THERE’S nothing quite like a long-running argument that doesn’t actually have an answer. Or, in fact, an outcome that would even resemble a solution.

The question of which is the toughest sport, has probably been going on since the days of the early Olympiad and last week, another legend threw his opinion into the ring.

Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic champion, shared his belief that the long jump is the hardest discipline in athletics, while last month, Andy Murray said he believed tennis was right up there with the hardest sports.

Of course, almost everyone has skin in this game. Every person who plays a sport thinks theirs is one of, if not the, toughest.

When Murray asked for opinions  he got hundreds of different suggestions. From golf to athletics to cycling to motorsport to water polo to football to rugby and to rowing, almost every sport imaginable was included.

The first thing that is hard to disagree with, and Murray himself made this point, is that combat sports like boxing and UFC have to be right up there. Being punched and kicked for a living sets these sports, in most people’s eyes, mine included, apart. The fitness required to endure physical combat at the intensity these fighters do is immense.

But then there’s the argument of how much does skill come in to this equation?

Few people have the skill to be an elite golfer or tennis player or footballer so does that separate these sports from those which are more skewed towards physical demands like cycling or triathlon or ultra-running?

The skill element is what led Lewis to state his belief the long jump is a tougher discipline than sprinting.

Lewis is well qualified to give a definitive answer; he was Olympic champion in the long jump, the 100m and the 200m.

“What is it going to take for everyone to understand the incredible skill it takes to long jump far,” he said. “You are in the air one second. Think about all of the motions in the air in that time. All while running your fastest. Until you understand how to do it, you will not understand how difficult it is. Oh and by the way, speed has nothing to do with jumping far without all of these factors. So let’s put the idea that the sprinters can do it to bed.”

It is hard to counter the premise of his argument. But do these factors make the long jump harder than the pole vault? Or the marathon?

Murray’s belief that tennis is right up there is valid at first glance, but look a little deeper and it becomes more questionable.

Watch any of the world’s best players slog it out against each other for four, five or even six hours and it is difficult to think of many more gruelling activities. 

But factor into the equation that the ball is in play for only a fraction of the overall match time, and the fact the players sit down after every second game and holes begin to appear in the argument.

I believe ultra-running, road cycling and biathlon are up there in terms of physical exertion while the likes of my own sport, badminton as well as squash, all have a case due to the physical-plus-skill requirements.

Golf disqualifies itself because of the lower fitness levels needed in comparison.

But, for what it’s worth, I find it impossible to look past boxing. Skill, physicality, mental toughness and a fearlessness of being hurt are the very least needed to become a top-level boxer.

But what makes this such a perennial argument is that only some will agree with me.

And by next week, I might have changed my mind too.


OF all the initiatives designed to get young people more active, there are few, if any, that are so universally applauded as The Daily Mile.

A few days ago, it celebrated its 10th birthday which will, I hope, be the first of many milestone anniversaries.

Conceived by Elaine Wyllie, the head teacher of St Ninian’s Primary School in Stirling, the idea came about when she set a class the challenge of running round the school field and realised how few of them could manage it.

From there, she came up with the idea of The Daily Mile which encourages kids to jog, run or push for a mile or 15 minutes every day as part of their regular school timetable. They don’t even have to wear PE kit.

Quickly, the physical and mental benefits became apparent and the Daily Mile spread across Scotland and then the globe, with more than three million children in 87 countries taking part.

As someone who is a consistent champion of kids becoming more physically active, I believe there are few better ideas.

If success is gauged on longevity, this passes with flying colours.

For all the initiatives that have money thrown at them and pledge to increase activity levels, few, if any, have
had anything like the success of The Daily Mile.

In Scotland, we’re still some way from every child being as active as the guidelines recommend but countless young
people have become more active as a result of this simple idea.

Here’s to another decade – and more – of The Daily Mile.