On November 16, 2013, Sachin Tendulkar walked away from international cricket. India’s most adored, decorated and symbolic cricketer did so with 34,357 runs and 100 hundreds in international matches—summits where he stands by himself. That day, looking up from base camp was a 25-year-old Virat Kohli, with 21 hundreds. Six years later, Kohli’s count reads 70 hundreds, and the general wisdom is it’s less a question of whether and more a question of when he will cross 100.

That’s the nature of records: they get bettered. A Don Bradman is a rare occurrence—his test average still stands 71 years on. This decade, on which time is about to be called, too has thrown up its share of records and milestones. It’s noteworthy that several of those are of the summit kinds, underscoring how this decade has seen a supreme lineup of still-practising sportspersons who are redrawing the boundaries of sporting possibilities.

In tennis, there’s the trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who won 33 of the 40 majors this decade. There’s also Serena Williams, who covered a span of 18 years between major number 1 and 23. In motorcycle racing, there’s Marc Marquez, who does a fearless dance with risk and has six titles at just 26 years of age.

Elsewhere, in chess, there’s Magnus Carlsen, who brought an element of youth and cool to chess, and a rating never achieved before. In football, there’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have created countless goals and highlight reels. In basketball, there’s LeBron James who is on pace to overhaul Karim Abdul-Jabbar’s record of points tally that has stood since 1989.

As sports get more busy and professional, as the markers of possibilities are reset, the time intervals in which some of those records are being achieved is being compressed. For example, Tendulkar was the first cricketer to reach 100 hundreds, averaging a hundred every 7.8 innings in tests and one-day internationals (ODIs). One-day internationals, which gave batsmen more innings, had been around for 34 years. Just six years on, Kohli is challenging that, with a hundred every 5.3 innings in tests and ODIs.

The same is the case in Formula 1 for Lewis Hamilton, who is one short of matching Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles. While Schumacher’s seven titles came across a 19-year career, Hamilton’s six titles have spanned 13 years. Unlike Schumacher, who went through the F1 ritual of enduring inferior cars, Hamilton has not as much. As a result, on most quality metrics, Hamilton does better than Schumacher. And by the time he is finished, chances are, Hamilton would do so on quantity metrics as well.


Even as careers and achievements get compressed, there’s much to be said about the virtues of longevity. A case in point is both men’s and women’s tennis. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are playing at the highest level well into their thirties. The marker for Federer, the oldest of the trio, was Pete Sampras, who left the sport in 2002 with 14 grand slam titles—a very tall order then. Since then, all three have sailed past that number, and have their own jockeying going on to reset the bar for those who follow.

Longevity is also a story with Serena Williams, who is just one short of matching Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand slams. One thing that binds both women is that they also competed as mothers. Williams, since returning to competitive tennis after having a child, has lost four finals in pursuit of number 24. If she does win a title next year, she would have a winning span of 20 years. For Court, it was 14 years. For Steffi Graf, who is next on the list with 22 titles, it was 13 years.

The sportspersons above are in sports that have clear metrics to distil their achievements into quantitative numbers. Unlike soccer, which tends to be more scattered, especially with the club-country divide. How does one measure Messi and Ronaldo? One measure is Champions League goals, where they are the only two to cross a century of goals and one of them has led in goals scored every year since 2007-08.


Chances are, down the line, someone will pummel 100 goals into the net in Champions League. This was the year when an unofficial, made-for-record event tested the limits of human endurance. In an assisted and controlled environment, Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to go below 2 hours in a marathon, running a race remarkable for its consistency.


He was simply following the call given in 1894 by Pierre de Coubertin, who crafted the modern Olympics: faster, higher, stronger.

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