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Throughout humanity’s existence, sports have brought out the best in people. From the inspirational run we know as the Marathon today, to the euphoria, that is a World Cup triumph, sports motivates both players and fans, to be better and brighter than they already are. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, sports has it all. What makes sports such a vital part of our lives though are those “flash in the pan”, once in a lifetime moments that make all the difference.
Sporting legends are defined by these moments and fans talk about these ‘moments’ with fond memories for years to come. Without these defining moments, sport wouldn’t be the immersive, all encompassing, appointment-viewing extravaganza that it so clearly is. So whether it is a goal that will leave its mark on history, a race that will redefine the records, a dive that will leave you breathless, or a knockout punch that will usher in a new era of dominance in a game, sports are meaningless without their iconic moments.
Some of these moments will become the stuff of legends, like Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, or Yuvraj Singh’s six massive sixes against England. Some moments will cement themselves in the record books as incredible feats, like Bob Beamon’s longstanding long jump record, or Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10. Some moments will stay on with you for a lifetime, like Manchester United’s epic win in the UEFA Champion’s League final, or the Federer - Nadal final at Wimbledon.
This article casts a light on some of sports most immortal moments, the athletes and players who were a part of it and of course, the way the moment changed the trajectory of their sporting careers. Ask yourself where you were when these iconic moments took place, and reminisce with us, as we try and relive sports’ most spectacular, breathtaking, career defining and of course brilliant moments.
Iconic moments in athletics have bestowed immortality on the athletes that have broken the records, redefined the concept of speed, distance and pushed the boundaries of human endurance. Join us while we take a look at three such iconic moments from across athletics.
Running a mile in under four minutes had long been the holy grail of athletic achievement. The four minute mark was considered to be unbreakable, simply because running the mile would mean that an athlete would have to go faster over the distance of a mile than any human being had ever gone before - an average speed of a whopping 24.14 kilometers per hour. Sustaining such a pace was long considered next to impossible. On May 6, 1954, British athlete Roger Bannister, ran a mile in 3:59.4 minutes becoming the first ever man to have managed the feat. He accomplished the record at the Iffley Road track, during the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, held in Vancouver, British Columbia. In fact two men completed that race in less than 4 minutes, Bannister and Australian runner, John Landy. The race was literally neck and neck and at the very last instant, Bannister edged out his competitor by a kitten’s whisker. While the sub-four minute mile has since then been achieved multiple times, it was Roger Bannister’s feat sixty years back that pushed the envelope for human achievement in athletics.
October 19, 1968. Mexico City. The XIX Olympiad. Robert ‘Bob’ Beamon, the slender 22 year old American long jumper took 19 strides down the runway and then, incomprehensible as it may sound, he flew. Six seconds and 8.90 meters (29 feet, 2½ inches) later when Beamon landed he had shattered the existing world long jump record by an incredible one foot, 9¾ inches. Some say that it was the lightning fast track and the following wind while others credit the thin air of Mexico City that allowed for this gargantuan leap, but the fact remains that the no one in the competition, which included the world record co-holders, came anywhere close to Beamon’s mark.
In fact Bob Beamon’s world record itself could have been a world record, for the amount of time nobody in the sport could overhaul it! His record setting jump stood for an incredible 22 years and 316 days, until it was finally broken by Mike Powell in 1991.
Usain Bolt entered the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a 21 year old who had only recently started running the 100 meters as a senior athlete and had almost skipped the event for his favored 200 meters. This was despite his having set the world record at 9.72 seconds 11 weeks back. However, that was just a preview of what the Jamaican was capable of. On August 16, 2008, Bolt not only overcame a somewhat languid start in the finals to smash the 100 meters world record by three-hundredth of a second but also did it with such dominance and style that he could actually slow down at the finish line, look around and smile at the cameras. It is a mark of Bolt’s sheer supremacy that Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago who finished in second place was a fifth of a second behind, miles away by modern day sprinting standards. While Lightning Bolt has since then gone on to defend his sprinting titles in the 2012 London Olympics while bringing down the world record mark still lower, it is the élan with which he announced himself as one of the all-time greats at Beijing that stays on in memory.
Football is a sport that holds nearly three-fourths of the world in thrall. The recent World Cup that concluded in Brazil for instance was definitely the most watched event of all times. Football consistently produces iconic moments that defy logic, surpass expectations and are obviously the topics of hot debate in pubs and cafes the world over. Here are a few of football’s most memorable, immortal moments.
Whether you call Diego Maradona a magician or a cheat, is rather a matter of perspective. And he was a wee bit of both, from where we’re sitting. Take for instance his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, quarterfinal against England. Equal parts genius and fraud, ‘El Pibe de Oro’ (Golden Boy), cemented his place in the history books. Leaping above a much taller England keeper Peter Shilton, he handled the ball into the net. And if that weren’t enough, he consigned England to an ignominious defeat, by scoring the goal of the century. Five players completely beaten by the Argentine wizard in full flow and then the finish itself, was immaculate, if ever that was the right word! Talk about a double dose of excitement!
The 1999 UEFA Champions League Final pitted Manchester United against continental adversary Bayern Munich. Played at the formidable Camp Nou in Barcelona, this particular match saw one of the greatest United teams ever assembled take on a Bayern Munich side riding on a similar high (until then), aiming for a treble winning season. Bayern had last been the champions of Europe in 1976 while for United their last triumph at this stage had happened further back in 1968.
Manchester United’s famed ‘Class of 92’, took to the field, though without their talismanic captain, Roy Keane (out with an injury) and eagle eyed midfield puppet master Paul Scholes (suspension). The Red Devils were a goal down six minutes into the match and despite various substitutions by Alex Ferguson the Bavarian defense, led by the redoubtable Oliver Kahn, held strong. With three minutes of injury time remaining United tried to force the issue with even goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel venturing into the Bayern penalty area for a corner. In the ensuing action Sheringham’s opportunistic strike equalized for United. Thirty seconds after the subsequent kickoff United got another corner and this time super-sub Ole Gunnar Solskjær tapped the ball in to secure a victory for the English team in the last minute of the game.
Nothing sums up the night better than Alex Ferguson’s (who later that year became Sir Alex) comment at the end of the match “Football; bloody hell.”!
English football’s most celebrated club (since superseded by Manchester United), Liverpool took on the Italian giants AC Milan in the finals of the UEFA Champions League in Istanbul, in 2005. The Liverpudlians began the game disastrously and found themselves on the receiving end of three goals by the end of the first half. What transpired in the dressing room at halftime can still be hotly debated, because when the sides took the pitch in the second half, Liverpool seemed like they were a team transformed. Playing swift, counter-attacking football, under the leadership of their inspirational captain Steven Gerrard, Liverpool soon clawed their way back to an even keel, and took the match into extra time and eventually penalties. If Gerrard brought them back from the dead, the Reds were taken across the finish line by some superb goalkeeping by their shot stopper Jerzy Dudek, who was simply exceptional. Celebrated even today as one of the most iconic moments in the game, the 2005 UEFA Champions League final, is rightly known as the ‘Miracle in Istanbul’ for its brilliant turns and twists, and not to forget, top notch football!
Roberto Baggio is probably one of Italy’s most enduring sporting icons. He’s also one of the great examples of how sport is such a great leveler. One of the cornerstones of a great Italian team that was fantastic in the qualifiers, Baggio’s contribution was one of the primary reasons for their qualification. After a sloppy start to the FIFA World Cup in the United States, ‘Il Divino Codino’ (the Divine Ponytail) really kicked things up a notch by putting in one awe-inspiring performance after another, to propel his side into the finals against a powerful Brazilian side. A lackluster game that ran for over 120 rather boring minutes then went into penalties. With both Baresi and Massaro having missed their shots at the goal it came down to Baggio to keep his nation’s World Cup hopes alive. What happened next, defies explanation, as he blasted his shot over the bar, to hand Brazil an easy victory. The stunned look on Baggio’s face will remain imprinted in the minds of all those who saw the match.
Baggio did have a mini redemption four years later in FIFA World Cup 1998 in France, when his penalty against Chile helped the Italian team to a 2-2 draw in the group stage.
If football holds hundreds of millions of people in its sway, cricket has the power to make the world’s second most populous nation, simply drop whatever it is doing and stare agape at the action. Like any other sport, cricket has its own share of inspiring, immortal moments across all formats of the game, test, one-day and T20.
Sir Donald Bradman ruled the cricket pitch with an iron fist in an era when the world was in the grasp of the ‘Great Economic Depression’ and the Second World War. With a technique that confounded the best of bowlers and with an array of shots that made him the complete package as a batsman, ‘The Don’ had the most amazing and successful careers ever. It was known that the 1948 Ashes tour of England would be the last one for Bradman, who was nearing 40 at that time. Therefore on August 14, 1948 when Bradman walked down to the pitch during the fifth test match at the Oval, the crowd rose up as one to applaud the greatest batsman of all times followed by the English team who cheered him on. What emotional impact it had on the Don we don’t know for sure. But what happened next made cricket history.
With 6,996 runs in his previous 79 innings (with 10 not outs) Bradman’s career average hovered at the mythical 100 (101.39 to be precise) mark. Needing just four runs to ensure an average of 100 the great man fell to the second ball he faced; bowled out to a googly by leg spinner Eric Hollies for naught. Braddles as he was affectionately known, strolled into the sunset with an average of 99.94, a sign perhaps that this super sportsman was perhaps a mortal after all.
South Africa and Australia are two of cricket’s most dominant teams. A clash between these two giants always makes for an interesting viewing experience. When Australia was touring South Africa in 2005-06, it was billed as a struggle for cricketing supremacy. And the two teams did not disappoint, especially in the deciding fifth One Day International (ODI) played between the two at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on the 12th of March, 2006. The Australians went into bat and with fantastic contributions from their captain Ricky Ponting and others were propelled to a gigantic score of 434, the first time the 400 run barrier had been breached in ODIs.
With a massive total to chase down, South Africa came out all guns blazing. Despite some initial hiccups, South Africa was on course with Herschelle Gibbs hitting a magnificent 175 runs. However, Australia clawed their way back and the match finally came down to the wire with Makhaya Ntini the last South African batsman on strike with his team needing two runs off the last three balls. Ntini managed a single and Mark Boucher hit a boundary the next ball to seal victory for the Proteas in arguably the greatest ODI ever played. An amazing result against the odds for a team that had struggled for years with the tag of chokers!
There are some moments in the game when a batsman is in such imperious form that he puts the bowlers to the sword with utter disdain. That’s the time a fan’s heart simply goes out to the bowler, in much the same way you really feel sorry for a stray being hauled away into a dog catcher’s van. India needed a win to stay in with a chance of qualifying for the semifinals of the 2007 World T20 Championships. The English were not in a relenting mood when the stylish left hander Yuvraj Singh walked out to the middle to join his skipper M. S. Dhoni. And what followed next can only be described as absolute carnage, as after facing his first six balls, for 14 runs, Yuvraj, spurred on by the barbs of Freddy Flintoff, simply tore into pacer Stuart Broad and made the ball disappear into the stands, 6 times off 6 balls. In the process Yuvraj set the record for the fastest 50 in T20 and got immortalized in the record books as the first man to strike six sixes in an over in T20 cricket.
Swimmers are a unique breed of athletes. Striving to set new records in the water, these awesome athletes push themselves to go faster with every lap, in the process creating moments that come about, once in a lifetime, here are a few such moments that completely redefined the bounds of what was humanly possible in their sport of choice.
There are a few stories that really defy the bounds of our imagination. The story of Greg Louganis’ amazing feat at the 1988 Seoul Olympics is just one of these rare ones. An accomplished diver, at the height of his powers, Louganis was a multiple time world champ by the time the 1988 Olympics at Seoul took place. What makes his dive at the event so special is that in qualifying, on the tower event, he suffered a concussion that all but ruled him out of the final event. Braving the odds however, this bighearted athlete, took to the tower with a courage that defies logic, and not only did he dive, he also won himself a richly deserved gold. Just goes to show that when the going gets tough, the tough do really get going!
The sport of swimming wouldn’t be the same without a mention of Mark Spitz. Until the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Spitz held the record for the most number of gold medals ever won at a single edition of the quadrennial showcase of immortals. Spitz’s tally of seven gold medals was the benchmark of excellence at the aquatic events. Circa 2008, enter another American, Mark Phelps, who bettered Spitz’s individual tally and went on to become the most decorated Olympian of all times. With his photo finish victory in the 100 meters butterfly Phelps tied with Spitz and then surpassed him with his win in the 4x100 meters medley relay. Picking up an absolutely astounding eight gold medals in Beijing, Phelps cemented his place in history. What was even more incredible was that Phelps broke world records in seven of his wins (the eighth one was an Olympic record)!
A sport for the speed demons and aficionados of fine automobile technology, Formula One is definitely not a sport for the faint of heart, an often terrifying mix of high speeds and superhuman control, F1 is a frenetic viewing experience. What makes the sport so unique are the personalities associated with it and their tendency to produce moments that can only be described as truly monumental.
Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian legend was one of the most accomplished champions of the sport and the uncrowned ‘King of speed’. He may easily have been the most successful driver of all times, if his untimely death in 1994 hadn’t cut short his already dazzling career. The venue was Imola in Italy, the event, the San Marino Grand Prix, the track, ‘Autodromo Dino e Enzo Ferrrari’, a track that was notorious for its sharp turns and extremely technical nature. In the 7th lap, Senna lost control of his car that went flying into a concrete wall at nearly 145 miles per hour. Ironically, that very morning in the words of Alain Prost, Senna’s main rival and contemporary, Senna had spoken of re-establishing the Grand Prix Driver’s Association and campaigning for more stringent safety measures to ensure driver safety, following the death of a young Austrian driver Roland Ratzenburger in practice just 24 hours earlier. A tragic end to the life of the man rated by nearly all F1 drivers as the greatest driver of all time.
Niki Lauda is one of those names that you can’t help but mention in near reverential tones. A three-time F1 champ, the man with a will of steel, had not one, but two stints in the world of racing. The one moment in his career that cemented his position in sporting legend however was the horrifying crash he suffered at the famed Nurburgring in Germany. On a practice lap, Lauda lost control of his Ferrari and crashed out. Trapped for several seconds in the flaming wreckage, he breathed in toxic fumes and even though was able to stand on his own strength, minutes after the accident, lapsed into a coma shortly after. What makes Lauda so exemplary however is the fact that in six weeks time, the irrepressible Austrian was back behind the wheel of his car, competing for honors yet again, a true testament to the iron will and cold, hard determination of a true champion.
If a single moment could possibly define an athlete’s career, seven time F1 champion, Michael Schumacher’s career, would’ve been defined as what is held as the most amazing wet weather race in F1 history. A rain drenched Circuit de Catalunya, played host to the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix. This is the race that would showcase Schumacher’s supreme wet weather driving ability and icy cool composure under the harshest odds. Brit legend Damon Hill was in pole position, but failed to capitalize on a good start to ultimately spin out of control and end up in 12th place. Enter Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher, the former, dominated most part of the race, but when it mattered most, Schumacher simply stole the show and drove a race displaying the Teutonic efficiency he later came to be known for.
If F1 is all about speed and precision, Moto GP is about all that and ultimate maneuverability, considering that it is on motorcycles. Men and machine in perfect harmony pushing the limits of possibility, to see how fast, how precise and just how perfect they can get!
If Schumacher is considered to be one of the most clinical drivers ever in F1, few will debate that ‘Il Doctore’ (The Doctor) Valentino Rossi, is his contemporary on two wheels. One of the greatest of all times, Rossi was at his prime by the time the Spanish GP came around in 2009. This was also the year which saw the emergence of the 22 year old Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo who was competing for the season ending championship with Rossi and the Australian Casey Stoner.
The race started with Rossi holding the lead for the first half before Lorenzo, his Fiat Yamaha teammate, went ahead. After that, in one of the most skillfully frenetic sessions of motorbike riding ever seen, the two teammates went after each other with the lead changing no fewer than three times in the last lap itself. In the end Rossi’s experience helped him pull through and eke out the narrowest of victories on the last corner. "In Italian, for a race like this we say 'Mamma Mia!'" said Rossi afterwards. We concur.
The original sport of royalty, tennis has produced some of the most dramatic, most inspirational, controversial and sometimes downright bizarre moments in sporting history. The sport has also produced great champions that have represented it with dignity, class, quirkiness and flamboyance in equal measure. Here are our picks of the most epic moments tennis has ever produced.
Steffi Graf and Monica Seles are two names that in the early 90s shared one of the most heated rivalries in all of tennis’ long and storied history. Two-time defending French Open champion Seles, came into the finals on the back of some excellent performances throughout the tournament, defeating Gabriela Sabatini in the semis. Graf on the other hand survived a few scares along the way to make it to the finals beating Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. The match that ensued is still regarded as one of the top moments in women’s tennis as the 18 year old Seles with her guttural screams took on the silent elegance of the 22 year old Graf.
With the honors split equally after the first two sets and neither of the two titans was willing to concede ground, the third set went into overtime with an astonishing 18 games played over 91 minutes. Finally, after nearly three hours, Seles emerged the victor at 10-8 on her sixth match point. A fitting end to a battle royale!
The longest recorded final in the Open era ran a marathon 5 hours and 53 minutes and was contested between two indomitable wills. Pitted against one of the all-time greats of the game, in Rafa Nadal, two-time defending champion Djokovic was in for the fight of his life. After losing an attritional first set 5-7, the Djoker showed the trappings of a true champion by taking the next two set, 6-4, 6-2. Not one to ever quit, Nadal bounced back in the fourth set 7-6 overcoming a 5-3 deficit in the tiebreaker. The title deciding fifth set took both the quality of tennis and sheer physical endurance to a still higher level. With both players exchanging breaks in the initial part of the set, it was not until the 11th game that Djokovic was able to break Nadal and serve out the match for an epic victory. As commentator Patrick McEnroe remarked after the match, "Unforgettable. Unmatched. A new definition of suffering for the title. You think you've seen everything and then you witness a match like this."
The most epic match of all times. Yes, you read that right! It featured the culmination of a rivalry that has easily defined modern tennis in the 21st century. Five-time defending champion Federer, was on a real high, playing at his favorite tournament. On the other hand, his greatest ever contemporary, Nadal, was also on the warpath, looking for his first ever Wimbledon crown. With typical Swiss precision Federer had bulldozed his way into the finals, not dropping a single set. Nadal however had had a few scares along the way. While the actual runtime of the game stood at 4 hours 48 minutes, two rain delays caused the match to be played over a near seven hour duration. The match itself was an absolute knockout, with Nadal (surprisingly) dominating the first two sets 6-4, 6-4, breaking the normally rock solid Federer serve. In the third set, Federer showed just why he can lay claim to being one of the all time greats by coming back 7-6 and then taking the next set by a similar margin. The deciding set went on for 16 games and saw Nadal in a battle of wills, inching Federer by the narrowest of margins to win 9-7 in near darkness. Now if that’s not a Herculean battle, we don’t know what is!
Sports is an addictive, all involving, all consuming obsession, that fuels debates, discussions and occasionally gives us memories that last a lifetime. The greatest moments in sport are of course a very subjective experience, and a comprehensive list of these will differ from person to person. You’ve seen our picks, but we would love to hear your individual favorites. Feel free to drop us a line with your list, and we would love to showcase some of those as well!