Who is the fittest athlete in the world?

Some of the best conversations kick off in a bar over a few brews. This one began with a few mates each offering their opinion on who is the fittest athlete in the world. That's a short conversation - not.

Soccer star Ronaldo tops the Men's Health list, while basketballer LeBron James is King of Fitness according to Sports Illustrated. But first, let's define 'fitness'.

I like CrossFit's 'fitness standard', as originally defined in 2002. It says: "There are 10 recognised general physical attributes. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy."

With that criteria in mind, here are the nominees we came up with:

Brian Shaw (US)

Winner of 2011, 2013, and 2015 World's Strongest Man Competition, Shaw is a mountain of a man with incredible strength and explosive power. Shaw can squat 800lb (360kg), deadlift (straps) 985lb (448kg), and bench press 525lb (238kg).

Jan Frodeno (Germany), Daniela Ryf (Switzerland)

Any up-to-date list must include the 2015 champions of the Hawaiian Ironman. Competing over a 2.4 mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride, and a marathon run of 26.2 mile (42.2 km), these elite athletes maintain an otherworldly pace for 8 to 9 hours.

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (Norway)

Biathlon is an under-the-radar sport, but make no mistake – cross-country skiing (along with rifle shooting) is a punishing physical test. The Sochi 10km gold medal winner is considered the 'King of Biathlon', equipped with strength, accuracy, balance, and cardio endurance. Bjørndalen is also the most medalled winter Olympic athlete of all time.

LeBron James (US)

At 6'8" (203cm) and 250lb (113kg), James looks and moves like he could box, play NFL, or suit up at the MCG to play AFL. His strength, speed, athleticism, and vertical leap make him one of basketball's top five players of all-time, and probably the fittest ever.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

2014's FIFA Ballon d'Or winner can jump (31-inch or 79cm vertical leap), and runs over 10km per game with speed and agility while kicking a football up to 130km/h.

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Conor McGregor (Ireland)

The most popular athlete in Mixed Martial Arts is strong, flexible, agile, and can deliver (and take) a blow that outweighs his 5'9", 145lb (175cm, 66kg) frame. McGregor's fitness will be put to the test this Sunday in Las Vegas, as he faces Brazilian Jose Aldo in the UFC's biggest fight in history.

Nat Fyfe (Australia)

AFL is too often overlooked by international media, yet the power, strength, speed, agility, endurance, and anaerobic capacity exhibited by its athletes means reigning Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe from Fremantle deserves a spot on this list.

Kelly Slater (US)

Not many can imagine surfing the waves that Kelly Slater has been dominating for 20-plus years on the ASP Tour. Balance, strength and longevity make Slater a deserved nominee as he still competes well into his 40s.

Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Serena Williams (US)

The speed, power, finesse, and agility with which these two perform on the tennis court is heroic.

Stars of CrossFit

The CrossFit Games bills itself as 'Fittest on Earth', and 2015's winners Ben Smith (US) and Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir (Iceland) should also be joined by Rich Froning Jr (2011–2014 winner).

With workouts only known to competitors just hours before competing, every element of fitness is tested in this global competition.

Usain Bolt (Jamaica)

The world's fastest runner has to be on this list. Owning the world records in the 100m (9.58 seconds) and 200m (19.19 seconds), Bolt hits speed around 45km/h.

Honourable mentions

Gymnasts Kōhei Uchimura (Japan) and Simone Biles (US), rowers Eric Murray (NZ) and Helen Glover (UK), decathletes Ashton Eaton (US) and Austra Skujytė (Lithuania), swimmers Adam Peaty (UK) and Katie Ledecky (US), and rugby sevens Werner Kok (South Africa) and Charlotte Caslick (Australia).

Put to the test

I invited Hamilton Lee of the Australian Institute of Sport's Division of Physiology to join the conversation. But alas, he would not join us for a beer, or opine without scientific evidence.

The AIS doesn't test world class athletes' overall fitness but is more 'sport specific', and we spoke of rumours that Cadel Evans once broke the VO2 Max machine, and how elite fitness in one sport doesn't transcend well in another. So making a comparison is difficult.

Without definitively stating 'who is the fittest', Lee would love the opportunity to do all-round testing on athletes like:

a) Boxers

It's not just their VO2 Max but also to make weight, be lean, and punch (while being punched). Five fights at the Olympics is about fitness and toughness;

b) Volleyball and AFL athletes

Lee is fascinated by tall, lean athletes who can move and jump up to a vertical height of 90cm; and

c) Cyclists

He would like to test riders from explosive sprinter Anna Meares to distance riders who sprint for power at the end of a 160km road race.

So who wins?

Looking perplexed, the bartender said, "It's last drinks, mate. What are you still doing here?"

I replied, "Just writing my column on the world's fittest athlete."

She asked, "Well, who is it?"

I said, "Grab a coin. Jan Frodeno is heads. Rich Froning Jr is tails."

Who do you think is the world's fittest? Let us know in the comments section.

Passion for lifestyle change is the cornerstone for everything Michael Jarosky does. A Sydney-based personal trainer, he cajoled thousands of Executive Style readers to undertake his 'Cut The BS' diet, and champions a charity weight-loss event, Droptober.

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