David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster:
Here is a theory. Top athletes are compelling because they embody the comparison-based achievement we Americans revere — fastest, strongest — and because they do so in a totally unambiguous way. Questions of the best plumber or best managerial accountant are impossible even to define, whereas the best relief pitcher, free-throw shooter, or female tennis player is, at any given time, a matter of public statistical record. Top athletes facinate us by appealing to our twin compulsions with competitive superiority and hard data.