Sport's apples and pears comparison season
Better at what, I bet you are asking. Or you are wondering how anybody can make comparisons across such different art forms, eras and genres.
Yet millions of you will watch the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year show next month, with many dialling in to say you think a remarkable cyclist is better than a superb cricketer, or a champion golfer is superior to a great runner.
So comparisons might be odious but it seems we cannot help it.
British diver Tom Daley won a SportsAid award at the SportsBall in 2007, aged 12. Photo: Getty
Last month, I was invited to take part in the decision over who should win SportsAid's 2011 One-to-Watch Award. Having not been consulted on the colour of my own sitting room or what I am doing for Christmas, I was enormously chuffed and said yes.
Then the shortlist of nominees arrived and I started to worry what my contribution to the debate would be, beyond suggesting we spoof for it, England rugby team-style.
Clearly, this would not do. The chosen 13-strong group of mainly teenagers deserved better. They deserved somebody who could assess complicated criteria, weigh up apparently incomparable attributes and reach objective judgements. Frankly, they deserved my wife but she was busy.
So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at SportsAid's HQ for a power lunch of sandwiches, crisps and serious chat about which junior world champion was better than the other.
As it happened, I need not have worried. The conversation was informed and lively but surprisingly consensual. Having started with what looked like an impossible task, my fellow judges and I soon arranged our print-outs into something like an orderly pile and announced a winner.
But before I say who that was and how we got there, I should say a bit more about SportsAid and who these nominees were.
Set up in 1976, SportsAid has dished out more than £30m in grants to the most gifted British youngsters across almost 70 sports.
An award from the charity is usually the first financial support an aspiring star ever receives and SportsAid's roll of honour reads like Jerry Maguire's Christmas card list - 18 of Team GB's 19 gold medallists in Beijing were helped along their way with a cheque to pay for that nice little run-around that got them to training, that pricey piece of kit or first overseas training camp.
Just how important this help is in an Olympian's career becomes apparent when you see how many of the alumni turn up for fundraisers, such as the annual ball.
Which brings me to this year's crop, a heart-warmingly eclectic mix of sporting talent as you will find anywhere in the world.
They were, in alphabetical order:
- Sally Brown, 16, para athletics
- Desiree Henry, 16, athletics
- Joel Knight, 16, swimming
- Crystal Lane, 26, para cycling
- Jess Leyden, 16, rowing
- Phillip Marsh, 16, fencing
- Kieran Martin, 16, windsurfing
- Rebecca Martin, 15, archery
- Pamela Relph, 21, rowing
- Lauren Taylor, 17, golf
- Megan Viggars, 17, volleyball
- Rhys Walker, 17, badminton
- Jemima Yeats-Brown, 16, judo
A baker's dozen chosen from a long list of 70 of the 2,000 athletes SportsAid has funded this year. Those 70 were proposed by the national governing bodies of the sports in which they compete and it was now the panel's responsibility to pick one.
That august body was comprised of experts from the English Institute of Sport, Sport England, SportsAid and UK Sport, the BBC's voice of athletics Paul Dickenson, double world rowing champion Sarah Winckless and Sir Alex Ferguson's favourite interviewer, me.
I would like to think we all brought our own unique set of skills to the table but I suspect I was invited under the mistaken belief I would take good notes.
The BBC's Strictly Come Dancing panellists judge celebrity performances. Photo: BBC
So how did we do it? Well, given that among those 13 we had three world junior champions, three European junior champions and four British junior champions, it was not easy. Particularly, when some of those "lesser" champions did not have a world championship to aim for in 2011 and won pretty much everything they entered. Like I said, apples and pears.
But the crisps were not going to last forever so we had to find a way to narrow down our choices to a more manageable number. To do this we looked at a range of criteria, starting with the recommendations we had received from their governing bodies and finishing with their results on the global stage.
In between those points, we were looking for progression and tangible evidence of their ability to translate their promise into the senior ranks.
All of us on the panel tackled this in our own way and some of my colleagues knew considerably more about the merits of each performance than I did. So I tried to think about it in terms of "newsworthiness", if that is a real word: which of these performances would grab a listener, reader or viewer's attention?
Sally was born missing her left hand and part of her arm but has overcome that to become a phenomenal sprinter.
Aged only 15 at the time, the Londonderry-born athlete earned a bronze medal in the 200m at the International Paralympic Committee World Championships in New Zealand in January. It was her senior debut.
She then followed that up by winning a bronze medal in the 100m of the Paralympic World Cup and winning gold and silver at the junior world championships. Sally is considered good enough to perhaps one day emulate Oscar Pistorius and compete against able-bodied athletes.
Her world-class talent seemed pretty obvious to me and it required less of a leap of faith to see Sally with her sport's highest prize draped around her neck than the other nominees.
Others may see it differently and I will be intrigued to see how the Beeb's Young SPOTY panel makes its judgement next month. Sally and British Amateur Women's Golf Championship winner Lauren Taylor make that shortlist from the SportsAid selection but they are now up against the bigger names of Tom Daley and tennis starlet Laura Robson.
Having agonised over this kind of thing already recently, I am more than happy to duck that choice. And I will not be phoning in on 22 December. Probably. I think.