Excellence is rare and often underappreciated without the benefit of hindsight. Vincent Van Gogh only sold a handful of his paintings and drawings during his lifetime — the popular (and likely not accurate) lore says he sold just one. The latest Van Gogh sold, Labourer in a Field, went for $81M in 2017.
Great athletes are similar. And like artistic masterpieces, the transcendent talent of a generational athlete should be enjoyed. Peak Roger Federer lithely, effortlessly gliding around the court was Baryshnikov with a racquet. Serena Williams’ dominance is awe-inspiring, overwhelming like the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Zinedine Zidane’s creativity on the pitch grows from the same vine that enabled Salvator Dali to conceive and paint The Persistence of Memory.
With athletes, we often don’t realize how good they truly are while watching them. Some of that is the nature of the beast — we can’t know where they fit in terms of historical greatness until his / her / their career is over. But some of that is on us as observers. We get so caught up in wins and losses, trophies and honors, the numbers, comparing players, etc. that we forget to take a step back and say, “wow, what they’re doing is awesome.”
We spend so much time and energy debating who is better between Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe (it’s Mbappe, for the record) that we don’t spend nearly enough time enjoying the absurd things they do on the pitch.
We should appreciate athletic greatness while we can because it’s fleeting. It doesn’t persist in the same way that great art does. Athletes age and retire. The Mona Lisa will always hang in The Louvre. Something gets lost watching highlights that you still get when you go to a museum for the second or third or fourth time.
It’s not down to experiencing the sporting moment in person either. I still remember the 2008 U.S. Men’s incredible 4x100 swimming relay comeback — what happened, the images, how it felt — even though I only watched it on TV. It has something to do with the uncertainty, but that uncertainty is ephemeral. Once you know the result, the performance doesn’t hit in the same way that a truly great piece of music will always be striking.
I’m jealous of all of you that got to watch Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Flo Jo, Carl Lewis (and the list could go on) at the peak of their powers. You saw the pinnacle of excellence in sport. The dominant at their most dominant. Before you knew it and before I had a chance to see them at their best, they’d retired (and unretired and retired again), and I missed out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had it pretty good myself. Serena Williams, Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, LeBron James, Alex Ovechkin (in my backyard!!!), Sidney Crosby (he admits, grudgingly). And again, the list could go on.
We should add Vivianne Miedema to that list.
Right now, playing for the Arsenal women, we have a striker who will be among the greatest ever when all is said and done. She might wind up the greatest ever. And she’s 25 — smack dab in the middle of her prime (or perhaps just entering it given the increasing longevity in sport). And again — she plays for our club!
Last week, she notched a hat trick against Slavia Prague to hit her Arsenal century. It took her 110 appearances in all competitions for the club to score 100 goals. She was the first WSL player to score 50 goals, overtaking now-teammate Nikita Parris’ record. On average, Viv scored a goal every 83 minutes compared to Parris’ 171. That’s an absolutely bonkers stat. Right now, Miedema is dueling with Ellen White for first all-time — they’re passing the record back and forth seemingly every week.
Miedema has scored 83 goals in 100 appearances for The Netherlands. Christine Sinclair, the record-holder for international goals, has 187 in 304. That’s a bit more than 6 goals per 10 appearances. Miedema is scoring 8 goals per 10 appearances. At her current pace, Miedema will reach Sinclair’s current goal total in approximately 125 more appearances. Of course, Miedema’s pace might slow and Sinclair is still playing (at 38 - unbelievable longevity) so she’s got a ways to go. But it’s well within the realm of possibility, perhaps even likely, that Viv will get there.
Her numbers are eye-popping. They scream excellence. But as I said earlier, let’s not get too caught up in them and lose the forest for the trees. All you need to do is watch her play. She’s on a completely different level than everybody else, which is impressive given the talent surrounding her at Arsenal and across the pitch at clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City in the WSL.
The Thierry Henry comparisons are easy because they both play(ed) striker for Arsenal, but they’re apt. Miedema is that level of terrifying for opponents. When she gets on the ball, you get that feeling in your chest because you know that something incredible might happen.
For me, it’s similar to when a younger Alex Ovechkin would pick up the puck and build a head of steam through the neutral zone — you can’t look away because you feel like a goal is coming. In the arena, you can practically feel the electric buzz it generates in the crowd. And even if he doesn’t score, he’s going to do something breathtaking. There aren’t many athletes that demand your attention that way. And it’s so much fun to watch.
Watch Viviane Miedema. Revel in her excellence. We’ve got her (for now) at Arsenal and it’s fun to watch.