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Monday, 28th Sep 2020

What drives a champion to reach the top?

Sport is packed full of amazingly talented athletes, from football players to jockeys, many household names have made their fame from their raw sporting talent that they have shown the world. It’s to the misfortune of those who’ve reached the top in Jump racing that the sport is essentially limited to a following in selected countries in the Northern Hemisphere. Until AP McCoy broke every record there was to break, Jump jockeys could largely go about their lives unhindered by celebrity, but nor did they earn lucrative endorsements either. 

Everyone has their own list of the top sporting achievers in world sport. But amongst those actually performing, one attribute shines like a beacon through all of them – a strength of character that will not permit them to be beaten. At a time when horseracing is examining itself closely with a view to the mental health of its riding constituents, these role models in their own unique ways show a lead to their own contemporaries to keep to the task until victory is secured. 

Even when technique is not always the best, sheer will to win is a more powerful tool to elicit elite performance. Some of the nicest and most elegant sportsmen have often lacked that killer instinct to take them to the very top of the tree.

So, let’s take a look at some of the athletes blessing the sport today, finding out what makes them so popular, famous and talented across the globe, and what drives them to reach hitherto unlimited success.


Cristiano Ronaldo


When it comes to the most popular sport on the planet – football – there are just a few current players that hold the top spot, such as the one and only Cristiano Ronaldo. With countless achievements for club and country, Ronaldo has made a massive mark on the game with his dedication and skill shining brighter than most, making his mark on the world while playing for Manchester United to now being one, if not the, best player in the world. Playing for the Red Devils, Ronaldo scored 86 goals in 196 appearances, as well as winning three Premier Leagues titles and many other stellar wins.

Ronaldo has continued his career in football by playing for Real Madrid, becoming one of the most expensive players in history when signing with them in 2009. Since playing for them he has scored 390 goals in the  La Liga, making his record the team’s all-time top scorer. He is also the fastest ever player to score 250 official goals, according to Infogol tips, the football analyst web site.

Not only is Ronaldo one of the most accomplished players in the game, but he is also one of the most famous athletes on the planet, being the most followed user on Instagram, with over 128 million followers, which allows him to be among the best paid too through salary, endorsements and so on.

A P McCoy

Our own home-grown champion rode 4,358 winners across 21 seasons racing. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, McCoy by-passed the nursery that is Point-to-Point racing, and graduated to the professional ranks immediately on his arrival in the UK in 1994. In his first British season, he set a record 74 winners to become Champion Conditional Rider. Thereafter, to his retirement in 2015, he was Champion Jockey without a break. 

Whether winning every big race there is, or at a wet Monday at Plumpton, McCoy’s passion to win became his life’s mission. Through unique collaborations with trainers of similar mindset, like Martin Pipe, his appetite for winners at any level is unparalleled, before or since, and he set a standard that others have seen fit to follow. 

By winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award in 2010, he not only became the first jockey ever to win the award, but also shone a light on our sport that other sports achieve much more frequently.

But as McCoy remarked himself, for the 4,358 winners, there were over 14,000 rides that didn’t. This apparent “failure” or fear thereof, is at the heart of every elite athlete’s success; the mindset that one might be remembered for the races you lost, not those you won.


Serena Williams

 Not only has Serena Williams made her mark on the game of Tennis with an amazing skill, but she revolutionized women in the game with both her drive and powerful method of play. Serena has won 23 Grand Slam titles, more than any other man or women in the Open Era, overcoming discrimination for her gender and colour.


LeBron James

The four-time NBA MVP, LeBron James, made history while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers and being the first player in the team to win the NBA rookie of the year award, also being the youngest player to win this honour – at 20 years old.

LeBron became an instant star and when playing for the Miami Heat, led them to victory in both 2012 and 2013, then Cleveland in 2016 and finally moving to play for the LA Lakers in 2018. Often called ‘King James’ he is the youngest player to reach 30,000 career points, one of many career achievements.

Whilst basketball may achieve a rather lower consciousness over here, being celebrated by 250m Americans makes basketball a contender for the USA’s best followed sport.

 Ben Stokes

Born in 1991, it might seem early to place Stokes in the pantheon on  top performers amid this elite group. However, his exploits last year in the ICC Cricket World Cup and in the Ashes catapulted him to be the top all-rounder in world cricket. He became the highest paid player in the Indian Premier League in 2017, fetching a record £1.7m.

His 156 Test wickets may pale into insignificance beside Muralitheran’s 800+ and Stuart Broad’s recent 500 at Old Trafford, but he has already amassed 7101 runs in 161 tests and ODIs since joining the England team in 2011. He is already well on the way toward being one of England’s most successful all-round cricketers.

Michael Phelps

 Michael Phelps is  the most successful Olympic athlete in the world. The American swimmer holds 23 Olympic gold medals and 13 individual golds, competing in his first at the young age of 15 and competing to be the oldest individual gold medal winner at the age of 28.

So, who’s in your list of all-time greats?

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