10 maverick sports legends
Most of us have sporting heroes whose amazing achievements inspire us.
But a rare few of these elite athletes blend their talents with charisma, unconventionality, showmanship and rebelliousness to transcend their fields of play and influence everything from pop culture to politics.
And today’s uncompromising stars like Conor McGregor, Megan Rapinoe and Nick Kyrgios are standing on the shoulders of past giants – take a look at our terrific 10 maverick sports legends.
1. Eddie Edwards
No athlete screams unconventional quite like Eddie the Eagle – a plasterer turned ski jumper who made a name for himself in the 1988 Winter Olympics. There were high hopes for Edwards, who was the first person to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping since 1928, but despite his pluck and engaging personality, he finished in last place.
After retiring from propelling himself through the air like a lead balloon for a living, he’s still as popular as ever – in 2016 his rise to superstardom was even immortalised in a biopic starring Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman.
2. Leicester City
With odds of 5000 to 1 on winning the Premier League title, Leicester City’s victory in the 2015-2016 season was one of the most unlikely underdog triumphs in the history of football.
Many sportspeople have risen to stardom and iconic status based on a single event or moment, but Leicester City spent a whole season climbing the ranks and defying the odds. Plus, they had mould-breaking coach Claudio Ranieri at the helm – if describing striker Jamie Vardy as a ‘fantastic horse’ and motivating teammates with promises of pizza isn’t maverick, we don’t know what is.
3. Muhammad Ali
It’s hard to imagine a time where people doubted Muhammad Ali. However, in 1974, following three years out of the ring due to government-imposed exile and two belt battles lost, the chances of Ali defeating fearsome boxing titan George Foreman to capture the world heavyweight title seemed slim.
However, the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ was the boxing event of the decade, Ali converted Archie Moore’s ‘turtle’ manoeuvre to his famous ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic and he was able to KO Foreman in eight rounds, thus re-establishing himself as ‘The Greatest’.
4. 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team
The Jamaican bobsled team attracted thousands to their first four-man sled run at the 1988 Winter Olympics and quickly amassed a large following across the globe.
There was a certain novelty attached to a team from a tropical country competing in a winter sport that they had little experience in. And despite not finishing the race, they left the competition as heroes, admired and respected for their determination and immortalised on celluloid in the classic John Candy movie Cool Runnings.
5. Usain Bolt
Lightning Bolt is a maverick athlete? Surely not. Well, to quote former British sprinter Craig Pickering, “Bolt is genetic freak because being 6ft 5ins tall means he shouldn't be able to accelerate at the speed he does given the length of his legs”.
Bolt physically contradicted the supposed science of what a good sprinter should look like – he was simply too tall to excel at the sprinting. But excel he did, becoming an 11-time World Athletics champion while allegedly powered on a diet of carb-packed yam.
6. Jim “The Rookie” Morris
Jim Morris’ baseball career is the stuff of fairy tales.
A chain of injuries forced Morris to retire from baseball, putting an end to his dreams of reaching the majors. However, 11 years after retiring, and then working as a science teacher and school baseball coach, Morris made a bet with his team – if they won the District Championship, he would try out for the major leagues.
The boys won and he upheld his end of the bargain, finally making it to the majors aged 35. His inspiring story was later made into the award-winning film The Rookie.
7. Buster Douglas
The saying, ‘there’s no greater danger than underestimating your opponent’, never rang more true than in the case of the boxing bout between Buster Douglas and Mike Tyson.
Undefeated heavyweight champion Tyson was filled with confidence when he stepped into the ring on January 8, 1990 – despite having done less prep than usual, he claimed that Douglas was “not worth sweating over”.
Little did he know that come the 10th round he’d be lying flat on his back looking up at the new heavyweight champion. Douglas was the first boxer to knock Tyson to the mat and in the process put an end to his winning streak.
8. Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman is the basketball legend who played an essential part in the final three of the Bulls’ six NBA title wins. His often outlandish antics famously included dating pop diva Madonna, a brief marriage to Baywatch’s Carmen Electra and a staged marriage to himself in which he donned a wedding gown.
However, his most jaw-dropping moment was when became friends with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un and apparently became the first American to meet the diminutive dictator. Some criticised the trip, while others laughed…but pretty much everyone was bewildered.
9. John Daly
‘Wild Thing’ John Daly was not set to play at the 1991 US PGA Championship – in fact, he was the 9th alternate. However, after Nick Price pulled out and the nine alternates before him were unable to attend, Daly drove through the night to a course he’d never set eyes on to grab his chance
With some sound advice from Price’s caddie Jeff ‘Squeaky’ Medlin, Daly won the competition, quickly gaining popularity with his signature ‘grip it and rip it’ style of play and loud outfits which secured him a spot in golf fans’ hearts forever. He subsequently went on to win the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews, further confirming him as a golfing legend.
10. Steven Bradbury
Dubbed the most unexpected gold medal in history, Steven Bradbury’s speed skating win at the 2002 Winter Olympics shocked the world.
After qualifying for the final due to another competitor being disqualified, Bradbury was up against the four fastest men in the sport. Aware that he’d be unable to keep up with their pace, he opted for the strategy of hanging back in anticipation of a collision, which would naturally bring him up the rankings.
When a collision on the final corner caused all the other competitors in the race to fall, Bradbury, still 15m behind at that point, was able to fly past his rivals and attain first place. On his victory, Bradbury commented, "Obviously I wasn't the fastest skater. I don't think I'll take the medal as the minute-and-a-half of the race I actually won. I'll take it as the last decade of the hard slog I put in." While he might not have been the speediest skater, his maverick move definitely made him the smartest.
Whether you want to differentiate your brand with page-popping copywriting or creative web design, hopefully these sporting outliers have convinced you of the value of doing things a little differently.