Part 1: ‘The Great Ones’

There are a great many individuals that I have not mentioned but there will be follow up articles where more of those sporting greats will be mentioned.

Here are a few that deserve to be remembered, in no particular order.

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Kelly Slater – Surfing
US surfer Kelly Slater is the 11-time ASP World Champion of surfing. He currently holds the record for both the youngest (age 20) and oldest (at age 39 in 2011) person to win the title. His style, power, and tricks (flips) set him apart in the sport. He's an aggressive competitor and yet seems able to keep the stoke – the true spirit of surfing – in a very genuine way. 

He's definitely the most dominant athlete in surfing, and I suspect he will be for several more years. Not bad for a guy who has just turned 43 and is still competing.

To compare, here are a few pro surfers who have also held the World Champ title and the number of times: 

Mick Fanning (my fave) – 3 times
Andy Irons (RIP) – 3 times
Tom Curren – 3 times
Mark Richards – 5 time IPS Champ (predecessor to the ASP)

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Esther Vergeer – Wheelchair Tennis player
Esther Vergeer is a retired Dutch wheelchair tennis player. Combining singles and doubles, she has won 42 Grand Slam tournaments, 22 year-end championships and 7 Paralympics titles. 

Vergeer was the world number one wheelchair tennis player from 1999 until her retirement in February 2013. 

In singles matches, she was undefeated since January 2003 and ended her career on a winning streak of 470 matches.

She is often described as the most dominant player in professional sports.

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Lin Dan – Badminton
China badminton player Lin Dan has won the World Championships and All England Tournament 5 times and is the two time defending champion in the Olympics. In a highly competitive sport like badminton, it is amazing to note that Lin Dan wins most major tournaments that he competes in.

By the age of 28 'Super Dan' completed the "Super Grand Slam", having won all nine major titles in world badminton: Olympic Games, World Championships, World Cup, Thomas Cup, Sudirman Cup, Super Series Masters Finals, All England Open, Asian Games, and Asian Championships

He's the first and only player to achieve this feat.

His achievements are even more astonishing when you consider he regularly skips tournaments and plays only the important ones (Olympics/World Championship/All England). 

In any tournament he enters, he's the player to beat even though he may not be the top seed/top ranked player in the field (he skips tournaments). 

Take the most recent World Championships – his ranking did not qualify him for the Tournament; he got a wild card due to his popularity and duly ended up winning it.

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Michael Schumacher – Formula One Driver

German racing driver Michael Schumacher won his first two F1 Driver's Championships with Benetton in 1994 and 1995. Schumacher then moved over to Ferrari in 1996. Ferrari had not won a Driver's championship since 1979. Michael went on to win 5 consecutive titles from 2000-2004. He is widely considered to be the best driver ever. 

He holds many of Formula One's driver records, including most championships, race victories, fastest laps, pole positions, points scored and most races won in a single season – 13 in 2004. In 2002 he became the only driver in Formula One history to finish in the top three in every race of a season and then also broke the record for most consecutive podium finishes. According to the official Formula One website he is "statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen".

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Aleksandr Karelin – Greco-Roman wrestler
Russian wrestler Aleksandr Karelin dominated his sport so much that he held a 13-year undefeated streak and 6 years without giving up a point. This guy dominated the super heavyweight class and literally threw around some of the best (& largest) athletes in the world around like a rag doll with his trademark "Karelin lift".

He had an upset loss to American Rulon Gardner in the gold-medal match at the Sydney Olympics. Karelin had previously beaten Gardner in 1997.

Karelin was famous for his reverse body lift, the "Karelin Lift", where facing the opponent who was lying flat on the mat to keep from being thrown; Karelin hoisted his opponents into the air and slammed them violently to the mat. This devastatingly effective manoeuvre, when properly executed, awarded Karelin 5 points per throw, the maximum awarded in Greco-Roman wrestling. Karelin's ability to perform this throw against elite opponents weighing as much as 130 kg (286 lbs) was amazing to audiences as well as other participants and observers of the sport.

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Jahangir Khan – Squash
Jehangir khan is a former World No. 1 squash player from Pakistan, who is considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the game. During his career he won the World Open six times and the British Open a record ten times. From 1981 to 1986, he was unbeaten in competitive play. During that time he won 555 games consecutively, the longest winning streak by any athlete in top-level professional sports as recorded by Guinness World Records

In 1981, when he was 17, Jahangir became the youngest winner of the World Open, beating Australia's Geoff Hunt (the game's dominant player in the late-1970s) in the final. That tournament marked the start of an unbeaten run which lasted for five years and 555 matches. 

The hallmark of his play was his incredible fitness and stamina, which Rehmat Khan helped him build up through a punishing training and conditioning regime. Jahangir was quite simply the fittest player in the game, and would wear his opponents down through long rallies played at a furious pace.

In 1982, Jahangir astonished everyone by winning the International Squash Players Association Championship without losing a single point.

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Heather McKay – Squash
Heather McKay is a retired Australian squash player, who is considered by many to be the greatest female player in the history of the game, and possibly also Australia's greatest-ever sportswoman. 

She dominated the women's squash game in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 16 consecutive British Open titles between 1962 and 1977, and capturing the inaugural women's World Open title in 1979. She was unbeaten for 19 years, from 1962 to 1981! 

She was also a top-level player of other sports, including field hockey and racquetball.

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Sergey Bubka – Pole Vaulter
Sergey Bubka  is a Ukrainian former pole vaulter who held the world record of 6.15 meters, set on 21 February 1993 in Donetsk, Ukraine for almost 21 years until France's Renaud Lavillenie cleared 6.16 metres on 15 February 2014

Bubka won the pole vault event in 6 consecutive IAAF World Championships in Athletics from 1983 to 1997.He was the first pole vaulter to clear 6.0 metres and 6.10 metres.

Bubka broke the world record for men's pole vaulting a total of 35 times in his career. He broke the outdoor world record 17 times and the indoor world record 18 times. 

In his dominance, Bubka lost his outdoor world record only once in his illustrious career. After Thierry Vigneron, of France, broke his record on 31 August 1984 at the Golden Gala international track meet in Rome, Bubka subsequently reclaimed the record on his next run, just minutes later.

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Eddy Merckx – Cycling
Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx is arguably the greatest cyclist of all time. Entering the Tour de France in 1969 for the first time at the tender age (for a tour cyclist) of 24 years, he arrived in Paris wearing the malliot jeune but also had the king of the mountains and green jerseys, the combination classification and combativity award for most aggressive riding. Nobody had done this before or since. He was also 17 minutes and 54 seconds ahead of Roger Pingeon which nobody has matched since. 

On the 17th stage from Luchon to Mourenx, he was ahead by enough time for the overall win but still he attacked and rode alone for 140km to win by 8 minutes. The field of truly excellent competitors were left in pieces.

Don't forget the before this Tour, he'd already won some of the most prestigious events: Paris-Nice (overtaking 5-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil in a time trial), Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderan, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege among others. Rather than concentrating upon a single event, he raced all year round.

He metaphorically stamped on his opposition and won the 1970 tour in a similar style. The best riders in the world felt that they just could not compete with him and some even felt satisfied with a second place to him.

His win rate was almost every other race he started in his best year and still won 1 in 3 other years. This is unparalleled for such an event as cycling.

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Sebastien Loeb – Rally Driver
Sebastien Loeb is a French rally & racing driver and is the most successful driver in WRC history, having won the world championship a record nine times in a row. 

He holds several other records, including most wins, most podium finishes and most points.

Loeb announced his retirement from World Rallying in the end of the 2012 season, probably because winning was getting monotonous.

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Bill Russell – Basketball
William Felton "Bill" Russell is a retired American professional basketball player who played center for theBoston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1956 to 1969. 

A five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a twelve-time All-Star, Russell was the centrepiece of the Celtics dynasty, winning eleven NBA championships during his thirteen-year career. Along with Henri Richard of the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiens, Russell holds the record for the most championships won by an athlete in a North American sports league. 

Before his professional career, Russell led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships (1955, 1956). He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics as captain of the U.S. national basketball team.

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Donald Bradman – Cricket
Donald Bradman was an Australian cricketer, widely acknowledged as the greatest Test batsman of all time. Bradman's career Test batting average of 99.94 is often cited as the greatest achievement by any sportsman in any major sport.

Bradman's meteoric rise from bush cricket to the Australian Test team took just over two years. Before his 22nd birthday, he had set many records for top scoring, some of which still stand, and became Australia's sporting idol at the height of the Great Depression.

In all, he went to the crease 80 times in Tests, and scored 29 centuries. He needed just four in his last Test innings, at The Oval in 1948, to ensure an average of 100 – but was out second ball for 0, a rare moment of human failing that only added to his everlasting appeal. Bradman made all those runs at high speed in a manner that bewildered opponents and entranced spectators. Though his batting was not classically beautiful, it was always awesome.

 

By Rob Fleming

Please comment below this story and give us a few of your sporting greats and why you rate them so much.

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