Photographers will do almost anything for that perfect shot. And that’s especially true in sports, where they’ve got to think on their feet, following the players or athletes across the pitch or along the race track. Certain snaps, such as these 40, stand out in history as being some of the best ever. They definitely deserve their place in the hall of fame at least!
40. Kerri Strug at the 1996 Olympics
During the 1996 Olympics, American gymnast Kerri Strug picked up an ankle injury in the opening vault event. Ripped ligaments to be exact. Ouch! Incredibly, though, Strug powered through the pain and continued to compete, helping Team USA to the top step on the Oympic podium in the all-around competition for the first time. As you can see, trainer Béla Kérolyi needed to hold her up in the aftermath while she wore a protective boot. What a moment.
39. Michael Jordan in 1988
The Slam Dunk Contest is one of the highlights of the All-Star Weekend, but few can beat the 1988 event. Michael Jordan was on fire that year, producing some jaw-dropping shots like this one here. He eventually overcame the challenge of Dominique Wilkins to earn his second victory in the competition. Air Jordan indeed!
38. Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes
As any horse racing fan will tell you, most contests on the track are incredibly close. That wasn’t the case at the 1973 Belmont Stakes, though. On that occasion, Ron Turcotte and his equine partner Secretariat demolished their competitors with a staggering 31-length victory. Turcotte even had time to stare at the racers in the rear, as we can see here.
37. Oliver Kahn during the 2001 Champions League final
When Bayern Munich secured soccer’s 2001 Champions League trophy in a penalty shoot-out, goalkeeper Oliver Kahn didn’t immediately join his teammates in celebration. In fact, his first thought went to his fallen counterpart. Yes, Kahn instantly consoled Valencia’s shot-stopper Santiago Canizares on the sidelines. It was a heartwarming moment caught by this particular snap.
36. Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics
At just 14 years of age, Nadia Comaneci produced one of the great Olympic performances in 1976. The Romanian teenager registered the event’s first-ever “perfect” gymnastics score after competing on the asymmetric bars. Unbelievable right? And her routine on the balance beam wasn’t too shabby either, as we can see from this shot.
35. George W. Bush at the 2001 World Series
At the World Series, the ceremonial first pitch is a tradition performed by most U.S. presidents. But George W. Bush’s toss in the third game of 2001 was particularly memorable. It came just weeks after the September 11 attacks in New York. Prior to the match, Bush had met some of the first responders, ahead of going to Yankee Stadium. It was a powerful moment.
34. Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics
Jesse Owens secured his legacy as an all-time great at the German Olympics in 1936. The U.S. athlete went on to pick up four gold medals during that event. Yet one of the most memorable moments occurred when Owens came top in the long jump. As those around him gave the infamous salute associated with Germany’s most notorious dictator, he opted for a military salute.
33. Wayne Gretzky in 1999
Wayne Gretzky enjoyed an incredible career as a hockey player, dazzling fans with his skills on the ice. In April 1999, though, it all came to an end as Gretzky officially retired from the sport. And when he brought the curtain down against the fitting backdrop of New York’s Madison Square Garden, it was a true flashbulb moment as he bade adoring ice hockey fans a final farewell.
32. Jim Peters at the 1954 Commonwealth Games
Picture this: you’re nearly 20 minutes ahead of your competition in the marathon. Then, when you’re just 220 yards from the finishing line, exhaustion forces you to your knees. That’s exactly what happened to U.K. competitor Jim Peters during the 1954 Commonwealth Games. He eventually got back up, as we can see in this snap here. To say that Peters looked drained would be an understatement!
31. Carl Lewis at the 1992 Olympics
Carl Lewis’ elation at the end of the 4×100-meter relay race was clear for all to see. But the U.S. athlete didn’t just secure a gold medal for his country at the 1992 Olympics. His team also became world record-holders, with Lewis running his leg in about 8.85 seconds. It took roughly 15 years before anyone could better Lewis’ time.
30. Diego Maradona vs. England at the 1986 World Cup
At soccer’s 1986 World Cup, Argentina took on England for a place in the semi-finals. And that led to one of the most infamous moments in the competition’s history. Diego Maradona scored a brace to knock the Three Lions out, yet his first goal came via a blatant handball that was somehow missed by the match officials. The “Hand of God” was captured in all its controversial glory here.
29. Mickey Mantle during the 1961 World Series
As the 1961 World Series rolled on, Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees suffered an “abscessed hip.” He attempted to play through it, leading to this very candid snap. Mantle looked to be in utter agony! Anyway, he eventually departed the baseball field before the match concluded in Cincinnati, Ohio.
28. Greg Olsen at the 1991 World Series
If you’re a sports photographer, it’s imperative to stay focused throughout the event you’re covering. You never know when something memorable might happen. Well, Greg Olson provided snappers with an incredible shot at the 1991 World Series. The catcher flipped upside down as he got close to Minnesota Twins’ star Dan Gladden.
27. Russell Westbrook vs. the L.A. Clippers in 2017
Is there a more spectacular sight than a player scoring a slam-dunk in basketball? It’s amazing! Mind you, this picture of Russell Westbrook’s effort for Oklahoma City Thunder in January 2017 is something else. A top down view of a star in full-flight? Even L.A. Clippers fans have to applaud that – albeit with gritted teeth.
26. Zinedine Zidane during the 2002 Champions League final
The 2002 Champions League final was a pretty close contest between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. But the showpiece soccer game was eventually decided by a showpiece goal. Yes, Zinedine Zidane smashed home one of the greatest strikes in the competition’s history to win it for Los Blancos. Perfectly timed – just like this photo.
25. Eddie Gaedel vs. the Detroit Tigers in 1951
During the summer of 1951 Eddie Gaedel took to the field for the St. Louis Browns as they faced the Detroit Tigers. Now this moment was particularly special because Gaedel had dwarfism. He was the first individual with this condition to compete on the grand stage of Major League Baseball.
24. Usain Bolt at the 2016 Olympics
Usain Bolt has built quite the legacy for himself at the Olympics. He’s arguably the event’s most iconic star from the modern era. In 2016, though, the sprinter added another jaw-dropping moment to his resume. As Bolt took part in the semi-final of the 100 meters, he broke clear of his competition. A cheeky smile then crept on his face at full-speed, which we can see here.
23. Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open
After undergoing a knee operation, Tiger Woods just about made it to the 2008 U.S. Open a couple of months later. What followed was truly remarkable. Woods overcame a lot of discomfort and clinched a playoff with Rocco Mediate by draining a mid-range putt on the very last green after four days of pain-filled competition. The moment prompted this iconic celebration – and of course he went on to secure the title.
22. U.S. hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics
When the U.S. hockey team took to the ice against the Soviet Union in 1980, few people would’ve given them a chance. You see, the Americans weren’t professional players, while their counterparts had secured four gold medals at the Winter Olympics. That didn’t matter in the end, though, as Team USA registered an astonishing upset. They won the match ahead of striking gold themselves.
21. Haka from 1888
Can you name a more intimidating rugby union team than New Zealand? They’re a real force of nature! And their cause is only helped by the haka ritual, which they perform before each match. The All Blacks sides have been doing it for a very long time now, with this photo coming from 1888. What a stunning shot.
20. Kevin Dyson at the Super Bowl XXXIV
As Super Bowl XXXIV was coming to a close, the Tennessee Titans were desperately trying to claw their way back into the game. And then it happened. Kevin Dyson had the ball in his hands and the end zone at his mercy in the dying seconds. But Mike Jones of the St. Louis Rams stopped him in his tracks. Just look how close Dyson was!
19. Ervin Zador at the 1956 Olympics
Water polo might not sound too exciting, but the match between Hungary and the Soviet Union in 1956 had added bite. Why’s that? Well, while that year’s Olympics were being staged, the Hungarian people were attempting to rid their country of Soviet forces. It ended in tragedy, fueling the anger of their water polo players. So that led to an extremely physical encounter, with Ervin Zador’s bloody face getting captured here.
18. Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics
At a time when the civil rights movement was firmly in the public eye, Tommie Smith and John Carlos wrote their names into the history books. After winning a gold and bronze medal respectively at the Olympics in 1968, the American pair decided to perform the “black power salute” on the podium. It was an incredible moment.
17. Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield in 1997
It could be argued that the Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield fight in 1997 is the most infamous match in boxing history. Following three rounds of action, Holyfield was declared the winner via disqualification. The brawl came to a halt because Tyson had been chomping on his rival’s ears. And the chaotic aftermath was on full display in this candid shot.
16. Greg Foster at the 1987 World Indoor Championships
As the athletes took their marks for the 60-meter hurdles race at the World Indoor Championships in 1987 trouble was just around the corner – or more accurately, just down the straight. You see, partway down the track, American runner Greg Foster ran into his Canadian counterpart Mark McKoy. When they tumbled, a perfectly-timed snap caught both upended athletes hitting the ground. Thankfully, they walked away from this.
15. David Tyree at the Super Bowl XLII
There are few bigger stages in world sport than the Super Bowl, so David Tyree couldn’t have picked a better place to make this spectacular catch. Thanks to his strong hand, the New York Giants went on to score a touchdown that won them the game in 2008. Talk about leaving a mark on the event!
14. Bob Beamon at the 1968 Olympics
In sport, records are there to be broken. And that’s exactly what happened at the Olympics in 1968. Bob Beamon of Team USA leapt through the air to beat the previous world’s best for long jumping. Look at the height he got on it! We’re surprised Beamon didn’t come back down with snow on his head.
13. Roger Bannister in 1954
Back in 1954 no runner on record had been able to traverse a mile in under four minutes. Roger Bannister changed all that, though. He ran the race of his life that spring, reaching the finish line at 3:59.4. Sure, he cut it close, but Bannister wrote his name in history that day. His face says a thousand words here.
12. Hank Aaron in 1974
Babe Ruth’s baseball legacy can’t be questioned, as he dominated the sport in days gone by. Then again, one of his landmarks was eventually surpassed in 1974. Yes, Hank Aaron scored the 715th home run of his career that year, beating the number previously posted by Ruth. Aaron’s smile says it all really.
11. Brandi Chastain during the 1999 Women’s World Cup final
Here’s a question for you to ponder – if you netted the decisive spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out at the World Cup final, how would you celebrate? Well, when Brandi Chastain found herself in that position in 1999, she didn’t hold back. The U.S. soccer player ripped off her shirt and dropped to the turf, letting out a delighted cheer. Iconic stuff.
10. Frank Udvari at the 1956 Stanley Cup playoffs
It’s fair to say that ice hockey has always been an extremely physical sport. But even so, the referees should be safe, right? Well, not quite. Take this incident back in 1956. Frank Udvari was overseeing a game in the Stanley Cup playoffs when Gordie Hannigan was shoved in his direction. As the picture shows, Udvari barely avoided disaster. He was a lucky man.
9. Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Olympics
During the parade of nations at the Olympics in 2016, one group wrote their names into history. We’re referring to the Refugee Team, made up of competitors who couldn’t live in their home countries anymore. It was the first time that such a move had been done at the event, so their entrance was truly special.
8. Willie Mays at the 1954 World Series
While there have been some jaw-dropping catches in baseball throughout the decades, few can top this one. Sprinting at full-pelt away from the play, Willie Mays plucked a ball out of the air for the New York Giants. This unbelievable moment occurred during the 1954 World Series. Imagine if it happened now! It would’ve been an online sensation in minutes.
7. Mo Farah at the 2012 Olympics
The 5,000 meters is an incredibly grueling race, pushing athletes to their limit. But as this perfectly timed photograph shows, the pain will instantly wash away if you win. Mo Farah’s face was a picture here, as he reached the end of the final at the Olympics in 2012. The gold medal was his.
6. Odell Beckham Jr. vs. the Dallas Cowboys in 2014
Once in a while, sport throws up moments that leave you rubbing your eyes in disbelief. “That didn’t just happen, did it?” Odell Beckham Jr.’s catch against the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 certainly comes under that category. He literally had to stretch every sinew in his body to reach the ball. Thank goodness the photographers caught the shot.
5. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III
The 1980s was a memorable period for wrestling fans, as some of the greatest names in the industry were at their peak. Yet no one could touch Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant leading into WrestleMania III. They were true mainstream stars. And while their match at the event wasn’t a technical classic, it was packed with drama. The face-off alone made for an iconic photo.
4. Usain Bolt at the 2008 Olympics
If there was ever a time to smash a world record, Usain Bolt picked the perfect moment in 2008. At that year’s Olympics, the Jamaican superstar struck gold in the 100-meter final. He won the race in 9.69 seconds, beating the previous best figure. We imagine that this picture is hanging somewhere in Bolt’s house!
3. Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs in 1973
Back in 1973 Billie Jean King received an unexpected offer from ex-tennis star Bobby Riggs. He wanted to face her in a one-on-one match, soon dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.” King accepted, and eventually saw Riggs off in three straight sets. It was a fascinating moment in the sport’s history, with cameras on hand to capture the contest.
2. Michael Phelps at the 2009 World Championships
To say that Michael Phelps’ victory at the 2009 World Championships was close would be an understatement. Just look at that! Talk about a photo finish. Phelps took home the gold that day in the 100-meter butterfly, bagging a world record as well. Yes, he completed the race in exactly 49.82 seconds.
1. Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston in 1965
Muhammad Ali was without doubt one of the greatest sportsmen to ever live, transcending the world of boxing. And this has to be up there with the best moments of his career. Ali demolished Sonny Liston in the opening round of their fight in 1965, which led to an amazing snapshot. It’s an image that’s sure to endure for some time yet.