Comparing athletes across sports is a difficult thing. But we still asked Canadians to do just that as part of our recent survey of over 1,500 people from coast to coast, asking: “Who is the best athlete of the 21st century?”
We provided a list of names to choose from, and offered respondents the opportunity to go off the board.
The most popular answer: Sidney Crosby. By a long shot.
One in four respondents chose Crosby from the list of athletes that also included the likes of Usain Bolt, Serena Williams and current NBA finalist LeBron James.
And since the survey was conducted in March, this was all before he won his third Stanley Cup and second consecutive Conn Smythe Trophy Sunday night.
As we did with our question about Canadians’ favourite hockey teams last week, we’ve decided to dive into the results to get a better look. Here’s the overview:
A quick reminder as we get going: The ask was for best athlete of the 21st century, which is why you don’t see Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali in the graphic.
But what you do see is support for athletes who made their names at multiple summer Olympics. The top two athletes beyond Crosby are Bolt and Michael Phelps, who garnered 16 per cent and 12 per cent of the votes, respectively. Each had a banner Summer Games in 2016, becoming either obviously or arguably the greatest of all time in his chosen sport, depending on who you talk to.
The fourth-place vote getter — and top female — was Williams, with seven per cent, while six per cent went with an “other” choice (see sidebar for some highlights).
Highly decorated American athletes in team sports, such as James and Tom Brady, didn’t fare as well, despite their ubiquity in sports journalism.
Also, a small but not insignificant finding that contributes to an ongoing discussion in the soccer world: Among the respondents who chose either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo reigns supreme, getting one per cent more support than his roughly equally lauded counterpart.
Here are the results broken down by region:
Surprise!: People in Atlantic Canada love their homegrown guy. Nearly one in two respondents chose Cole Harbour’s own Crosby.
His second-biggest base of support? The Saskatchewan-Manitoba region, where one in three chose him.
His least-supportive region? The answer to that brings us to our next chart:
Just 18 per cent of Ontarians chose Crosby, and he wasn’t even the most popular pick in the province. That honour goes to Bolt, who last summer became the first to sweep the 100, 200 and 4×100 at three Olympic Games.
The third-most-popular answer in Ontario was the same as it was nationally: Phelps.
Crosby’s ubiquitous support goes beyond regions. Among generations, Crosby was the most popular answer for each millennials (20 per cent), Gen Xers (20), boomers (25) and the silent generation (45).
However, there was one demographic where Crosby didn’t reign supreme (or even second supreme):
Among immigrants, Crosby tied for third with Phelps, getting beaten by both Bolt (first, with 15 per cent) and surprise challenger Kobe Bryant (12 per cent). Silent-generation respondents had Bryant in third as well, giving him 11 per cent of their votes, but regionally he didn’t get more than five per cent support from any one spot.