I have often thought about if "internal" was "superior" to being athletic or not.
Issai Chosanshi has a great proverb in his book "The Demon's Sermon on Martial Arts" that is a discussion between a sparrow and a butterfly which I won't go into too much detail about but I think applies to this issue:
(Totally paraphrasing here) a sparrow expresses concern to a butterfly about having to become a clam in its next life. In a nut shell, the butterfly makes the sparrow think about if it regrets being a sparrow because for all it knows in its past life it could have been an Apache Gunship blowing stuff up. The sparrow says no because it thinks its always been a sparrow, and the butterfly is like "Well, when you're a clam you'll always think you were a clam because that is the chi which you will then carry, so don't worry.."
As a human evolves it become less and less likely that athleticism can be maintained. The youthful are genetically strong, fast and fit. Then the fear of becoming weak and elderly sets in, and we become like a sparrow fearing becoming a clam, so seek to reassure ourselves that "internal" is better than athleticism because we want to feel like we are heading into something better and not something worse. It's a part of what humankind has had in most civilizations, and that is the transformation from a child to an adult, a rite of passage. And like always its a scary thing.
So to me this is the seed from which the debate of "internal" being superior to athleticism stems. A fear of evolving and growing. The fact is, if one maintains his art, as age gets on athleticism declines, chi grows.
At the end of the day, we are what we are based on the chi the universe has given us. Maintain respect, morals and work hard, this is the crux of martial arts at its peak. It's fertilizer for being human