With David Haye set to announce his retirement months after breaking his toenail and using it as an excuse for his battering at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko, we look at 10 of the toughest sportsmen of all time, who played on with broken arms, amputated fingers and sliced jugulars...
Where have the real sporting hard men gone? A question I find myself asking, after another weekend of footballers throwing themselves to the turf squirming in apparent agony, safe in the knowledge that they are neither actually injured nor thought of as any less of a man by their team-mates who are already arguing about which of them will take the free kick, or possibly who’s sleeping with who’s missus.Even rugby players - the supposed last bastion of the motto ‘hard but fair’ – have taken to using fake blood capsules straight from the Hammer Horror makeup department so they can escape the pitch.
So what has happened to the good old days when sportsmen would take a knock and be too embarrassed to acknowledge it, the days when limbs would be torn from bloody sockets and even so much as a display of playing on through ‘gritted teeth’ was a display too much. They’d sooner laugh it off as they scored the winning points and buy the bloke who did it a pint afterwards.
Thankfully, not all modern sportspeople are a bunch of lightweights it seems. The following are those who can truly wear the sporting hero crown - they are the few who will remain unflinching as they gladly take it on the chin or leg or crotch, and unsurprisingly, there is not a Premier League footballer amongst them.
10) Ronnie Lott – USA - American Football
At the end of the 1985 American Football season, San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott came out of a tackle with a badly mangled left little finger, losing small pieces of bone and flesh from it in the mud. The following week he played with his fingers taped up as a temporary measure, but over the summer break the pain became worse and he faced a stark choice for the upcoming season: a complicated and delicate operation in which bone and skin grafting and the placement of pins in his hand might restore full use of his hand, or, he could have the top of his finger amputated. The former meant missing matches and risking another injury, the latter meant missing some finger but being ready to go for the new season. All in all a simple choice for Lott, out came the knife and off came half his finger. He went on to have another successful season, with his team reaching the playoffs.
9) Surya Bonaly – France - Ice Skating
Whilst preparing to defend her European figure skating title in 1995 for France, Surya Bonaly fell whilst fitness training barefoot on a trampoline. The fall left the 21-year-old four times champion with a broken toe in her left foot. Fearing that if the news got out she would be prevented from taking part in the Dortmund championships, she and her adoptive mother and manager Suzannev kept the injury a secret, refusing treatment from a doctor and declining to undergo any x-rays. So an injured Surya was free to compete and she put in a mighty performance, launching straight into a triple lutzt double toe, a move that would put her landing weight directly on her fracture. Surya gained her fifth European title, winning the event.
8 ) Paul Michael Levesque (Triple H) – USA - Wrestling
During the May 21, 2001 broadcast of the World Wrestling Federations’ Raw, Paul Michael Levesque - or ‘Triple H’ as he’s better known – suffered a career threatening injury when he tore his left quadriceps muscle – the main muscle running from the knee along the femur bone. The tear was so bad that the muscle came completely away from the bone. Obviously in agonising pain Levesque was determined to finish the match, even allowing his opponent to put him in a hold, which placed most of the stress on that very muscle. He went for surgery straight afterwards and was in rehabilitation for 8 months.
7) Joe Grim – USA – Boxing
‘The Iron Man’ and ‘The Indestructible Man of Pugilism’ sound odd nicknames for a Boxer who reportedly lost every single fight of his career, but despite being a perennial loser, the toughest boxers of the era couldn’t knock Joe out. Born in 1881 in Italy and raised in America, Grim fought men who would go on to be legends and became as big a draw as the champions he was fighting. He would end every fight bloodied and back at the ropes bellowing triumphantly "I'm Joe Grim! Nobody knocks out Joe Grim!" In 1905 he faced the legendary future heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and was knocked down 18 times by one of the hardest punchers of all time but rose to his feet after every one of them. Ring Magazine’s Nat Fleischer describes one blow as "it caused Grim to turn a complete somersault." As Grim clambered to his feet yet again from the canvas where many assumed he might have been dead an amazed Jack Johnson declared, "He ain't human."
6) Colin Meads – New Zealand - Rugby Union
In 1970 whilst on a tour of South Africa, a 34-year-old Colin Meads cemented his reputation as an All Black hard man legend in a game against Eastern Transvaal – a team notorious for compensating for their lack of skill with sheer brutality. When emerging from a particularly vicious ruck partway through the match, with a clearly fractured arm dangling grotesquely by his side like, he resolved that this mere triviality wasn’t going to stop him finishing the game. Which he did. On the winning side. After the match when the doctor cut away his shirt and confirmed the break, Meads muttered, "At least we won the bloody game." He treated himself with horse liniment causing him to miss the first two Tests but returned for the Third with his still broken arm held together by a flimsy splint.
5) Abebe Bikila – Ethiopia – Marathon Runner
When the unheard of Abebe Bikila went to pick up his Adidas trainers before the 1960 Rome Olympic Marathon he discovered they didn’t have his size, unable to nip to the shop he decided to run the 26 miles barefoot. He went on to not only win but break the record whilst doing so, finishing in a time of 2:15:16.2 and became the first African to win an Olympic Gold. He became the first athlete to win two Olympic Marathons when he ran aged 31 in Tokyo 4 years later again barefoot but this time only 40 days after a rather painful trip to hospital to have his appendix out and set another World Record time of 2:12:11.2. Perhaps his most outstanding feat of heroism came in 1970, when after tragically being paralysed from the waist down he claimed gold in a 25km cross country sledge competition in Norway.
4) Clint Malarchuk – Canada - Ice Hockey
There are some injuries that you just cannot finish the match with, no matter how tough you are. Clint Malarchuk suffered one of them in 1989 whist keeping goal for the Buffalo Sabres Ice Hockey team. In a freak accident, two players from the opposing St. Louis Blues collided in front of him, with one following through to slide skate first into the 27-year-old goalkeeper’s throat, slicing open his jugular vein. In just seconds he lay gasping in a pool of blood that filled the entire goal mouth – a sight which caused nine spectators to faint, two to suffer heart attacks, while two team mates vomited on the ice. Quick acting doctors rushed in and saved his life by pinching the vein to stop the bleeding and after only one night in hospital and more than 300 stitches Malarchuk was back in practice 4 days later, returning to a competitive match a mere week after that.
3) John Sattler – Australia - Rugby League
It’s 1970 and ten minutes into the Australian Rugby League Premiership decider between South Sydney and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles when Souths’ forward John Sattler collapses after being punched by Manly forward John Bucknall. The 26-year-old suffered a double fracture to his jaw but pleaded with team mate Mike Cleary to, "Hold me up so they don't know I'm hurt". He was helped up and continued to play in the game. Half time came and Souths were leading 12-6 when his fellow team mates learnt about his injury. Not only did he refuse treatment and insist on continuing to play, he also threatened the dressing room should they try to protect him on the pitch matter of factly announcing, "the next bloke who tries to cut me out of the play is in trouble.” South Sydney went on to win the game 23-12 and Sattler went to hospital, but only after receiving the Premiership Trophy Shield and making an acceptance speech.
2) Tyler Hamilton – USA - Cycling
Having suffered two broken vertebrae in a horrendous ski jumping accident, Tyler Hamilton was unphased enough to switch to the equally physically demanding sport of cycling. He was soon back in the wars in 2002 when he fractured his shoulder in the Giro D’Itlia yet still carried on to finish second. It was in the 2003 Tour de France that the 32 year old American really made his name after he cracked a collarbone in the first stage and cycled on through the pain, spending an agonising three weeks competing with the broken bone. He went on to win stage 16 with a 142 km solo breakaway, and placed fourth overall. For his stage win, Hamilton was awarded the Coeur de Lion (Heart of the Lion) prize, which is awarded to the most aggressive and daring racer of the stage.
1) Wayne Shelford – New Zealand - Rugby Union
Roughly 20 minutes into just his second Test appearance for the All Blacks against France in 1986, a match that would become known as “The Battle of Nantes”, 28 year-old Wayne Shelford found himself victim to a wayward French boot to the groin at the bottom of yet another aggressive ruck. The resulting injury was an eye watering ripped scrotum that left one testicle hanging free in the breeze, which probably did something to take his mind off the four teeth he also lost in the rumpus. After discovering his scrotal impairment, Shelford calmly asked the physio to stitch up the tear and then returned to the field, The French finally took him out of action when a blow to his head left him concussed. He watched the remainder of the match, and his side lose 16-3, from the stand. As Shelford said some years later: “I was knocked out cold, lost a few teeth and had a few stitches down below, it's a game I still can't remember - I have no memory of it whatsoever. I don't even remember what the score was, I don't really want to either."
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