Whether they’re basketball players jumping through the roof, baseball players displaying unreal hand-eye coordination, hockey players showing brilliant split-second creativity or football players exhibiting any number of physical feats, we love to see sports stars at the limits of athletic possibility.
Sometimes, though, athletes aren’t simply at the limits of possibility — they blast right through them and into something that makes you question your own eyes. No matter what their sport, these 10 athletes appear to spit in the face of physics itself.
10 Professional Athletes Who Defied Physics
Nowadays, we remember old George Foreman, cheerfully shilling electric grills and just generally seeming like your happy old great uncle. But young George Foreman was absolutely terrifying for his unreal power and surly demeanor. People used to line up to watch him work the heavy bag in training because he would warp them just through repeated punches over a span of minutes. He knocked down Joe Frazier seven times, and Frazier was the toughest man alive. He was a monster.
It seems weird to put Larry Bird here, but think about it: aside from the height, have you ever seen someone that looked less like an athlete than Larry Bird? He spent his career looking like a high school vice principal who got lost. Larry Bird had virtually no athleticism (could he even physically dunk?), and yet he’s one of the five best players ever because he may have had the best hand-eye coordination of anyone in human history.
Before there was Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders among multi-sport athletes, there was Babe Didrikson. Didrikson excelled at a number of sports, including baseball, basketball and track and field — where she won two gold medals at the 1932 Olympics. But her second career was even more impressive: she turned to golf and won 10 LPGA championships. The skill diversity on display at being good at all those sports at once is still staggering even today.
Alex Ovechkin is the greatest scorer ever, with hockey’s most unstoppable shot — but that’s not why he’s on here. He’s on here because he may, in fact, be unkillable by conventional means. The man simply does not get hurt. Ever. He’s missed more than four games to injury once in his career — 2009-10, when he missed 10 — despite playing a heavy, physical brand of hockey that doesn’t shy from contact. Doesn’t matter, because as he once said: “Russian machine never breaks.”
Before 2008, it was utterly unthinkable for a sprinter to win three straight gold medals in the premier 100-meter and 200-meter races because sprinters age in dog years. Then Usain Bolt came along and redefined what we think of as possible. Bolt owns virtually every sprinting world record, and he set all of them in his signature confident style. Turns out, you’re allowed to be a little bit cocky when you’re unquestionably the best in the world at what you do.
At age 15, Hakeem Olajuwon was under 6-foot and had never touched a basketball. By age 18, he was 6-foot-9 and one of the most sought-after prospects in the world. A few years later, he was leading the Houston Cougars, college basketball’s most dominant team. The only reason this was possible is because somehow, Olajuwon grew roughly 11 inches without losing any of his athleticism. It’s what made him impossibly agile and coordinated as a pro. We’ll never, ever see another Hakeem “The Dream.”
Michael Phelps was so good for so long at swimming that people thought he’d compete at the 2020 Tokyo Games at age 34 — basically 55 in swimming years. He’s the most decorated Olympian ever for a reason. He’s a bit of a physical freak of nature, too, with a super long torso and an insane arm-span combined with enormous feet that are basically flippers. Oh yeah, and his ankles are hyper-mobile, meaning he can whip them through the water. Yikes.
Simone Biles is so far ahead of everyone else in gymnastics that she’s playing a different sport. She came into the 2016 Rio Olympics a dominant force, and four years later (a gymnastics eternity), she was still competing. She’s spent her whole career being good at everything — she’s the 10th gymnast and 1st American to medal on every event at the World Championships — but she’s so good at the vault that she warps the fabric of the scoring system. Regardless of what happened in Tokyo, she’s still the greatest gymnast ever.
LeBron James looks like a mad scientist decided to genetically engineer the perfect basketball player and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. He somehow combines Jordan’s athleticism and Magic’s court vision, but in Karl Malone’s linebacker body. At some point, we’re going to have to all collectively stop pretending LeBron isn’t the G.O.A.T — he’s the G.O.A.T. Yes, better than Jordan. Better than anyone. He’s basically an X-Man now.
Bo Jackson may be the most athletic human who has ever existed. He is the only athlete ever to be an All-Star in both MLB and the NFL, plus he won college football’s Heisman Trophy. If a tragic hip injury hadn’t derailed the freak athlete’s career, we’d remember him as an all-time great in both sports. Jackson is now best-remembered for the “Bo Knows” series of ads and for the video game version of himself (“Tecmo Bo”), but the man is still, somehow, a superior athlete. Since his hip affected his ability to walk, he’s become a world-class archer.