Skip

Who are the best athletes nobody has heard of?
September 15, 2009 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Who are the absolute legends of obscure sports?

I realize even the most popular sports in one part of the world are unknown in another. But I'm generally looking for, say, the best female badminton player ever or the greatest Buzkashi champion, as opposed to, say, Michael Jordan.
(Clips of them doing their thing would also be cool).
posted by Fireland to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (55 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jeannie Longo, the greatest female bike racer that ever lived.
posted by box at 7:39 AM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


John Tavares (No, not the hockey player, his uncle of the same name!)
posted by Citrus at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2009


Ole Einar Bjørndalen is widely considered to be the greatest biathlete (cross-country skiing and target shooting) of all time.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:50 AM on September 15, 2009


Eddy Merckx, greatest cyclist in the history of the sport.
posted by The Michael The at 7:55 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Swedish swimmer Anders Olsson is pretty badass:

"Today, I'm a Paralympic gold medallist (2004 & 2008) and a world champion in handicapped swimming. I have improved my world records 52 times. Right now I hold ten current world records. I specialise in long-distance swimming. In 2008, I took part in the famous Swedish Vansbrosimning swimming competition and came ninth out of the three thousand non-handicapped men who took part."
posted by effbot at 7:58 AM on September 15, 2009


Jeannie Longo, the greatest female bike racer that ever lived.

Marla Streb, the greatest downhill female bike racer that ever lived.
posted by headnsouth at 8:02 AM on September 15, 2009


Lane Frost, "Mr. Eight Seconds", greatest bull-rider in the history of professional rodeo.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:03 AM on September 15, 2009


Jehangir Khan dominated the game of Squash in the early 80's. He won 10 british open, was undefeated for 5 years/555 games.
He was followed by Jansher Khan who dominated the sport in the latter half of the 80's.
posted by xufasch at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2009


Beryl Burton, the greatest female cyclist who ever lived. The only woman to beat the men in her sport.
posted by TheRaven at 8:10 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the U.S., everyone has heard about Björn Borg. But nobody knows the name of the other sports hero from my childhood - the greatest Slalom and Giant Slalom skier ever, Ingemar Stenmark.

"Stenmark has won more alpine ski competitions than any other man with a total of 86 races (45 giant slaloms and 41 slaloms) in the Alpine Skiing World Cup, Hermann Maier being the second with 54 victories."
posted by gemmy at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2009


David Foster, who won the World 600 mm Double-handed Sawing Championship 21 years in a row.
posted by zamboni at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2009


Henry Callahan from ultimate frisbee.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 8:23 AM on September 15, 2009


John Tavares (No, not the hockey player, his uncle of the same name!)
Interesting choice. I would've thought Gary Gait for lacrosse.
posted by That takes balls. at 8:26 AM on September 15, 2009


Yasuhiro Yamashita, one of the greatest Judo champions of all time.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:27 AM on September 15, 2009


I recently posted this thread about Fred Grzybowski, a legend of extreme pogo-sticking.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:27 AM on September 15, 2009


Although his track world records have been eclipsed by his countryman Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie is the current marathon world record holder at 2:03:59 and is widely considered to be the greatest distance runner of all time.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2009


Cliff Young, who won an 875km ultramarathon at age 61.

Hec Gervais, colossus of curling.
posted by scruss at 8:32 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's a MeFi discussion on Fedor Emelianenko, who is considered to be the best heavyweight fighter in the world by most MMA journalists, fighters, and fans and is not fighting in the UFC, which is MMA's analogue to the NFL.

Kazushi Sakuraba is another MMA fighter that beat many opponents that were much bigger than him, back when weight classes were much looser.
posted by ignignokt at 8:32 AM on September 15, 2009


I just learned about Graeme Obree from this comment.

He broke the the existing record for most distance covered on a bike in one hour back in 1993 on a bike he made himself.
posted by marsha56 at 8:34 AM on September 15, 2009


It's more of a regional sport than an obscure one, but here's some kabaddi legends - Harjit Brar Bajakhana and Ameen Jatt.

Hope I'm not stepping on your turf, East Manitoba.
posted by zamboni at 8:36 AM on September 15, 2009


A champion bowler, Walter Ray Williams is also a 6 time world champion in horseshoe throwing.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:37 AM on September 15, 2009


Regional rather than obscure, but Don Bradman in cricket:

"Bradman's Test batting average of 99.94 has become one of cricket's most famous, iconic statistics.[33] No other player who has played more than 20 Test match innings has finished with a Test average of more than 61."

Akin to a major league batter having a career batting average of .392. Just astonishing.
posted by idb at 8:45 AM on September 15, 2009


John Tavares (No, not the hockey player, his uncle of the same name!)
Interesting choice. I would've thought Gary Gait for lacrosse.


Jim Brown, the football player is the greatest Lacrosse player of all time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:46 AM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bart Helmholt, the first man to jump over 21 meter with a pole.
posted by ijsbrand at 8:54 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tanya Streeter is a world record-holding free-diving champion. In 2002, she broke the women's and men's no-limit world diving record by diving to a depth of 525 feet.

That record was broken by Loic Laeferme, who dove to 531 feet. He died in a training session, and his record was broken by Herbert Nitsch, who dove to 702 feet.
posted by xingcat at 9:04 AM on September 15, 2009


I came here to say Don Bradman. (Oddly enough, I only know about him through reading about G. H. Hardy, the mathematician, who was a big fan of cricket.) If you crunch the numbers right it can be shown that nobody has dominated their sport to the extent that Bradman dominated cricket; see his New York Times obituary for some examples.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:06 AM on September 15, 2009


I found this recent article about Cesar Sala and Satish Jagnandan the "Federer and Nadal of handball" fascinating.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:11 AM on September 15, 2009


Oh and its hard to find much about him but many consider Manuel Estiarte from Spain the best Water Polo player to play the game.

Amazing because he was a little guy (5' 10", 145lbs) in a sport dominated in the international game by big fellas.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:17 AM on September 15, 2009


Narimichi Fujiwara is probably the greatest kemari player in history.
No films, as he lived in the 12th century. However, here's a clip of modern players.
posted by spasm at 9:17 AM on September 15, 2009


Something about competitive cycling seems to attract exceptional characters. I nominate Mick Murphy, legend of The Rás Tailteann (an 8 day cycle race in Ireland).

He is conscious of the benefits of a good diet when in training, and maintains that this knowledge helped him in his cycling days: "raw foods are best - meat, eggs, cheese, vegetables, honey - and I always took quantities of cows' blood when I felt it was needed."

An amazing interview is linked from Jack Thurston's blog here.
posted by Kiwi at 9:19 AM on September 15, 2009


A legend within the M62 corridor; I'm assuming a virtual unknown to much of the rest of Britain, never mind the world. Possibly Rugby League's greatest ever player, Ellery Hanley.
posted by Bodd at 9:46 AM on September 15, 2009


Reg Mellor is the world champion ferret legger.

He kept a ferret in his pants for 5 hrs 26 min, which is a legend in my book.
posted by pseudonick at 10:19 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll see your Jehangir and Janshir Khans and raise you Heather McKay, the greatest female squash player ever and arguably the most dominant athlete in any sport, ever. Among her accomplishments:

- She went undefeated for 19 years.
- She lost only two matches in her entire career.
- She won the British Open (arguably the world championship) 16 straight times.
- In 1967, she won the world championship final without losing a single point.

Oh, and by the way she also found time and energy to be a member of the Australian Women's Hockey Team, win the American Amateur Racquetball Championship once, the American Professional Racquetball Championship three times, and the Canadian Racquetball Championship five times.
posted by googly at 10:21 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just saw a documentary on on TV about an icelandic style of wrestling called Glima. One of its masters appears to be a fellow called Þorsteinn Kristjánsson.
posted by edmz at 10:28 AM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Juan Manuel Fangio was probably the greatest driver ever, though that's up for discussion. I'll let you decide if muscling that machine around takes more athletic ability than bowling. Certainly takes more balls to go out there with no seatbelt wearing just a leather hat. Amazing video.

Likewise, Michele Mouton was the first (and arguably only) really competitive female driver, during the insane years of Group B rallying at that. The cars got so fast that they were difficult to control and the series eventually was canceled. Decent video.
posted by paanta at 10:34 AM on September 15, 2009


Randy Ferbey is one of the best curlers in the world.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:43 AM on September 15, 2009


, was an American cyclist who won the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899—after setting numerous world records and over-coming strong racial discrimination. Taylor was only the second African-American athlete to achieve the level of world championship—after boxer George Dixon.
posted by i_like_camels at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2009


oops, fail, first time trying to post a link.
Major Taylor was the cyclist I was trying to link to Wikipedia
posted by i_like_camels at 10:49 AM on September 15, 2009


Sven Nys, who races cyclocross, is hugely popular over here in Belgium, especially in Flanders.
posted by dseaton at 10:58 AM on September 15, 2009


mefi's own logboy?
posted by torticat at 11:04 AM on September 15, 2009


Ronnie O'Sullivan is by many people considered to be the most talented Snooker player ever.

Phil Taylor is held in the same regard for Darts.

Both of them are still competing.

Whether darts or snooker qualify as sports might be another matter.
posted by selton at 11:22 AM on September 15, 2009


Chiyonofuji, real name Akimoto Mitsugu, was the greatest sumo grand champion of modern times, with a status comparable to Muhammed Ali multiplied by JFK in Japan at the time. Comparatively lightly built, he relied on technique, muscle and sheer willpower. He held the top rank of yokosuna for a decade, and notched up more than a thousand wins including a 53-match unbroken winning streak.
posted by runincircles at 11:22 AM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jujie Luan, my old fencing coach, is pretty awesome. in her first international competition, the world junior championships in 1978, she took silver despite having taken a hit from a broken weapon that went right through her sword arm. she 's a hero in China for that, and for taking gold in the 1984 Olympics. she's pretty much retired now and living in Canada, but she decided that she wanted to go to the Beijing Olympics, for nostalgia's sake, really, and won a spot on the Canadian team at the age of 51.
posted by spindle at 12:13 PM on September 15, 2009


Garney Henley was a Canadian Football League perennial All-Star. He played in seven Grey Cups and won four. His most remarkable accomplishment, however, was as director of operations for Ottawa when he drafted a guy who had been dead for several months.
posted by joaquim at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2009


I'll see your Jehangir and Janshir Khans and raise you Heather McKay, the greatest female squash player ever and arguably the most dominant athlete in any sport, ever.

I submit Alexander Karelin, greatest greco-roman wrestler of all time. He went undefeated from 1987 until his final match before retirement at the Sydney Olympics. For the last six years of his streak he never gave up a single point. In six years! Against the greatest wrestlers in the world. Utter domination.
posted by Justinian at 1:35 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Poland's favorite athlete and probably the best ski jumper of all time, Adam Małysz.
posted by mdonley at 1:40 PM on September 15, 2009


If archery qualifies as an obscure sport, then Howard Hill was probably the greatest archer of modern time. (A few videos on youtube)
posted by _dario at 2:16 PM on September 15, 2009


Emil Zátopek is my favorite relatively forgotten athlete, although not obscure. "His final [Olympic Gold] medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the marathon for the first time in his life, and won. His strategy for the marathon was simple: he raced alongside Jim Peters, the British world-record holder. After a punishing first fifteen kilometers in which Peters knew he had overtaxed himself, Zatopek asked the Englishman what he thought of the race thus far. The astonished Peters told the Czech that the pace was "too slow," at which point Zatopek simply accelerated. Peters never finished; Zatopek ran an Olympic record race."
posted by yeti at 2:23 PM on September 15, 2009


Billy Bland, english fell runner who holds the record for the Bob Graham Round of 42 Lake District peaks (27,000 ft of ascent and over 60 miles) in 13hrs 53 mins.
posted by badrolemodel at 2:43 PM on September 15, 2009


Rick Swenson, five-time winner of the Iditarod. His finish in 1991 alone would have cemented his reputation. In a raging blizzard near White Mountain, the toughest of the tough hunkered down for the night -- everyone else turned back. Swenson was the only musher of the entire field who pushed through, for his fifth title.

Lance Mackey, the musher from Fairbanks who in 2007 did what even the toughest of the old-school mushers thought was frankly impossible: Race in and win both the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest and the 1,161-mile Iditarod. Then in 2008, he did it again.

- Alaska Jack
posted by Alaska Jack at 4:51 PM on September 15, 2009


Bjørn Dæhlie, cross-country skier, won 29 medals in Olympic and World Championships.

Johann Olav Koss, speed skater, won three gold medals in the '94 Olympics, winning all races in world record time.

Matti Nykänen is one of the greatest ski jumpers of all time.

Kjetil André Aamodt is the only Alpine skier to win 8 Olympic medals.
posted by edlundart at 10:32 PM on September 15, 2009


Oops, that last link should have been this.
posted by edlundart at 10:33 PM on September 15, 2009


ijsbrand, there's no way you can casually link to a video like that and expect us to be satisfied :-) I beg you to construct a FPP about whatever is going on in that sprinting-jumping-poleclimbing competition.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:46 AM on September 16, 2009


Ok, since others have mentioned ski jumpers:

Jan Boklöv, Swedish ski jumper who invented the V-style in 1985. It was a huge controversy at first, and he always got style point deductions for the first few years of jumping that way. But he was able to jump about 10% further with his new style, which has since replaced the "Daescher technique" as the predominant ski-jumping technique. (Personal video of a V-style jumper here.)
posted by gemmy at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2009


Eric Heiden is the greatest long track speed skater of all time. His sweep of all the long track races (500, 1000, 1500, 5000 and 10000 meters) at the 1980 Olympics has never been repeated. He also set Olympic or world records during each performance.

Vasiliy Alekseyev is one of the greatest weightlifters to have ever lived, and the most accomplished super heavyweight lifter of all time, setting 80 world records in his career.

Kenenisa Bekele is probably the greatest middle distance runner of all time. He is the world and Olympic record holder in the 5000 and 10000 meters and most accomplished cross country runner of all time. What really sets him apart is his ability to run the last 400m of a race 11-12 seconds off world record pace for the 400m.
posted by zentrification at 11:31 AM on September 16, 2009


« Older What are some really great &qu...   |  I'm a career advisor looking t... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post