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Men’s Gymnastics: The World’s Toughest Sport

Posted on 29 June 2008 by admin

"The World’s Toughest Sport"

by Michael S. Yessis

reprinted from Men’s Fitness , March 1996, page 105

[3(f+s) + 2b] (v+c+i) * ÷ 3p = TOTAL SCORE

Deciding which sport is the world’s toughest is difficult. It requires knowledge and research. Time and patience. Science and the kind of math skills rarely seen outside a ninth-grade algebra class. Well, we have all of that, and we did our homework. We logged hours playing in the field. We interviewed elite athletes from former Soviet-bloc nations. We spent countless hours watching ESPN2. Eventually, we developed an exclusive formula – the formula – to determine the planet’s toughest sport.

Now, on to the chalkboard. First, we ranked 40 sports in seven categories on a scale of one to 10 (10 is the highest possible score, with the "contact" category ranked from one to five). The categories are:

  1. FITNESS (f). – The level of physical fitness you must have to participate.
  2. SKILLS (s). – The complexity of the athletic skills necessary to compete.
  3. BRAINS (b). – The mental toughness and intelligence needed, as well as the complexity of the sport.
  4. PAIN (p). – Injury rate, plus or minus the potential for death.
  5. CONTACT (c). – The chances of getting smacked by other participants (takes into account padding worn, too).
  6. VENUE (v). – Where you play it. Climbing up a sheer rock face is tougher than playing table tennis in a rec room.
  7. INTANGIBLES (i). – The little things. For instance, bull riders have no idea what the bull’s temperament is that day. Or, the measure of how scared your significant other gets when you say you’re going to play a particular sport.

Finally, we plugged the numbers into our special formula (see above), which gives each category its own level of importance. From there, we dusted off our slide rule. In a matter of hours, the results were in. Here they are:

  1. GYMNASTICS (567.6 OUT OF 1,095.4)
  2. Why? Male gymnasts may wear tights, but they score perfect 10’s for fitness and athletic skills, and near-perfect marks for injury potential, mental toughness and difficult conditions. Let’s see you spin in circles on the high bar, release, do a few flips and grab the bar again. Extra toughness points were awarded for the guy who survived a full-speed, chest-first plunge into the horse and for the Japanese Olympic medalist who dismounted from the rings with a broken leg.


Why? You have to swim 2.4 miles in rough ocean water, pedal 112 miles on your bike and then run a marathon. Any doubters?

3. ROCK CLIMBING (558.8)

Why? You need a high level of fitness and mental toughness – the sport is sometimes referred to as physical chess. And you need all this while you’re a few hundred feet in the air, clinging to a rock that can be smooth as silk, or as crumbling as a saltine cracker.

4. ICE HOCKEY (524.9)

Why? A good player has speed, finesse, power, fitness, stamina, quickness and guile. And he’s got to display them all while 230-pound defensemen try to crush him into the boards. Probably the sport most likely to knock your teeth out.

5. BULL RIDING (523.4)

Why? Scores high on injury rate and chance of death, as well as brutal and unpredictable conditions. Mentally, you’ve got to be all there for eight seconds. The brains score drops, though, because you’ve got to be a bit wacky to actually try riding an angry bull.

6. BOXING (503)
The early favorite loses points in the brains and skills categories.

  • 7. RUGBY (489.4)
  • See boxing.

    8. DECATHLON (475.4)

    They don’t call decathlon champions the world’s greatest athletes for nothing.

    9. WATER POLO (474)

    It’s like playing basketball while treading water.

    10. FOOTBALL (465.7)

    Another early favorite loses points because skills at many positions are finite and specialized. Many positions also score low in the brains category.


    BASKETBALL 462.0


    SURFING 420.9

    WRESTLING 405.4

    SOCCER 398.0

    MARATHON 374.1

    LACROSSE 371.6

    ROAD BIKING 327.4

    TENNIS 302.5



    BOBSLED/LUGE 261.9


    GOLF 227.3

    SKIING 220.7

    VOLLEYBALL 199.7

    SWIMMING 188.2


    BASEBALL 174.7


    SEA KAYAKING 129.7

    CRICKET 123.9


    FENCING 108.4

    AEROBICS 97.6

    SOFTBALL 93.0


    CROQUET 67.2


    BOWLING 55.2

    Michael S. Yessis, associate editor of Men’s Fitness, got a C+ in his ninth-grade algebra class.

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    2 Comments For This Post

    1. Douglas Frantom Says:

      This is good to hear. Too bad the NCAA and Universities do not recognize the sport as such. Since the inception of Title 9, over 200 Universities have dropped the sport as a sanctioned sport. Shame on them.

    2. Chris Says:

      They did not have martial arts on the list so it wasn’t one of the sports that was ranked. If martial arts was ranked it would probably be number one.

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