The Best Athletes That You've Never Heard Of

Nick DimengoFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2013

The Best Athletes That You've Never Heard Of

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    While guys like LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo and Peyton Manning are often talked about as being the best athletes in the world, we forget that there are some other people who could probably make their own case for that title—we just haven't heard about them.

    I'm not talking about the dude who dominates your intramural flag football league—though I'm sure he's damn good—but rather those athletes who don't quite get the respect they deserve.

    So while we typically know most athletes in mainstream sports, here are some others who I think you should definitely know about.

Laura Sophiea

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    Image via ironman.com

    She may be 58 years old, but Ironman legend Laura Sophiea could still burn any one of us if we challenged her in anything involving swimming, biking or running.

    Competing in four triathlons alone last year, Laura seems to be pretty damn determined to stay atop her fellow racers—which she has thanks to numerous records she holds.

    We should all hope to be even half as active as she is when we reach her age.

Ye Shiwen

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    Even after smashing the world record in the 400-meter individual medley, setting a new Olympic record in the 200-meter IM and winning Olympic gold medals in both events last year, I bet you still aren't familiar with Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen.

    That's probably how the 17-year-old would prefer it, as she's become a marked woman in the pool thanks to her obscene times between the lanes.

    Other swimmers like Missy Franklin became household names in the States following the Games in London last summer, but Ye Shiwen might just be the best that you've never even thought twice about.

    That should change.

Garrett McNamara

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    Although his 78-foot wave record may have just been eclipsed, Garrett McNamara is still an absolute legend in the sport of surfing.

    Most of us are familiar with Laird Hamilton and Kelly Slater, but it's McNamara who constantly pushes the envelope and looks for the biggest wave to conquer.

    Sure, they're all different types of riders, but when it comes to surfing, Garrett McNamara should be mentioned in the same breath as those other dudes.

Ryan Hall

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    OK, so there are probably a few of you who recognize marathon runner Ryan Hall's face, but I bet you don't know much more about him other than being that "blonde-haired guy who runs," right?

    As a multiple-time marathon winner, Hall is a legend when it comes to running either full or half-marathons, as he's the current U.S. record holder for the fastest time in a half, clocking in at 59:43, becoming the first U.S. runner to ever eclipse the one-hour mark for 13.1 miles.

    Yes, that's faster than watching back-to-back episodes of your favorite TV show.

Philippa Raschker

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    Image via senioren-leichtathletik.de

    At age 66, I just hope that I can walk without having to use a cane.

    For Philippa Raschker, though, she doesn't need to be shopping for support to lean on, but rather what pair of running shoes she wants to wear in her next race.

    One of the most successful masters athletes to ever compete, "Phil" has 70 gold medals from the World Masters Athletics Championships, making her an icon within the running community and earning her a spot in the U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame.

Thon Maker

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    I'd like to think that I was given at least a few gifts, but the gift of height is not one of them.

    As great as having long stems would be, being able to still be nimble and agile would be even better.

    That's why 7'1" Canadian high school basketball player Thon Maker is so talented, because he doesn't rely on just his height to be successful.

    Still just 16, Maker will be making college and pro scouts drool when he gets closer toward a decision on where he'll pursue his basketball future—which won't be for another three years.

    Fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins might be all the hype now, but look for Thon to overtake him soon.

Brittney Reese

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    To give you an idea of just how dominant long-jumper Brittney Reese has been in her career, she hasn't finished anywhere but first place since 2009.

    Pause. Think about that...OK.

    Included in those gold medal efforts have been three World Championships, two Indoor World Championships and one Olympic gold medal.

    With that amount of success, it should go without saying that Brittney either holds or is just shy of a number of world records.

Dylan Moses

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    There are few athletes who get the fanfare that Louisiana high school freshman football player Dylan Moses has received.

    And unless you're a recruiting nut—which I acknowledge some of you are—you probably haven't heard about him—yet.

    But after verbally accepting an offer to play for in-state powerhouse LSU in 2017, Dylan might be the next best running back or linebacker (he plays both) in college football.

    We'll all just have to wait a few years to see it.

Ashton Eaton

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    Not too many people know much about the decathlon, but know this—it's a test of all-around athletic ability.

    That's why what Ashton Eaton is doing in the sport is mind-boggling.

    As a five-time NCAA champ while running at Oregon in college, Eaton set a new world record in both the decathlon and heptathlon before taking home the gold medal in last year's Olympics in resounding fashion.

    He has been described as the "best athlete to ever walk the planet" by former decathlon world champion Trey Hardee.

    That's some high praise for a guy who most of us wouldn't even recognize on the street.

Will Grimmer

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    I'm not the world's worst golfer (I don't think?), but I may or may not have shot a 59 on the front nine of a round before.

    Yeah, that's miserable.

    You know what's not, though?

    Sixteen-year-old Will Grimmer posting the same score—on 18 holes—at one of the most legendary courses in the States, Pinehurst No. 1.

    Just one under though his first five holes during the North & South Junior Invitational earlier this year, Grimmer tore it up to achieve the rare 59 club, setting a new course record in the process.

Mohammad El-Akkari

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    Image via fibaasia.net

    As long as it's not a pickup game in someone's backyard, dropping 113 points on another team is pretty damn impressive.

    That's why this Mohammad El-Akkari finds himself on this list, because he did just that in a game last year during a Lebanese league match.

    Maybe even more impressive than his final point tally is that he was just averaging 7.6 points in 23 games before the outing and made 40 of 69 shots—including 32 of 59 three-pointers—during his near record performance.

    I know it's not exactly the NBA, but one can't help but be impressed by an outing like that. Wonder if he'll ever make the leap to the big time?

Jordan Burroughs

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    While most of us are familiar with pro wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, maybe we should consider taking notice of Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs instead.

    After capturing three Big 12 titles, two national titles and the Hodge Trophy—wrestling's equivalent of the Heisman—his senior year of college at Nebraska, Burroughs has been on the national scene since 2011.

    All he did was win the 2011 World Wrestling Championships just mere months after turning pro and followed that up with a gold medal at last year's Olympics and another gold at this year's World Championships.

Sachin Tendulkar

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    I'm not even going to sit here and pretend I know a single thing about cricket—with all apologies to my middle school gym teachers who tried having us play in class.

    But after finding out about Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, I can tell that he's earned the title as the Michael Jordan of his sport.

    Regarded as the greatest batsman of his generation—possibly of all time—he holds nearly every record under the sun in his sport.

Sebastian Vettel

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    Formula One drive Sebastian Vettel might only be 26 years old, but he's accomplished more in his short time behind the wheel than most drivers will ever achieve in their entire careers.

    Joining racing legends Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the only four-time world champions just a few days ago, Vettel might keep a low profile, but he could ultimately become the best F1 driver ever.

    He may not single-handedly get you into watching him race, but he's someone you should definitely know about.