The world of sports has a collective history that is even more dramatic than the latest Hollywood blockbuster. No matter what the sport, there have been countless stunning moments which have brought pure ecstasy, agony, tension and drama for players and fans alike. Many of these historic moments have brilliantly been captured on film forever, and gazing over these iconic photos is sure to stir up some nostalgia and emotion for any avid sports fan. We have selected 10 of the greatest sports photos ever taken, which highlight some of the most amazing moments in sport over the years.
10. The Catch (Willie Mays)
This dramatic photo is the first of two iconic “The Catch” photos, with this one being Willie Mays’ historic catch during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the Giants and Indians at the Polo Grounds. With the score tied at 2-2 at the top of the 8th, Cleveland’s Vic Wertz stepped up to bat with runners on first and second. With the count at two balls and one strike, Wertz hit Liddle’s pitch around 420 feet to deep center field, which saw center fielder Mays make an astonishing on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track. This crucial play stopped the Indians from taking the lead, and the Giants would go on to win the game at the bottom of the 10th and later sweep the Series. The photo shows Mays just about to make the impressive catch in front of a tense home crowd.
9. The Hand of God
Look away now, England fans. The Hand of God is one of the most talked about moments in soccer history, and is a huge chapter in England’s woes on the international stage. Having advanced to the quarter-finals in the 1986 World Cup, England faced fierce rivals Argentina just four years after the Falklands War. Diego Maradona broke the deadlock after 51 minutes, but it was scored with his hand, which is clear from this iconic photo. Four minutes later, Maradona rubbed salt in the wound by scoring a sensational goal after a dazzling 60 yard run. Gary Lineker pulled one back 10 minutes from time, but it was too little too late and Argentina marched on and won the entire competition. In the press conference after the game, Maradona stated that the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”
8. The Perfect Jump
This fantastic photo shows Bob Beamon on his way to smashing the long jump world record during the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, setting a record that lasted almost 23 years. Beamon’s leap measured a staggering 8.90 meters, which bettered the existing record by a whopping 55 cm. The jump was so big that the optical device used to measure distances was not designed to measure jumps that large, and this saw the officials have to use tape to complete the measurement. When the announcer called the distance, Beamon at first did not realize what he had achieved until his coach informed him that he had shattered the record by over two feet. Beamon was completely overwhelmed and his legs gave way as he collapsed to his knees with his hands over his face; his competitors then helped him to his feet in a touching moment.
7. The Miracle on Ice
Having won gold in six of the last seven Olympic Games, the Soviet Union hockey team were the firm favorites going into the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. The Herb Brooks-led USA team was built up of collegiate and amateur players with an average age of just 21 years old, and they would face the experienced Soviet Union side in a medal-round game which has gone down as one of the greatest moments in sports history. Team USA trailed for most of the game but would take the lead in the 3rd period, and they were able to hold on for an incredible victory. This iconic image shows Team USA celebrating wildly in front of their fans, with the Stars and Stripes flag being waved in the background for a patriotic moment. The impressive young team marched on to win gold after defeating Finland in the final game.
6. The Sub-Four-Minute Mile
On the 6th of May, 1954, Roger Bannister did what was previously thought impossible and forever changed running. Bannister, who went on to become a distinguished neurologist, amazed the world by being the first person to ever run a mile in under four minutes. He did this during a meet between British AAA and Oxford University, achieving a time of 3:59.4 seconds, which was met with roars of amazement once the time was announced. The brilliant photograph shows a struggling but determined Bannister as he approaches the finish line, with astonished fans cheering him on to the side. It is a terrific image that shows indomitable courage and will, and running was never the same following this achievement by the Englishman. Just two months later, Bannister and Australia’s John Landy both ran a mile in under four minutes at the Commonwealth Games, which is now memorialized in a statue.
5. The Catch
Another iconic moment simply known as “The Catch,” this photo shows the winning touchdown by Dwight Clark from a Joe Montana pass in the 1982 NFC Championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. On third-and-three with 58 seconds remaining, Montana sent a pass that appeared to be sailing out of bounds. Clark then made a leaping fingertip catch to tie the game, and the ensuing extra point gave the 49ers the lead and victory. This marked the end of the Cowboys’ domination in the NFC, and marked the beginning of San Francisco’s impressive dynasty throughout the ’80s. The dramatic and important moment in NFL history was perfectly captured with this photo; you can sense the desperation as Clark is at full stretch and clinging to the ball with the very tips of his fingers for the crucial touchdown.
4. Game 6
There were a few photos of “His Airness” that could feature on this list, but this breathtaking photo is the one that makes the cut. The photo shows Jordan executing a perfect jumpshot to give the Bulls the lead in Game 6 of the 1988 Finals against the Utah Jazz, earning the Bulls their sixth title in eight years. Trailing by one point and guarded by Bryon Russell, Jordan quickly crossed over (and possibly got away with pushing off) before pulling up for a flawless mid-range jumpshot to seal the game with 5.6 seconds remaining. It would be his final shot as a Bulls player, and was the perfect way to retire (we’ll choose to ignore his stint at the Wizards). The photo perfectly encapsulates the drama of the moment, and you can see the tense reaction of each fan behind the basket with the ball mid-flight.
3. Jesse Owens’ Victory
Adolf Hitler wanted to use the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games as an “Aryan showcase” and to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany, but legendary African-American athlete Jesse Owens had other plans. Owens dominated the games by winning a whopping four gold medals, including the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and the 4 x 100 meter relay to make him the most successful athlete at the games that year. This iconic photo shows Owens on the podium after winning gold in the long jump, and powerfully he is saluting during the presentation. Behind him is German athlete Luz Long, who finished in 2nd and is seen doing the Nazi salute. This important and historic photo depicts Owens as a defiant hero who spoilt the party for Hitler. Owens and Long became lifelong friends at the games, with Long congratulating and embracing him after his victory.
2. Black Power
Back to the 1968 Mexico Olympics now, and this iconic photo depicts one of the most overtly political statements in all of sports. During the medal ceremony following the 200 meters, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who finished 1st and 3rd, respectively, bowed their heads and each raised a black-gloved fist for the duration of the American national anthem. The gesture was seen as a Black Power salute and Smith stated “Black America will understand what we did tonight,” but in his autobiography he would state that it was a human rights salute (all three on the podium wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges). The powerful image resulted in plenty of controversy, with both being ostracized by the U.S. sporting establishment and their families even receiving death threats. Their actions were inspired by Harry Edwards, the founder of OPHR, who urged black athletes to boycott the games.
1. Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston
There is no image more iconic in sport history than this photograph, which sees Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after knocking him down midway through the first round on the 25th of May, 1965. This remains one of the most controversial fights in boxing history (which is saying something), with Liston seemingly going down after a “phantom punch” from Ali. After some confusion between the referee and timekeeper, Liston was counted out and Ali was awarded the victory. Taken by Neil Leifer, this fantastic photo captures Ali yelling at Liston to get up and fight, and perfectly encapsulates everything that is so great about the legendary fighter. Whilst there remains some mystery surrounding that particular fight and punch, this does not take away from what is a stunning photograph of perhaps the greatest sports figure of all-time doing what he does best.