Thursday July 9th, 2009

These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.

10. Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, former plasterer Edwards, wearing Coke-bottle glasses, represented Great Britain in ski jumping. He turned every jump into a flirtation with disaster and also became one of the most popular competitors at the Games. His comedic performances led to the International Olympic Committee's toughening of entry standards to avoid competitors making a mockery of the Olympics.

9. Shaun White A crossover icon who helped build a permanent bridge between the staid, traditional Olympic Games and the X-Games, White won a gold medal in 2006 at Turin, leading the new-generation buzz that dominated the Games. He remains a cutting-edge skateboarder in the summertime, having learned at the foot of the legendary Tony Hawk.

8. Alberto Tomba He revolutionized technical -- slalom and giant slalom -- skiing with a powerful technique that rendered the Killys of the world obsolete and resulted in three Olympic gold medals and two silvers. But Italy's hero also thrilled fans with his tales of after-hours escapades, once telling reporters that to preserve his strength, instead of sleeping with three women until 5 a.m., he would sleep with five women until only 3 a.m.

7. Jean-Claude Killy In much the same way Peggy Fleming personified a certain style in figure skating, Killy did in skiing. Appearing to an American audience as the archetypal dashing Frenchman, Killy won the downhill, giant slalom and slalom at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, in the mountains of his home country.

6. Peggy Fleming The first ice princess of the modern era, Fleming won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games, triumphing with earthbound grace and style before gymnastic jumping -- and kneecapping -- became synonymous with women's figure skating. Decades later, she remained a brand name in the sport, precursor to Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan.

5. The Jamaican Bobsled Team At the 1988 Olympics, the four-man team from a tropical island in the Caribbean crashed and carried its sled across the finish line. It was subsequently immortalized in the 1993 film Cool Runnings, in which the coach was portrayed by the late John Candy.

4. Tonya Harding She allegedly conspired with seedy associates of her husband to kneecap rival Nancy Kerrigan en route to the 1994 Olympic Games, leading to a spike in television ratings for the women's figure skating event that has never been equaled.

3. Bode Miller Fast has never been enough for Miller, viewed by some as the most gifted skier in history. Only perfect would suffice. He won two silver medals at the 2002 Olympics and twice has captured the World Cup overall title, but he constantly skied the most perilous lines and followed up wild days with even wilder nights.

2. Dan Jansen Seven times he should have won speed-skating gold medals in 1988, '92 and '94. Seven times he failed. He stumbled, he fell, he went out too fast. Americans bled with him, from the first race in '88, when he crashed while racing the 500 meters on the day his older sister died of leukemia. Finally, in his last Olympic race, he won a gold medal in the 1,000 meters at Lillehammer and skated a victory lap pointing to the sky.

1. Franz Klammer As the downhill gold-medal favorite in his home country of Austria at the 1976 Olympics, Klammer delivered by skiing on the edge of disaster for 105 seconds. It remains the single most harrowing ski-racing performance in history, as if Klammer forgot how to be afraid and simply gave himself up to the mountain and the event and came away with a gold medal.

Agree or disagree with Layden's selections? Weigh in here.

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