No Pain, No Gain

The most surprising takeaways from Sports Illustrated's Fittest 50 ranking

September 26, 2017

A ranking of the 50 fittest athletes sounds scientific, but it is really no less subjective than, say, a ranking of the 50 best dancers. You can tabulate various physical benchmarks around size and speed, but in the absence of heart rate monitors, VO2 max measurements, and brain scans analyzed by a team of psychiatrists, a fitness ranking is just one set of toned abs held up against another.

Still, we applaud Sports Illustrated for the effort. Rankings are fun, and revealing in their own limited way, and since we've been guilty of a few frivolous ones ourselves, we're still content to glean what we can from SI's ambitious endeavor.

For instance:

The NFL has the most number of fit athletes

Or at least it does according to the SI ranking. Does the fact that the NFL dominates the list with nine players have anything to do with the fact that football is far and away the most popular sport in the US? Curiously, two of Tom Brady's favorite targets, Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan make the grade, but not, it turns out, TB12 himself. The guy might sleep in a hyperbaric chamber while hooked up to an IV of kale, but 40 is still 40.

Unless you're 45 and unemployed, then you're on the list.

Of the two hockey players on the list, one is Steven Stamkos, and the other is Jaromir Jagr, the NHL's second all-time leading scorer and owner of the game's most powerful posterior. One would think a guy who scored 46 points while playing all 82 games for Florida would be able to fetch his next NHL contract. But he's still waiting on a call, allowing for more time for "Ki-Hara resistance stretching and mashing, a combo of Thai massage and other methods that increase blood flow and promote recovery."

There are three racecar drivers on the list

We recognize that motor sports require a level of endurance beyond the ability to turn a wheel and chew tobacco. Nonetheless, that's a higher total than triathlon, cycling, rock climbing, weightlifting, ultra-marathoning, and CrossFit. It's also three more than golf, which came away with a big (high carb) bagel on both the men's and women's lists. Speaking of CrossFit, that sport's lone representative is Mat Fraser, the two-time CrossFit Games champion who earns the distinction of the "Fittest Man on Earth." On this list, however, he ranks fourth.

The women's ranking is generally more impressive

We base this not on starpower, but actually the lack of recognizable names, and the reassuring presence of real-life badass sports like American Ninja Warrior, UFC, and heptathlon. Plus, there's a ballerina, Misty Copeland, who has earned her spot on the list because she can do this and you most certainly cannot.

Meanwhile, the fittest female athlete according to SI is five-time Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Simone Biles, and the fittest man is soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, and if SI had any sense of humor, it would have them square off in a donut-eating death match to determine the ultimate title.


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