Sure, plenty of people have broken the sound barrier in a rocket. But how many can say they did it unassisted by any machinery? Less than a handful, but only one went over Mach 1.0. His name is Felix Baumgartner, a known Australian daredevil who is known for some extreme stunts. On October 14, 2012, he took part in the Red Bull Stratos Project where he’d get into a helium balloon and jump literally from the stratosphere, dropping 24 miles (a world record at the time).
In doing so, he broke the sound barrier when he hit Mach 1.25 or 843.6 mph at his top speed. Alan Eustace jumped from 25.74 miles above the Earth two years later but did not reach the same speed. To drop like this, you need oxygen to start with as well as the same type of suit astronauts use. This is because the fall will cause you to catch on fire in normal clothing. This drop also can cause people to pass out, with tons of pressure put on the body that even seasoned base jumpers would struggle with. This is why only Felix and Alan have jumped from 24 miles above the Earth. It takes a huge toll on the body.
While many people have climbed up Mount Everest today, before 1953 no one had ever done it. Even the well-known guides, the Sherpa, had never climbed it completely. Yet in 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand along with a Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay climbed it. Today, climbing the mountain is done in stages due to how difficult it is to breathe the higher you climb up the mountain. There are also trails that have been formed and clearly seasoned guides.
None of this existed when Hillary climbed it. While they did make camp along the way, they climbed the mountain in just 16 days. Which stood as the record for quite some time. The highly experienced Hillary and Sherpa Norgay were able to do this climb without much aid due to their climbing knowledge. This is why there will never be another climb as impressive as the first since there was nothing to assist them, making it one of the greatest athletic accomplishments ever. The coolest part is that Hillary also scaled both the North and South Poles, making him the first man to ever do this too.
Winning Gold At 4 Straight Olympics, Bettering The Score Each Time
Only one man can ever say he won a gold medal at four straight Olympic games and bettered his score every time. Several have now won gold at four Olympic events now, but only Al Oerter of the United States destroyed his own records every time he came out. For those unaware of Oerter, he was part of America’s Track and Field team. He took part in the discus throwing event, where he was considered among the best on the planet at the time.
His first Olympics took place in 1956 where he won his first gold medal. Yet by 1960, he was setting world records. Oerter’s throw went for 59.18 meters at the 1960 games. In 1964, he threw for 61 meters. Finally, in 1968 he managed to reach 64.78 meters. The strength he had to possess to win a gold medal once is tough enough but this man kept up his strength for 12 years and improved it. How did he do it? Many believe improved strength training assisted him and other discus throwers by the 1960s. However, he also had to have perfect technique, knowing how long to wind up and the perfect time to release.
Some might claim playing tennis for a long time should not rank as one of the greatest athletic accomplishments. However, we disagree as it was scientifically impressive. The historic match happened at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. Both are impressive players, with Mahut being a former No. 1 ranked doubles player. For those unaware, each competition can set its own specific rules for how matches have to play out.
At Wimbledon, they like for the winner to be definitive. Therefore, when Isner and Mahut went into their fifth set, there wasn’t a fifth-set tiebreaker. You have to win two games, which resulted in the men trading wins back and forth. This caused the men to compete for a total of 11 hours across 3 days, with Isner finally coming out on top. Tennis requires amazing stamina, but also incredible reflexes and eyesight. That is tough enough in a 2 to 3-hour match but 11 hours? The level of difficulty to go this long and to keep trading wins back and forth was incredible and both men should be touted for their work.
Michael Jordan is known as one of, if not THE greatest basketball player to ever live. While he does have 6 NBA Championships, perhaps his most iconic game took place in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. It was Game 5, and a win that night would allow them to likely take the series in 6. However, Jordan showed up incredibly ill with the flu. His mother, Deloris along with team officials pleaded with him to sit out but MJ went in and played anyway. He finished the game with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. Again, this man just came down with the flu and did this!
Influenza is a virus that ravages the body. You’ll often run a fever as your body attempts to fight it off, which could cause dizziness and disorientation. Your immune system might also cause flush feelings or chills too. Nausea will take place, and your body will ache. Tiredness, literal dramatic fatigue is going to be present and you’ll sweat so much that you’ll begin to dehydrate if you don’t drink enough fluids. In spite of all of this, MJ had the mental toughness to still be the best player on the court that night. Obviously, it’s one of the greatest athletic accomplishments ever.
Some might say competitive eating is not a sport. However, those people are dead wrong as these men and women have to train just like normal athletes. Yet they do not need to get big muscles, but rather, train their digestive system to handle a lot of food in a short period. What Joey Chesnut has done at Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Competition every 4th of July is incredible, but it was in 2018 and 2020 that he had two of the greatest athletic accomplishments in history.
At this Nathan’s competition, you have 10 minutes to eat as many hotdogs as you can. In 2018, Chesnut consumed 74 hotdogs but in 2020, he managed to consume 75. When he eats both bread and meat, Chesnut’s stomach has to extend to handle the extra food. He’ll put on instant weight and gas will begin to develop as his stomach digests what he’s put inside. Some competitive eaters do not have well-trained stomachs, causing them to upchuck what they ate due to their stomachs rejecting excess food. However, Chesnut’s stomach seems to be capable of consuming extreme amounts of food quite well.
Katie Ledecky is only 24 years old as of this writing, yet she has 7 Olympic gold medals and 15 total World Championships. Of course, her World Title number is a record among women. She also has the female world records in the 400m, 800m, and 1,500m freestyle events. Her times are not just impressive among women, but also among men. Most of her swim times are less than many of the men, and her records are 2 minutes to 20 seconds less than the men who are far larger than her. Katie does benefit from a larger frame among women though. She is 6 feet tall and weighs around 160lbs.
This gives her an advantage over the field, as most female swimmers will be between 5’5 to 5’10. A few inches might not seem like a lot, but that extra length can make or break a race. Ledecky also has unparalleled cardio, as she can win a 400m race as much as a 1,500m race. She knows when to turn on the jets but her normal stroke pattern is also incredibly fast, making her capable of lapping other women in the 1500m, for example. Ledecky’s swimming records are clearly some of the greatest athletic accomplishments in history.
George Hood is an ex-Marine for the United States. When he left the Armed Forces, he wanted to remain active and decided to get into extreme workouts. As he aged, he only kept this up. When he was 62 years old, he decided to go for the world record in the abdominal plank category. What he did is now one of the greatest athletic accomplishments ever. Holding a plank might not seem that hard, and it really isn’t….for a short time. Yet a few minutes into an abdominal plank, you will begin to feel severe pain in the abs and drop out of the position.
Most can only hold it from a few minutes to about an hour, with the most fit on the hour-end. Hood, however, held his in place for 8 hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds. He beat the previous record by around 14 minutes. To be capable of this, your abdominal region has to be in peak condition. However, Hood also could not move from his original position. Making it hard to hydrate. Not only would this position blast the abs, but it would also impact the back, neck, and even the legs. Hood would need to have a body at its absolute peak condition, which is incredible for a man 60+ years old.
Some world records can seem a little dumb, but others can be absolutely stunning. What Eddy Merckx did in 1972 is still talked about as one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in history. The Belgian cyclist managed to set the world record for the furthest distance traveled within an hour on a bicycle from a stationary start. He went for 49.431km around a high-altitude track in Mexico City. Yet he did this on old technology, something that was bound to be broken with better bikes.
To maintain fairness to Eddy, the Union Cycliste Internationale restricted cyclists to virtually the same equipment he used. But they changed this in 2014. That led to many breaking the hour mark. In 2019, Victor Campenaerts broke the record when he traveled 55.089 kilometers or 34.231 miles within an hour. It is apropos Victor now has the record as he too is a fellow Belgian cyclist. If there is anyone Eddy would want the record to belong to, it’s likely Victor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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: