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The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Athletics Weekly]

High Jumping Into History

Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor is one of the best in the history of his sport. He’s highly decorated in the world of high jumping with around 12 gold medals to his name across several competitions. He first set the high jump record in 1989, jumping 2.44 meters or around 8 feet. In 1993, he broke this record when he went for 2.45 meters or 8.457 feet. To understand this, the man literally jumped over the likes of Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal and had room to spare!!

To accomplish this, Javier had to have massive power in his legs and feet of course. This means the dude had to work out his legs to gain power in his jumps. However, his feet also had to be capable of springing him off the ground with major force. Javier likely used weights to weigh himself down as he practiced jumps. This only pushed his legs and feet to use more power, so by the time he took the extra weight off, it would be like removing some gravity for him. Allowing him to jump higher.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Cincinatti.com]

The Ballad Of Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens is often remembered for going to the 1936 Olympics in Germany and in front of Adolph Hitler himself, won gold. Of course, before this, Hitler claimed specific white people were superior in every way to other races. Owens defeated Hitler’s idiocy in front of the world. While defeating Aryan supremacy beliefs might be one of the greatest athletic accomplishments ever, it actually wasn’t the most impressive thing Owens ever did.

A year before the Olympics, he was competing for Ohio State where he broke three world records and tied another. He broke the long jump record with a 220-yard spring and the hurdle record at 220 yards. His 100-yard dash tied the world record at the time. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention. He did all of this IN A FREAKING HOUR! Seriously, he broke three world records and tied for a fourth all in an hour and in wildly different events. The incredible training, cardio, and discipline this took is impressive.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via The Guardian]

The Long Jump Into History

Doing an incredibly long jump in the world of track and field is impressive. Most people at the top level are going to hit between 15 to 20 feet. But if you surpass this, you are then among the elite in your field. Bob Beamon managed to step out in a time when you needed to be genetically gifted to do well. In 1968, he set the record at the Olympics when he jumped for 8.9 meters or 29.1995 feet. This would be broken by Mike Powell in 1991 when he jumped for 8.95 meters or 29.3635 feet.

To compare this to real-world things, both men jumped so far that they could have cleared two elephants and had room to spare. That clearly puts these jumps among the greatest athletic accomplishments in history. But how did they do it? Weight training to put more pressure on your body is one way, like we referenced before. You can also train to know how to perfectly plant your feet and jump, as well as know when to extend in the air for extra distance.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Doug Pensinger/Getty Images]

Winning On One Good Leg

Tiger Woods is one of the best golfers in history, but he has suffered through some pretty bad injuries. He has had a bad back and many knee problems. However, he did not let one knee issue keep him from winning the 2008 U.S. Open Title. Entering the tournament, everyone knew Tiger was playing on a torn ACL. Yet we’d later find he had a double stress fracture in his left leg too. Playing golf on these issues would only cause major pain, but Woods did it anyway. While normally playing the U.S. Open is hard enough, Tiger ended up in a playoff with Rocco Mediate. This caused them to play an extra 19 holes of golf.

Tiger won other competitions by huge margins, but he managed to squeak a win out at the 2008 U.S. Open in spite of everything. The man essentially played on one leg for 5 days. It is possible to stand on a torn ACL but moving the leg can be difficult. This means Woods would have to be perfectly still, even on drives, to avoid hurting himself. But just standing could be painful, especially with the double stress fracture. This would then put more pressure on his good leg and his back, which could prevent proper putting and drives. That is why this is one of the greatest athletic accomplishments ever.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via USA Today]

The Fastest Man Alive

While The Flash might not be real, Usain Bolt surely is. The Jamaican track star holds the world records in the 100m and 200m races, both of which were set in 2009. He also helped Jamaica capture the 4x100m relay world record but this would later be beaten. When tested for his top speed, scientists found Bolt can reach a maximum of 27.7 miles per hour. Although he cannot maintain it for long, he’s only a sprinter, this is the fastest speed of any human to ever live.

The genetic lottery helps Bolt, as he’s 6’5 and a little over 200lbs. Bolt’s tall, lean frame allows him to get longer strides over his slightly smaller competitors. However, the power in his movements and ability to hit his top speed almost immediately shows how well he’s trained. This all happens from the moment everything starts. There he has to get a good push off with his feet, then maintain and increase that power as he hits top speed. That takes a long time to perfect, but Bolt has made a career out of this. His record-breaking performances are clearly some of the greatest athletic accomplishments ever.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via NCAA]

Wrestling On Literally One Leg

Wrestling is quite a difficult sport. We do not mean the scripted action you see in the likes of WWE, but rather the world of amateur wrestling or Greco-Roman style. You need major talent to be capable of reaching the highest level of success. Yet one man showed up and dominated with a major handicap. Anthony Robles was missing a leg and stopped wearing prosthetics at a young age. This meant that in order to stand and move around, he had to learn how to balance incredibly well. This helped a lot when he decided to get into wrestling in eighth grade.

Robles went on to become a National Champion in his weight class in his senior year of High School. Recruited by Arizona State University, he dominated at the 125-pound division. In his senior year there, Anthony went 36-0, capturing the NCAA Championship. He finished his collegiate career 122-23 with 3 Pac-12 Titles. How did he do this on one leg? Simple. You might assume one leg would hurt him, but it actually helped as he could wrap around and pull off takedowns that would normally be harder for those in two legs. Combined with his great balance, Robles was a difficult match-up for anyone he faced.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Moscow Pullman Daily News]

The Saga Of A No-Hitter In Baseball

To have a no-hitter in baseball, you have to literally never allow a hit or man on base by traditional means. Not only does the pitcher have to throw a great game, but the fielders have to assist and throw everyone out before reaching first base. It is an incredibly difficult thing to do. That makes every no-hitter one of the greatest athletic accomplishments one can ever achieve in the sport. Most pitchers, even talented Cy Young award winners, never accomplish this. Literally, there are Hall of Famers without a no-hitter to their credit. Likely the greatest of all, however, is Nolan Ryan.

He holds the strikeout record but also holds the record for the most no-hitters with a staggering 7! Baseball began back in the 1800s and to this day, only 5 men have thrown more than 2 no-hitters in their career. To throw one, you have to be perfect and we mean that literally. While you do not have to strike out everyone you face, it needs to happen some usually. The most strikeouts for a no-hitter in history belongs to Nolan Ryan and Matt Scherzer with 17. But the fewest strikeouts in one is somehow 0, accomplished three times in MLB history. Those who did it are Earl Hamilton, Sam Jones, and Ken Holtzman.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via The New York Times]

The Marathon Man

Very few people can compare to Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when it comes to marathons. The man is next to impossible to beat in the sector and holds several world records. Initially, he set the record for the fastest to run a marathon (26.2 miles) in 2018 at the Berlin Marathon. He finished in 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds. Yet he finished under two hours in 2019 with a time of 1:59:40 but it was not counted for incredibly stupid reasons. He’s also a consistent force in the Marathon and 5000m races.

Eliud has done professional marathons since 2013 and his times have been remarkably similar, removing the idea that he is a one or two-trick pony. Across 17 marathons since 2013, he averages 2 hours and 4 minutes. It is the best average in history. It’s not shocking that he has two Olympic Gold Medals and several World Titles to his credit. How does he do it? Critical distance training. He has to average less than 7 minutes a mile to reach the two-hour mark, meaning he has to essentially never slow down and only speed up. That takes incredible cardio as well as impressive muscles in his legs to withstand that grind.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Planetmountain.com]

Mount Everest Climb Record

Hans Kammerlander is an Italian mountaineer, who at age 61, managed to set the record for the fastest time climbing Mount Everest. Somehow, he climbed up the mountain in just 16 hours and 45 minutes. While there are trails and proper guides to help one scale the mountain faster these days, you still have to climb 8,848 meters or a little over 29,028 feet. That is difficult on the body, especially when it comes to breathing. This is why many might carry oxygen to help them climb up faster.

Yet Kammerlander never used any supplemental oxygen climbing up Everest or coming down. That makes his climb one of the greatest athletic accomplishments one could hope to achieve. Of course, he has also climbed most of the 8000-meter peaks on Earth now too. That meant his body had been acclimated to the mountain environment. To do this, Kammerlander had to build up his cardio but also his lungs. The air is harder to breathe as you reach higher altitudes, so most treks up Everest take several days so that people can adjust their bodies. Therefore, to do it in less than a day, you need remarkable health.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Pinterest]

Michael Phelps Quest For Gold In 2008

What Michael Phelps managed to do at the 2008 Summer Olympics is nothing short of remarkable. He wanted to win 8 gold medals, something that he could certainly do if he competed in every major swimming event that he was eligible and qualified for. He competed in the 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m medley, 400m medley, 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle, and 4x100m medley. All but one (100m butterfly) became a new world record, the butterfly race even set an Olympic record.

As you can tell, there are many individual races there but also a few team events. This meant that Phelps could not win gold alone, and his last race would come in a relay. The team beat second-place Australia by 0.7 seconds to capture gold. His run was clearly one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in history. How did Phelps do all of this? Beyond help from his teammates, Phelps is a large man. He’s 6’4 and lean, with longer than average arms and seemingly webbed feet. He spent 8 to 10 hours in a pool daily to train, putting his body through hell to be capable of beating the world’s best.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via A.RICARDO/Shutterstock.com]

The Legend That Is Simone Biles

Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in history with 19 gold medals at the World Championships and 26 overall, the most among men and women. She also has 4 Olympic gold medals and 7 medals overall. Her entire career has gathered 32 medals as of this writing, crushing any male or female gymnast to ever live. Biles is known for having absolutely amazing power, as she is capable of reaching not only high speeds but also incredible heights in the air.

This extra speed gives her more height which in turn gives her more room for amazing athleticism. This is what allows her to do some of her tricks, which is why they are named after her. Biles’ work is considered so much better than her peers that gymnastics had to restrict some moves from even being attempted. When the entire sport has to handicap you so it’s fair for your competitors, that alone should be considered one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in history. We have literally never seen any gymnast like her. In spite of her tiny stature, she reaches heights even the men struggle to see.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via NoNoHitters.com]

The Iron Man That Was Charles Radbourn

Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn is likely finding it funny that Major League Baseball restricts the amount of games pitchers can start. While Charles did play in the early days of baseball (1880-1891), baseball was quickly becoming popular. That resulted in a large schedule. During 1884, the Providence Grays were in a bad state. Some felt the team deserved to be disbanded, yet Radbourn refused to accept this. Since the Manager could not trust other pitchers to win games, Charles was asked to start 40 of the last 43 games. Despite having already started near 20 that season.

He agreed, in exchange for a raise and exemption from baseball’s reserve clause. Radbourn developed horrific pain from the long stretch, so much so that he would struggle just to comb his hair in the morning. Somehow, he won all but four of his starts and ended up helping the Grays win the National League Championship. The fatigue and long-term issues Radbourn suffered through are the very reasons why MLB does not allow such a thing anymore. His arm was jello by the end of the season, and that is likely why he did not see much success after 1884. Yet his 60 wins in 1884 is a record no one will break.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Smithsonian Magazine]

Gertrude Ederle’s English Channel Swim

While swimming 20 miles would be nothing for professional swimmers who spend hours in a pool every day, this is not exactly easy in open water. In particular, swimming the English Channel from England to France is 20 miles of hellish water. It can be choppy and a mess to deal with. After seeing the lack of respect for female swimmers and females overall, Gertrude Ederle wanted to change this perception. To do this, she decided to swim the English Channel, which only five men had done before her attempt in 1926.  To be considered for the world record, no one can even touch you on the swim.

Much less attempt to assist you in any form whatsoever. Her first attempt was resulting in a good time but a wave hit and caused her to be kind of out of it for a second but fine overall. Yet one of her aides grabbed her assuming she was about to drown, ending her attempt. Finally, she went out again with instructions to not interfere no matter what. This time, she swam the 20 miles in the middle of a storm, finishing in 14 hours and 31 minutes. This beat the closest time by around 2 hours! Her drive, determination, swimming power, and cardio were on full display!

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via Blackdoctor.org]

Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s Heptathlon Domination

American Jackie Joyner-Kersee might have fit in well with the Greeks at the original Olympics. She would likely dominate in their Heptathlon as much as she did the ones she took part in in the 1980s. To be clear, there are two versions of the Heptathlon. Both include 7 events (Hepta is Greek for Seven), but the men’s and women’s events differ some. For men, you take part in a 60m race, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60m hurdles, pole volt, and 1000m race.

For women, it’s the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m race, long jump, javelin throw, and 800m race. Due to how much each sex goes through, this seems to be an even playing field of events. Therefore, it should not be overlooked that Jackie’s score was better than any male or female before or after her. She reached 7148 points at the Goodwill Games in 1986. Then 7291 points at the 1988 Olympics. She now owns the top six heptathlon scores all-time. 483 points more than the male record holder. The cardio to do this is insane but the ability to train to perfectly excel in 7 different events is the stuff of legend.

The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
[Image via National Geographic]

Our El Capitan: Alex Honnold

Many people climb up mountains or rock climb up some impressive rocky structures. Yet very few mountaineers have the stones below the belt to free climb. While there are some who might free climb smaller places, Alex Honnold decided to climb 7,500 feet up El Capitan in Yellowstone National Park completely free. Most free climbers might at least have others around climbing with them, some of which are climbing with regular equipment to help if needed. Yet Alex, who was the subject of the Academy Award-winning Free Solo documentary, did all of this alone.

Oh yeah, and he managed to scale El Capitan in just four hours. He is the only person in history to have ever done this. Honnold also possesses the record for the fastest time on “The Nose” section of El Capitan too. It is clearly one of the greatest athletic accomplishments ever. His grip strength and ability to know how to properly climb helped him. But what also helped was knowing his body and the mountain well enough to know when and where to step at the right time. Honnold has spent years climbing El Capitan and knew he could do it free solo by the time he filmed the documentary.

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

NBC Sports

CBS Sports

CNBC

CNN

National Geographic

New York Times

USA Today

Golf Digest

Free Solo Documentary

History.com

Red Bull

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