The greatest sportspeople you’ve never heard of
These sports stars were more dominant than Muhammad Ali and Pelé, but we bet you didn’t even know they existed.Peter Iantorno February 11, 2015
When you think of sport's all-time greats, illustrious names such as Muhammad Ali and Pelé roll off the tongue. Known around the world for their amazing natural talent, hard work and dedication and supreme skill, they'll always be remembered as true icons of sporting greatness.
Of course, Ali was a brilliant world-champion boxer, and Pelé was the world's greatest footballer, winning three World Cups and scoring a world record 1,281 goals throughout his glittering career. However, although both of those men were undeniably great, their records of success pale into insignificance when compared to the sports stars below.
The following stars have displayed such dominance in their respective sports that they completely dwarf the achievements of all the global icons we consider to be the best ever. Here are the greatest sportspeople you've probably never even heard of:
Esther Vergeer - Wheelchair tennis
It was always pretty difficult to play Esther Vergeer in a game of wheelchair tennis. To win a set against her was virtually unthinkable, in fact, pretty much throughout her 18-year career, anything other than a 6-0, 6-0 loss was generally considered a bonus.
Vergeer began playing wheelchair tennis at the age of 12, having lost the use of her legs after complications following surgery to correct an abnormality in her spinal cord. During her rehabilitation, she began playing wheelchair volleyball, basketball and tennis, but it quickly became apparent that the latter was where her major talents lay, as she turned professional in 1995 and immediately started climbing the world rankings.
Between 1995 and 2003, the Dutchwoman won various titles, losing just 25 games and climbing up to number one in the world rankings. For any normal player, this would be termed as success, but for Vergeer, it proved to be the least successful stage of her career, as having lost a match on the 30th of January 2003, Vergeer then went the next 10 years unbeaten, winning an incredible 470 matches in a row, until her retirement in 2013. During her period of complete and utter dominance of the game, Vergeer won 42 Grand Slam titles (Roger Federer has won 17), lost only 18 sets, and won by a 6-0, 6-0 scoreline on 95 occasions. Here's a video of Federer himself discussing just how great a player Vergeer was.
Jehangir khan - Squash
If Esther Vergeer's 470-match winning streak is impressive, squash player Jehangir khan's record of 555 consecutive wins is nothing short of astounding. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Khan was a sickly and weak child, but with a squash-mad family, he found himself spending an inordinate amount of time on the court, and soon built up enough strength to play at a high level, becoming the youngest player to win the World Amateur Championships aged just 15. He is on the right in the image below. In 1981, at the age of 17, Khan won the World Open (again becoming the youngest ever winner), and that started his incredible world record-breaking hot streak of 555 wins in a row. Famed for his speed, stamina and unerring accuracy, Khan retired in 1993, with six World Open wins, 10 British Open wins and that incredible winning streak cementing his place as the undisputed greatest squash player of all time.
Aleksandr Karelin - Wrestling
"The Russian Bear", "Russian King Kong", "Alexander the Great", "The Experiment"... do these sound like the nicknames of a guy you'd fancy your chances of beating in a wrestling match? Known by all of those names due to his imposing stature and incredible strength, Aleksandr Karelin is widely regarded as the best Greco-Roman wrestler ever.
The Russian won gold medals at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games during a glittering career of almost uninterrupted success, going unbeaten for 13 years, six of which he went through without giving up a single point. Famous for his quite frankly ridiculous strength, Karelin even had a particular lift named after him, in which he'd hoist super-heavyweight opponents weighing as much as 130kg into the air and slam them down onto the ground like a rag doll. The Russian retired in 2000 after a 19-year career in which he ended up with the astonishing record of 887 wins, and just two losses.
In the highly competitive sport of badminton, one man has so much natural talent that he's seemingly able to dominate without really putting much effort into it. That man's name is Lin Dan. Dan is considered by many to be the greatest singles badminton player of all time, yet the 31-year-old, who is still active in the game today, is only ranked a lowly seventh in the world. How could someone who is seventh in the world rankings be the greatest ever? Well, quite simply, he's so good, he only plays in the most important tournaments, as he deems most competitions beneath him and not even worth taking part in. The man is a two-time Olympic and five-time World champion and has won a total of 56 career titles to date. At age 28, he became the only player ever to complete the Super Grand Slam of badminton, having won all nine major titles in the sport. Nicknamed 'Super Dan', he wins almost every tournament he plays in, despite only showing up for the big competitions, often with large breaks from competitive sport in between victories. With an admittedly cocky attitude towards the sport, he may not be the most gracious of players, but he's certainly the best.