This is the best subject to chat about with your mates in the pub because everybody has a different opinion and you can’t be wrong. But I would point out I don’t have any friends and I don’t drink so I am definitely right!
I also wasn’t allowed to pick myself, which is probably fair enough as it would have been a given to have me at the top. I like a challenge, anyway.
You can’t prove definitively who is the greatest so you have to go with your gut feeling. You spend an age making your lists and then throw them all away and make your choices based on emotion instead! But I’ve thought a lot about these lists and being ‘the greatest’ depends on so many factors…
Daley Thompson (centre) with athletics legend Sebastian Coe (left) back in 1982
Which sport is it?
Is it a popular sport in which many people try (and fail) to succeed, or is it a minority sport in which, if you were really being honest, anyone would fancy their chances given the time, effort and money?
I’m not picking people in team sports because it’s never clear if you’re the carrier or the one being carried. Steve Redgrave doesn’t make my list because rowing is a team sport unless you’re in a single scull.
I have loved watching footballers like Bobby Charlton and George Best, Gareth Edwards in rugby union and rugby league’s Ellery Hanley, who was tough as nails, but they all relied on others to achieve what they did, and we are talking about individual sportsmen and women.
Former Wales scrum-half Gareth Edwards was a special talent but he does not make the list
I considered Nigel Mansell, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees and Barry Sheene but I’m not selecting motor-racing drivers either because part of their brilliance has got to be the quality of their cars or motorbikes.
Manchester United icon George Best in action against Blackburn Rovers back in 1965
When did they compete?
I have only selected athletes who were active in my lifetime because I think you have to have seen someone compete — and seen the effect their performances had on other people — to decide whether they were truly great.
I am only selecting athletes who have retired or are nearing the end of long, esteemed careers, because you need the context of history to make a proper decision.
You don’t know what athletes like Laura Trott will go on to achieve or how she will end up ranking among the great international track cyclists in history. The same applies for Mo Farah. As I wrote in these pages last week, he is one of our greatest track runners of all time but I’d like to see him break a world record.
Andy Murray hits a shot during practice as he gears up for the US Open in New York
Mo Farah pulled off an incredible ‘double-double’ after his wins in the 5,000 and 10,000m
Were they world stars?
This is crucial for me — I will not select athletes purely because they were the first British person to win something. Take Andy Murray: we didn’t win the men’s singles at Wimbledon for 77 years because nobody was good enough. Then Andy came along and won it (and came back and won it again), which was brilliant, but is he one of the greatest of all time?
Not if he finishes on three Grand Slam titles. If so, he’s not even the greatest of his era. And, while I love the way he has embraced the Olympics, it is not the pinnacle for tennis, so you have to evaluate his career on Grand Slams alone.
It’s a similar argument with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Wiggins was the first Briton to win the Tour de France, but Froome has now won it three times. So who is greater? If you’re talking purely about the Tour de France, it’s Froome.
Brady Wiggins celebrates his fifth Olympic gold meal after victory in the men’s team pursuit
What did they achieve?
I’m not fussed about British titles or being the best in the UK. We’re talking world and Olympic titles, major honours and world records. Opportunity — both in terms of your background and how many shots you have at glory over your career — and longevity come into this, too.
MY TOP 10 MEN
Sebastian Coe, Athletics
Back-to-back Olympic 1500 metres titles, plus two silver medals in the 800m, and all those world records — including three in 41 days in 1979. Seb was the best there has ever been in a fiercely competitive era, which is the mark of true greatness, and in the 800m set a world record that lasted for 16 years.
Sebastian Coe wins the 1,500 metres race to claim gold at the Moscow Games in 1980
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK
Tells us you views here at www.dailymail.co.uk/sport or Email: daleythompson@ dailymail.co.uk
Ian Botham, Cricket
Cricket isn’t a team sport in the same sense as rugby union or football. I see it as a sport for individuals because you bat and bowl on your own and can influence the match accordingly. Botham was superman when I was younger, a genuine all-rounder who could drag England over the line with the strength of his personality and performance. He certainly wasn’t the one being carried; he was a carrier all day long.
Ben Ainslie, Sailing
Four Olympic gold medals for a sailor who just refuses to be beaten, and then decided to go and turn around Team Oracle’s fortunes at the America’s Cup as well.
Chris Hoy, Cycling
Six Olympic gold medals and a silver on the track over four Olympic Games for a man unbeatable on his day. Hoy’s success has been central to the rise of cycling in Britain and he has laid the path for many others to follow.
With Six Olympic gold medals and a silver on the track, Sir Chris Hoy is a legend of cycling
Lennox Lewis. Boxing
The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and a boxer who electrified his sport.
Jonathan Edwards, Athletics
The triple jumper is a member of the elite club of British athletes who have won Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth titles — and he added that remarkable world record of 18.29m in 1995. Twenty-one years on, it still stands.
Linford Christie, Athletics
The 100m is the most competitive discipline of the lot. Everyone wants to be the fastest man in the world and 99 per cent of people will have tried it at some point in their lives. Allan Wells deserves a mention here, too, but Linford won world, Olympic, Commonwealth and European titles in the hardest event of all.
Sprinter Linford Christie won world, Olympic, Commonwealth and European titles
Nick Faldo, Golf
He is in for his single-mindedness. It’s a trait I like! Maybe he wasn’t playing in an era of the greatest golfers but he won six majors and that’s good enough for me.
Lester Piggott, Racing
This was a tricky one because Tony McCoy has had an unbelievable career, but a lot of the choices on this list are influenced by what I saw as a child, and Piggott was on another level back then. With 4,493 career wins he is the greatest flat racing jockey of all-time.
Phil Taylor, Darts
‘The Power’ is included for utter dominance in his sport (and darts is a sport, in my opinion), skill and longevity. Winning 16 world titles is phenomenal and he is the greatest darts player in history — no player has a winning record against him.
Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor has dominated darts, claiming 16 world titles during his career
MY TOP 10 WOMEN
This was a lot harder to do. Why is that? I applied the same criteria as I did to my list of sportsmen, but the reality is there’s a shorter list of athletes from which to select.
Choosing current athletes would have made this a lot easier because more and more British sportswomen are achieving great things, but the same rules must apply to both lists.
Until Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Trott in Rio, no British woman had ever won more than two Olympic gold medals, but my top 10 is still dominated by Olympic sports because they present the best opportunities for women to excel on the world stage.
Laura Trott celebrates her gold medal triumph in the women’s omnium event in Rio
Ellen MacArthur isn’t included because, although it is undoubtedly an incredible achievement, sailing around the world single-handedly seemed so much harder in the era of Robin Knox-Johnston, without the technology to help you.
Laura Davies is the British golfer everyone knows, but she was just the best non-American, while Amy Williams won skeleton gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in an event few people compete in. I also thought about Jayne Torvill but she could not have achieved greatness without Christopher Dean and he did not make my top 10 of sportsmen, so I have had to leave them both out.
Rebecca Adlington, Swimming
The way she came from nowhere to win two gold medals in the 400m and 800m freestyle — in which she also smashed the world record — at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was one of the most remarkable sporting performances I can remember. Becky won two bronze medals four years on in London, too.
Rebecca Adlington’s gold medal triumph in the 800 metres in Beijing was a stunning victory
Sally Gunnell, Athletics
Gunnell had the set — Olympic, Commonwealth, European and world titles in the 400m hurdles — and did it in style by setting a new world record, too. She was utterly dominant in such a gruelling event and the quickest we had ever seen.
Kelly Holmes, Athletics
We wondered if injury would stop Kelly making it to the top, but then she stormed to double Olympic gold in Athens in 2004.
Kelly Holmes’ brace of gold medals during the Athens Games in 2004 sets her apart
Beryl Burton, Cycling
Burton was a seven-time world champion who dominated racing for the best part of three decades. The 12-hour record she set in 1967 was further than the men’s equivalent for two years. She gets my vote over Victoria Pendleton because she achieved greatness despite the lack of opportunities — women’s cycling was not at the Olympics until Beryl was 47 and she competed without a coach, skin suit or any other modern technology.
Yorkshire native Beryl Burton (left) dominated racing for the best part of three decades
Chrissie Wellington, Triathlon
I love Chrissie because she used to train with me in Battersea when she was just a runner and she would be at the back of the group every Saturday. Five years later she was a world champion and is now a four-time winner of the Ironman World Championship. It just shows what you can achieve if you set your mind to it.
Mary Rand, Athletics
She won the full collection of Olympic medals in Tokyo in 1964 — gold in the long jump, silver in the pentathlon and bronze in the 4 x 100m relay. Mary set a new world record in the long jump final that year. She did the best thing you can do by marrying a decathlete, Bill Toomey, as well!
Paula Radcliffe, Athletics
I have agonised over whether to include Paula because of her poor record at the Olympics. But is her dominance in the marathon, in which she set a stunning world record that still stands today, better than Christine Ohuruogu’s Olympic 400m gold, silver and two world titles? Chrissie is still competing, so I cannot include her, but she has never run that quickly and has had a career based on being a championship performer. So Paula it is, for being the best there has ever been over 26.2miles.
Paula Radcliffe remains the the best there has ever been over 26.2miles
Ann Jones, Tennis
Most people would go for Virginia Wade over Ann because she was the last British woman to win Wimbledon, but that says more about the standard of the players who have followed rather than Wade’s achievement. So Ann gets my vote for her three Grand Slam singles titles, including Wimbledon in 1969. And before you say ‘so what about Murray?’, Ann won the French Open on clay twice and clinched five more major titles in doubles and mixed doubles, too.
Tanni Grey-Thompson, Athletics
An 11-time Paralympic champion who has been a crusader for women in sport and disability sport, and competed at the top in so many events on the track for so long.
Mary Peters, Athletics
Another tricky decision as Britain has a strong pedigree in multi-events. But Peters’ 1972 Olympic gold in the pentathlon gets the nod over Denise Lewis’s heptathlon victory in Sydney in 2000 for being an example of a day when absolutely everything went right.
A bit like Nafi Thiam did in Rio to beat Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mary put together the performance of her life and won Olympic gold, whereas Denise became an Olympic champion with a par score and never won a world title to back up that success.
Mary Peters competes in the long jump on her way to winning gold at the 1972 Games