The greatest sprinter of all time, Usain Bolt, was once told that he doesn’t have a good body for sprinting. At a lanky 6-foot-5, it was thought that Bolt’s long stride would put him at a significant disadvantage when racing against more compact competitors, whose bodies allowed them to take more strides in 100 meters and, presumably, accelerate faster.
Then, Bolt shattered a bunch of world records.
Bolt proved that skill and determination aren’t constrained by artificial concepts like the “ideal” body type. And, sometimes, the experts are just flat-out wrong about what kind of body is truly ideal within the realm of a particular sport. It’s now believed that Bolt’s longer strides actually give him a strong advantage over his competitors — primarily because he’s able to take those long strides so quickly.
Below, we take a look at six other athletes who broke the mold from a physical standpoint and expanded our expectations of what’s possible in their sport.
MMA fighter with no arms or legs
You’d think that four strong limbs would be essential to success in a fight. You’d be wrong.
Quadruple amputee Kyle Maynard has destroyed many conceptions about what’s possible to achieve during his 26 years on earth. He’s never let his disabilities — Maynard was born without arms or legs below his elbows and knees — hold him back. He has competed as a weightlifter, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and even modeled for Abercrombie and Fitch.
And, against the advice of many, Maynard has stepped into the cage to compete against able-bodied competitors in the world of mixed martial arts. Though some decried Maynard’s involvement as a sideshow, he says that he considers his disability to be a gift and “[loves] every single teeth-gnashing second of [competing.]”
Shortest basketball player
The shortest player to ever play in the NBA is also one of the most popular: Muggsy Bogues. Despite measuring in at just 5-foot-3, Bogues was drafted 12th overall in 1987 — in a class that included David Robinson, Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller.
Playing for the Washington Bullets in his rookie year, Bogues shared the court with 7-foot-7 giant Manute Bol and photos of the two of them together graced the pages of countless newspapers and magazines.
Despite his diminutive stature, Bogues managed to block an astounding 39 shots during his pro career. He’s still the Hornets’ career leader in assists, steals and minutes played.
Pitcher with only one hand
Jim Abbott spent 10 years as a pitcher in the major leagues, winning 87 games and striking out 888 batters, despite the fact that he was born without a right hand. Now, you may be saying, “you only need one hand to throw a ball.” That’s technically correct, but it completely ignores the fact that baseball players need to wear a glove if they want to make any defensive plays. You can’t pitch and wear a glove with only one hand, can you?
It turns out that you can. Jim Abbott found a way.
After every pitch that Abbott threw, he would quickly slip his left hand into a glove that he had resting on his right forearm. Teams would try to exploit his disability by intentionally bunting at him, but Abbott was almost always able to get his glove on, field the ball, take his glove off, take the ball out of the glove and throw the ball to first in time to get the out.
Smallest sumo wrestler
Mainoumi Shuhei was a competitive sumo wrestler in the 1990s, once reaching a rank of komusubi (the fourth highest rank in sumo wrestling). Measuring in at just 5-foot-7 1⁄2 and 212 pounds, he routinely battled opponents who were almost twice his size — and won.
Mainoumi was actually rejected in his initial attempt to enter the world of sumo wrestling because he was too short. Ingeniously (or insanely, depending on your perspective), he got around this restriction by having a doctor inject silicon into his head, allowing him to narrowly surpass the minimum height requirement.
Here is is defeating Akebono, the greatest American-born sumo wrestler of all time:
The Olympics include a few sports that don’t require athletes to be in peak physical condition, so a few senior citizens have managed to compete in the Summer Games. The oldest Olympian on record is Oscar Swahn of Sweden, who competed in shooting at the 1920 Olympics at the age of 72 years, 281 days.
The oldest competitor at the 2012 Olympics in London was Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan, who took part in the equestrian dressage competition (horse dancing, basically) at the age of 71. Incredibly, he’s been competing in the Olympics for 48 years, dating back to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
Girliest pro wrestler
The girliest pro wrestler ever is so girly that she’s literally a young girl — a nine-year-old Japanese girl who goes by the ring name Haruka.
Sure, it’s not really fair to call pro wrestling a sport. Never has it been more apparent wrestling is fake than in the video below (except in this magical match, maybe). Still, it’s pretty awesome to see her beat up on her opponent (Canadian Kenny Omega) like this. Her repertoire of moves is deeper than John Cena’s!