Sports Illustrated has a deeply traditional list of the greatest sporting events of all time. Why our universe needs this pointless, arbitrary list of sporting events would exist is beyond me. Think of the extreme pointlessness of sports arguments. Sport, whether it be running, basketball, hockey, or jai-alai, is a derivative of life. But it would be one thing if we simply watched sports for entertainment, and like popular music, simply categorized “sports” as background for our lives. But no, sports fans are obsessed with “the greatest.” The greatest of all-time must be determined. The greatest games and the greatest athletes must be honored.
This sports-ish mentality of rankings, metrics, and value judgments have spread into every conceivable arena. We have Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, and innumerable “Top 20” lists for films. We have Pitchfork Magazine and Rolling Stone releasing a different Top 100 list of [insert decade] here, as if any of these things have any bearing on reality, popular taste, and the individual memories of humanity. However, these articles get a lot of clicks, if only to make fun of them, if only to doubt the jingoistic or myopic judgment of others and to remind ourselves of the past. As a major part of this industry, I’m not exactly helping the situation.
Without further ado and total hypocrisy, here is my list of the 10 Greatest Sporting Performances of All Time
Honorable Mentions: Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, Lebron James in the 2015 NBA Finals, Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100, ’99 US Women’s World Cup team, UConn women’s basketball winning 111 games in a row, Hicham El Guerrouj’s world record mile, Tucker Johnson at the 2016 Illinois Club Relays
10. The Northwestern Running Club finishes fifth in the men’s race at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
Folks, this was, without question, one of the most memorable events in American sports history. With Northwestern Club Cross-Country needing to secure a spot for the ‘A’ race at Regionals and ensure its spot on the Fleet of Foote Scholarship roster, the team finished fifth at Regionals. It was an incredible effort from seniors “Cool” Mike Ryzhov, and Patrick Melendez, who finished 29th and 32nd, respectively (as long as you discount all the spare people that finished ahead). Tristan Jung was definitely right behind Patrick in 33rd and didn’t bury his head in his hands while trying to kick to the finish. John Laboe, Robby Winter, Rhett Morici, and Matt Stadnicki rounded out this historic group of seven men.
“You think of great athletes, you know, you got Messi, Pele, Bill Russell, Babe Ruth,” said Bill Simmons of the Ringer.com. “But you know, people never talk about Ryzhov! WHY DON’T WE TALK ABOUT COOL MIKE?”
This performance was particularly surprising given that Northwestern was missing club legends (and last year’s key components) Dan Ratner, Tucker Johnson and Joe Draut. Thankfully, Ryzhov, Melendez and Stadnicki will get to close out their NIRCA XC career (as undergrads, we’ll see about the future) in the ‘A’ race, unlike the evil Melendez brother at Washington University, whose school failed to qualify on a tiebreaker despite having a runner finish IN THE TOP FIVE.
9. The Miracle on Ice
Nobody cares, but apparently I’m contractually obligated to include the United States’ 1980 win over the Soviet Union in ice hockey on this list. Woohoo, America, Cold War, capitalism and what not. This event pales in comparison to the exploits of the Northwestern Track Club, in my opinion.
8. Karli Goldenberg PRs by infinity in her first-ever 6K
In one of the most impressive individual performances in cross-country history, Karli Goldenberg set a new personal record at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional in Iowa City, Iowa. October 21st was an auspicious day for Karli, who drove down from Chicago at 4 AM (paying all tolls along the way), only to pull off one of the greatest solo acts in the history of the sport.
7. Monica Juarez survives driving to Iowa and back
In an incredible feat of endurance, Monica managed to drive down to Iowa and back alone without any assistance. This solo journey captivated millions of American watching on NBC and ABC. Monica made the trip down in record time, survived staying with her friends, and then returned just in time to start studying for the week. She also ran six kilometers in 30:32.60, just to add to the challenge.
6. Mandy Pokryfky and Sophia Stoughton finish 28th and 41st (among scorers) at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
An underrated classic of American sports, Mandy and Sophia seized the initiative and ran spectacular races at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional in Iowa City, Iowa. Not many people were able to see this because television coverage was blacked out in the Iowa City area, but rest assured it was one of the greatest American sports moments for those in attendance.
5. Izabela Stankiewicz finishes 19th at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
Emma Kumer finishes 14th at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
I’m grouping these together because, believe it or not, these three events happened on the SAME DAY in IOWA CITY, IOWA! What a coincidence that three of the most important moments in sports history occurred in the exact same place, at the exact same time, within seconds of each other. Izzeh, Emgan and Emma shocked the world (and Illinois) with their finishes (see No. 1), which will be remembered for eternity.
4. Megan Beach finishes 12th at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
It’s wild that 9 of the top 10 greatest sporting events in American history all took place at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional in Iowa City, Iowa. Megan Beach’s 12th-placed finish was not a PR, but her gritty and determined effort was one of the most memorable moments of the 21st century period, let alone sports.
3. Jazmine Reyes finishes 5th at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
Michael Jordan never accomplished anything quite as remarkable as Jazmine Reyes’ fifth-placed finish at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional in Iowa City, Iowa. This was Jazmine’s “Lebron Moment,” a performance that set up the main framework for all American sports media coverage after 2017.
2. Hannah Anderson wins the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
The GOAT (greatest of all-time) individual performance in Northwestern Track Club history (obviously the most important group of people in the history of American sports) just misses out on number one on this list. I know this will make a lot of people mad, but there are some people out there who argue this should be No. 1. Hannah’s 18 second win over Julia Schulz of Illinois was a tremendous accomplishment, and it will go down in the annals of history.
“This is one of the transformational moments in my life,” Bill Simmons said. “Every day, I wake up and remember that Hannah Anderson won the Regional Championship, and it brings me great joy.”
1. The “Northwestern Club” wins the women’s race at the NIRCA Great Plains Regional
Let’s hand this recap over to an eyewitness to this momentous occasion:
“I was sitting at the 4K mark and I was worried. Illinois had won EVERY SINGLE NIRCA GREAT PLAINS REGIONAL WOMEN’S RACE IN HISTORY (whether or not they were held in Iowa City, Iowa). The last time Illinois lost a regional, there was no Great Plains Regional, it was still the Midwest Regional back in 2009. You’d back them to win again, for the eighth consecutive time. Who would’ve thought this 9-woman team from Evanston, Illinois could ever have a shot. At the 4K mark, I wasn’t filled with confidence. Illinois had a lot of depth, and they looked to be just ahead in terms of points.
But then, in one of the greatest moments in American sports history, Northwestern pipped Illinois by four points to win its first regional. Heck, the Wildcats became the first team not named Illinois to ever win the Great Plains Regional. It was the historic end of one of the greatest eras of dominance in American history. Northwestern had finished 7th in 2016, a full 136 points behind the Illini. Now they stood atop the sporting world, having vanquished the mighty orange-clad Goliaths from NIRCA’s nightmares.”
“It was a divine act,” says Bill Simmons of the Ringer.com, formerly of Grantland.com. “You couldn’t write it. Truly unbelievable. Better than the Red Sox coming back down 3-0 in ALCS. Illinois just gave it away–one of the great comebacks.”
There you have it, folks. Those are the undisputed 10 greatest moments in American sporting history.