of 25,095-1 were estimated to have cost bookmakers US$50 million (Dh183.5m). All together now ... Ahhhhh.

Michael Phelps: By winning eight gold medals in the Olympic pool at Beijing last year, the American eclipsed his compatriot Mark Spitz's haul of seven at the Munich Games of 1972. Phelps, who set seven world records along the way, now holds 14 Olympic golds along with a couple of bronze medals from Athens in 2004. Diego Maradona: A controversial nominee, perhaps, but his second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals was sheer perfection. Collecting a pass in his own half, Maradona slalomed through six England defenders in a mesmerising run before putting them out of their misery by steering the ball into net.

Sir Donald Bradman: Of course 100 would have been more appropriate, but even so The Don's Test average of 99.94 is never likely to be threatened. The next most successful Australian batsmen, Ricky Ponting, is hovering a shade over 56, and knows his place. "Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Donald Bradman is an honour," says Ponting. Shergar: The wonder horse blazed over the Epsom Downs to win the 1981 Derby by a record 10 lengths. As Walter Swinburn, the 19-year-old novice plucked from obscurity to ride the Aga Khan's priceless thoroughbred, put it: "Anyone could have ridden Shergar; he was such a great, great horse."

Muhammad Ali: Well, you could not raise the topic of "sporting perfection" without making mention of The Greatest, could you? Of all his heroics in the ring, his conquering of the seemingly unconquerable George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Kinshasa in 1974 towered above the others. His "rope-a-dope" tactics were, quite simply, the ultimate in perfection. @Email:rphilip@thenational.ae