We worship the sports heroes that we see on TV and on the Internet today. But more than a hundred years ago, before these technologies existed, there were legendary figures who rose to great heights of fame in ways that we can never truly grasp because well, they’re not as publicized as the athletes that we know today. Who among these is the greatest pioneer in sports?
“Old Hoss,” as he was called by his fans and the press, was regarded as a legendary figure. In 1844 when pitching for his team, The Providence Grays, he won a total of 60 games and losing only 12 – figures that very few pitchers can get to achieve. His other achievements were so impressive that every modern pitcher who’s willing to match them would have to pitch almost every other game for an entire season. He also pitched for other teams from various states where he continually projected his unparalleled skills. Radbourn was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
Born: May 25, 1845
Died: June 3, 1933
Back in the days when boxing was a bit too brutal compared to the one we’re so accustomed to nowadays, John Sullivan was the king of the ring. He became a champion when, in a bare-knuckle fight, he knocked out Paddy Ryan, one of the toughest boxers then. Not too long after that, he was one of the 2 participants who engaged in the first bout using padded gloves that were the precursor of the ones used by boxers today. Sullivan was the first boxer to earn a million dollars, but this guy who was known as “Boston Strong Boy” died in a state of bankruptcy.
Born: October 15, 1858
Died: February 2, 1918
Earning the title “Father of American Football,” Walter is indeed the person with the greatest influence on the game’s evolution. As a graduate of Yale University in 1800, he became team coach in 1888 where he introduced some of the greatest innovative techniques in football: the reduction from 15 to 11 players on a side, signal calling, a system of downs and yards to be gained, among others. During World War I, he was the chairman of a committee that monitored the physical vitality of the US Navy. Throughout his career, he authored lots of books about football and physical fitness.
Born: April 4, 1859
Died: May 14, 1925
During his peak years, he earned an estimated amount of 20,000 dollars – a huge amount at that time. How he amassed such earnings is due to the fact he is no small-time jockey. He is the most successful thoroughbred rider of his generation. As the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby in 1844, 1890 and 1891, he remains the only one to have won 3 prestigious Derbies in succession. In 1995, he became the first jockey to be elected to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. He was undoubtedly successful, but he died too young of pneumonia at just 35 years old.
Born: January 1, 1861
Died: February 12, 1896
He had a record that only the most talented Tennis professionals could ever achieve– having a streak of wins that lasted for 7 years, from 1881 to 1887. He also won the men’s doubles 6 times in a row from those same years. His skills was rivaled only by Bill Tilden who also had winnings similar to Sears’, though the former didn’t achieve it consecutively. Sears is one of the first 7 players elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame when it was established in 1955. He was awarded as court tennis champion in 1892. He greatly enjoyed his successive winnings, and chose to retire undefeated.
Born: October 26, 1861
Died: April 8, 1943
Certainly, you have heard about Tiger Woods. But before he became king of the grass valley, there was Walter Hagen, the top golfer in the early 1900s. He was voted as one of the 3 greatest golfers of the first half of the century. He was the first professional golfer to popularize the game among multitudes of onlookers. He never hesitated to play in the gallery. Add it up with his dashing personality in every game he plays, he easily became a crowd favorite. In 1967, his contribution to the history of golf was etched deeply when he was declared as an honorary member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, an honor granted to only two other professionals.
Born: December 21, 1892
Died: October 5, 1969
He had a varied career but is mostly remembered as an excellent athlete of the 19th century. Taking up professional wrestling, he won the Greco-Roman title in 1800. His being a former soldier who served in the civil war at just a teenybopper at 16 greatly helped him achieve such a success. In an 8-hour skirmish that ended in a draw against Clarence Whistler, one of the toughest wrestlers then, he displayed great athleticism that is still looked up to these days. When he retired from wrestling, he became a policeman and a boxing commissioner, proving that deep in his heart, he is a warrior who’s willing to help others in the same path that he took in his younger days.
Born: May 25, 1845
Died: June 3, 1933
He began as a bicycle racer and later became a car racer when he was given a chance to drive Henry Ford’s 999 in a contest. Oldfield won and settled a new speed record in the history US racing. He completed a 5-mile course in just 5 minutes. His reputation continued to grow until he became the best of the “Busty Daredevils,” the early race car drivers who drove their vehicles unpredictably on dirt roads that were better suited for horses. In the next decades that would soon follow, the life of the speed demon named Barney Oldfield would still be passed on via word of mouth from one veteran racer to a younger aspirant who would also do the same in the next generations.
Born: January 29, 1878
Died: October 4, 1946
He won several races during the early 1900s with an average time of 2 and a half hours – a stunning record at that time. This makes him the guy with the greatest endurance and stamina in his chosen sport. At the Olympic games in 1924 held at Colombes France, he finished 3rd in the marathon. During his early years within US soil, DeMar’s grace and charisma in the marathon tracks were quite noticeable already. It has been said that he and the Boston Marathon were soulmates – they were practically made for each other. Over a period of 2 decades, he won the demanding event 7 times, a record nobody else seems likely to ever achieve the way Clarence DeMar did.
Died: June 11, 1958
Today’s swimmers and surf-boarders should look back on the biography of this guy and think of him with great respect, he is primarily the dude who did more in popularizing surfing than anyone else. He embodies water sports so well. He is the perfect surfing model and hero in your typical tropic setting. As a swimmer, he fares exceptionally well. In early competition, Kahanamoku was described as a raw competitor. He is the author of the technique in which a swimmer would make 6 narrow scissor kicks to every full stroke of the arms – a technique that people would call back then, “The Kahanamoku Kick.”
Born: August 24, 1890
Died: January 22, 1968
Who among them should be ranked as No.1?