The 20 Most Impossible Victories in Sports

Eric NewmanCorrespondent IIIApril 16, 2012

The 20 Most Impossible Victories in Sports

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    It's a clear word that relates an easy-to-grasp concept. No wiggle room in the definition.

    Spin straw into gold? Impossible.

    Reverse the aging process? Impossible.

    Walk on water? Impossible.

    Yet the 20 victories recapped in this article were also deemed impossible at one time.

    Media hyperbole? Maybe.

    But perhaps something stronger than impossibility was at work.

    The human spirit.

    Click on, and watch the impossible become possible.

20. George Foreman Beats Michael Moorer

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    Why impossible? Foreman was halfway to 90; he was much slower and less flexible than the spry, near-his-prime Moorer.

    Statistically, rationally, logically, there was no way Foreman should have won that fight against a 27-year-old reigning champ. 

    But one perfectly placed punch shattered that wall of impossibility.

19. Colette Besson Wins the Gold in the 400m in 1968 Olympics

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    Why impossible?

    1. She was a 22-year-old nobody. A physical education teacher from Bordeaux, France. She had no proven track record (pun intended). In fact, two years prior she hadn't even qualified for the French team in the European Championships.

    2. She was up against the "Golden Girl" of British athletics, the heavily favored Lillian Board.

    3. During the race she was getting whooped, as expected. With just 100 meters to go, Lillian Board had a comfortable lead and Besson was in 5th place.

18. Alexandre Bilodeau Wins the Gold in Men's Moguls in 2010 Olympics

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    Why impossible?

    1. Bilodeau had only come in 11th in Turin four years prior.

    2. He took a risky run, at times looking out of control. He even chanced a back flip with two twists on the top jump.

    3. He was up against mogul titans Dale Begg-Smith and Bryon Wilson.

17. Cardinals Beat Phillies in 2011 NL Division Wild Card Series

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    Why impossible?

    1. The Phillies had a $178 million dollar payroll in 2011—second only to the Yankees. St. Louis spent about $70 million less.

    2. Philly had a major-league-best record with 102 regular season wins. St. Louis had 90.

    3. From the start of the season, the Phillies were heavy favorites to win the World Series; the odds were set at 3-1.

16. Bills vs. Oilers in 1993 AFC Wildcard Playoff Game

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    Why impossible?

    1. Both first-string quarterback Jim Kelly and star running back Thurman Thomas were out with injuries.

    2. It was the second half and the Bills were down by 32 points. That's four touchdowns, four extra points and a field goal. Or 10 field goals and a safety.

    3. There was major spirit drain as Buffalo fans left in droves.

15. Rulon Gardner Beats Alexander Karelin in Olympic Wrestling in 2000 Olympics

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    Why impossible?

    1. Pictures are worth 1,000 words. Just look at the doughy Gardener there alongside the sculpted Karelin.

    2. Karelin (a.k.a. "The Siberian Bear") hadn't lost in 13 years.

    3. Rulon was a nobody going into the 2000 Olympic Games.

14. Jack Fleck Wins 1955 US Open

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    Why impossible?

    1. Fleck was up against four-time US Open winner Ben Hogan; Fleck was an unknown municipal course operator from Iowa.

    2. Fleck was down by a stroke on the final hole; he needed a birdie to force a playoff. Even NBC figured it was over and stopped coverage, claiming Hogan had won a fifth title.

13. Hero of Order Wins the 2012 $1 Million Grade 2 Louisiana Derby

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    Why impossible?

    1. Odds for Hero to win were set at 109-1. Previously, no horse with odds of 99-1 or higher had finished better than third.

    2. Hero's owner purchased him for just $3000. Essentially, this was a Yugo beating out Ferraris.

    3. Race favorite Mark Valeski was ridden by Rosie Napravnik—the star jockey who had ridden to victory in the 2011 Louisiana Derby.

12. Abebe Bikila Wins 1960 Olympic Marathon, Breaking World Record

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    Why impossible?

    1. In 1960, Africa was not far removed from colonial rule. Much of the world didn't take the newly independent countries seriously, and certainly not their athletes.

    2. He was a poor villager-turned-imperial guard.

    3. He ran the marathon barefoot...

    4. On cobblestone.

    5. No African had medaled in the Olympics before.

11. Abebe Bikila Wins 1964 Olympic Marathon, with Another Record Time

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    Why impossible?

    1. No one had ever successfully defended his title in the Olympic marathon.

    2. Six weeks before the race, he was stricken with appendicitis and had emergency surgery.

    3. When he arrived in Tokyo for the Olympics, he was still recovering and walked with a limp.

    4. He didn't train at all between the day of the surgery and the day of the race.

    Not only did he win, but by the 22 mile mark, he was 2.5 miles ahead of the nearest competitor.

10. Marshall University Beats Xavier University in First 1971 Home Game

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    Why impossible?

    1. A plane crash killed nearly the entire varsity squad and coaching staff. There were suggestions to just do away with the whole football program. But a new team was cobbled together from the few players who hadn't been on the flight, junior varsity players, and new recruits.

    2. The new field goal kicker was a soccer player who previously didn't even watch football games.

    3. Marshall got trounced (29-6) in their first game of the season.

    4. Marshall had an all-time record of just 5-12 against Xavier.

    5. Marshall was down by four points with just seconds left on the clock.

9. Garry Kasparov Beats Deep Blue

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    Why impossible?

    IBM supercomputer Deep Blue could evaluate 100 million different chess positions per second! How does anyone beat that?

    (In the rematch—the one that Kasparov lost—Deep Blue was up to 200 million per second.)

8. 2002 Oakland A's Win 20 in a Row

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    Why impossible?

    1. The A's were a small market team with a small market budget (just $41 million, compared to the league average of $70 million).

    2. Manager Billy Beane disregarded much of what the scouts (and conventional wisdom) suggested as he built his team and made trades.

7. Ng Sock Khim Beats Li Jiawei

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    Why impossible?

    1. Li Jiawei was ranked sixth in the world—Ng Sock Khim was ranked 286th.

    2. A tiny woman at just 4'11" and 106 pounds, her opponent was much bigger and stronger at 5'8" and 130 pounds—with a longer reach and more powerful stroke.

6. Greg Lemond Wins 1989 Tour De France

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    Why impossible?

    1. In a spring 1987 hunting accident, he'd been sprayed with shotgun pellets. "Pellets lodged in his lungs, his small intestine, his liver, the lining of his heart and all over his back and legs." He lost profuse amounts of blood. His lung collapsed. He spent 2 years in rehab.

    2. When he entered the 1989 Tour, he was suffering from an infected tendon in his leg.

5. Lasse Viren Wins 10,000m Final in 1972 Olympics

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    Why impossible?

    1. He was an unknown—a policeman from a small Finnish village.

    2. When you fall in a competitive footrace, you are done for. Hurt or not, your time is shot. Your chances at a medal, kaput. But fall Viren did.

    And get up he did. And race back to contention he did. And win he did. And set a world record...he did, indeed.

4. Yasuhiro Kubo Survives to Tell the Tale

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    Why impossible?

    1. His chosen sport is banzai skydiving. Never heard of it? That's because it's too insane to be mainstream. Basically it's this: toss your parachute out of the plane. Wait as long as you dare, then jump out after it. Do your best to survive.

    2. So you're thinking a five-Mississippi count? Maybe 10? Kubo waited 50 seconds.

    That's almost the length of two TV commercials.

3. Francis Ouimet in the 1913 US Open Golf Tournament

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    Why impossible?

    1. Ouimet was American. At the time, golf was dominated by the British and the Scots.

    2. Ouimet was an unknown—a short time prior to the miraculous win, he'd been a caddy.

    3. The USA had no public courses; it was predominately a sport for the very wealthy.

    4. He was playing against the legendary Harry Vardon.

2. USA Defeats USSR in 1980 Olympic Hockey

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    Why impossible?

    1. The Americans were all amateurs.

    2. The Soviet team was the most powerful USSR national team ever assembled. All pros. All proven. These guys practiced 11 months a year. Hockey was all they did and all they knew.

    3. Just a year before, the Soviets had butchered the NHL All Stars 6-0 in the deciding game of a challenge series.

1. Erik Weihenmayer Summits Everest

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    Why impossible?

    More than 3,000 people have seen the roof of the world, so why is this any kind of impossible accomplishment?

    Erik Weinhenmayer was born with a retinal condition called retinoschisis. By age 13 he was blind.

    That's right. Across the treacherous Khumbu Ice Fall, up the Lhoste Face, across hidden crevasses on the Western Cwm, up the avalanche prone North Col, along the precipitous Northeast Ridge...with no sight. 

    Just try walking a block or two in your neighborhood with your eyes closed—even with a friend to guide you—then measure your chances of getting up a man-killing mountain without your primary sense. 


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