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The Science Behind Some of the Greatest Athletic Accomplishments In History
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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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