10 athletes who made sporting history

Monday, November 11th, 2019 09:11 |
Eliud Kipchoge

Throughout sporting history, athletes have made waves of change: Unbelievable records, breaking gender and race barriers, defeating teams they never thought possible, and more. Here’s some of the most memorable ones

1. Eliud Kipchoge (Athletics)

A human, running 42km in less than two hours was deemed impossible. Indeed, the only person who attempted that feat was the G.O.A.T himself Eliud Kipchoge when his Breaking2 challenge missed his target by 26 seconds in Monza, Italy in 2017. That seemed to vindicate the naysayers but they could not predict what came after as two years later, Kipchoge made the impossible possible when he clocked 1:59.40 in Vienna, Austria on October 12 in his second attempt dubbed INEOS 1:59 Challenge. “We went to the moon and came back,” he said after the race. It was a feat that was celebrated all over the world, making Kipchoge a darling of global leaders and their citizens. He lived true to his No Human is Limited mantra. 

2. Roger Bannister (Athletics)

On the morning of 6 May, 1954, Sir Roger Bannister did the impossible. The Daily Telegraph, at the time had described the sub-four-minute mile as “sport’s greatest goal”, something “as elusive and seemingly unattainable as Everest” (another apparently impossible human achievement that had recently been chalked off by Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay). Indeed, Bannister had been told by physiologists that not only was running the four-minute mile impossible for an athlete to do, but attempting to do so was dangerous to one’s health. He shrugged that off and clocked 3:59:04 at Oxford University’s ramshackle Iffley Road track and history was made.

3. Tiger Woods (Golf) 

You almost had to see it to believe it. Tiger Woods was so young; it was hard to imagine him winning one of the most prestigious golf competitions in the world. But on April 13, 1997, at 21, Woods won the US Masters. Not only was he the youngest man to ever do it, but he was the youngest black man, which broke racial barriers in golf. Woods has gone on to be one of the greatest golfers of all time. Despite a cheating scandal in 2010, he has returned to the sport and will forever be a household name.

4. Althea Gibson (Tennis)

Race was a huge issue in sports for the better part of the 20th century, and plenty of historic moments stem from breaking those barriers. In 1957, Althea Gibson, a black female, became the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon. She was also the first black player to compete in the US Open (in 1950), and won the women’s doubles championship on the same day she won Wimbledon. At the French Open in 1956, she became the first black player to win a Grand Slam.

5. Wilt Chamberlain (Basketball)

There have only been four players to score 60 or more points in a single NBA game, and Wilt Chamberlain beats them all. In 1962, Chamberlain scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors in a game against the New York Knicks. He’d scored 41 points in the first half, then 69 by the third quarter. Eventually, the team kept feeding the ball to Chamberlain, and he finished off with a solid 100 points, a record nobody has even come close to beating.

6. Magic Johnson (Basketball)

In the 20th century, HIV/Aids had the reputation of being a disease only popular among Caucasian homosexuals. So when basketball legend Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive, it sent shockwaves through the NBA, and the world. But Johnson’s diagnosis was the beginning of a major awareness campaign for the disease. He served as a spokesperson for Aids and continues today to do charitable work to bring donations and awareness to the disease.

7. Lisa Leslie (Basketball) 

In 2002, Lisa Leslie proved that women really can do anything men can. Prior to July 30, dunking in the women’s professional basketball league was unheard of. But Leslie ended that drought when she got the perfect opportunity to dunk less than five minutes before the end of the first half of the Los Angeles Sparks game versus Miami Sol. A few other women had discussed eventually dunking in the league, but Leslie was the first to do it. She set the stage and proved women can be on the same level as men.

8. Michael Phelps (Swimming) 

Michael Phelps is a name nobody will ever forget. He is considered the greatest swimmer of all time, and that’s in large part due to winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, which set the world record for the most gold medals in a single Olympics. Since then, nobody has beaten Phelps, who was just 23 years old at the time. In total, Phelps has 28 medals.

9. Muhammad Ali (Boxing)

Muhammad Ali is a household name, and his boxing match against George Foreman, dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle,” secured him the heavyweight title for the second time. It also made him one of the greatest boxers in history. Ali wanted to break international barriers with the match and said he wanted to establish a relationship between American blacks and Africans. “The fight was about racial problems, Vietnam, all of that,” he wrote in a letter.

10. Wayne Gretzky (Hockey)

Wayne Gretzky is arguably the greatest hockey player of all time. And in 1982, he finished the season with a record-breaking 92 goals, a feat no other player has come close to today. Gretzky set several records during his career, including most assists in a season (163), most professional goals in a career (1,072), most assists in a career (1,963), most Hart trophies in a career (9) — and the list goes on. Needless to say, hockey has never seen another Gretzky.

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