Never mind the nine Olympic gold medals. Never mind the four consecutive golds in the long jump. Where King Carl was unsurpassed was with a baton in his hand on the anchor leg of the 4x100-meter relay. There is no moment in track and field that ignites a crowd quite like when the stick is passed on the final turn and no sprinter was more incendiary than Lewis. His anchor at Barcelona in the 1992 Olympics may have been the most compelling ever, reducing a stadium to exhausted awe.
2 of 15John G. Zimmerman/SI
For driving the 346-yard first hole at Cherry Hills in the final round of the '60 U.S. Open, which jump started his comeback from seven shots down. For screwing up the '66 U.S. Open at Olympic with an assortment of crazy-man shots from gnarly lies. And for taking the break out of countless putts at Augusta National by hitting the ball way over the speed limit.
3 of 15Mark Kauffman/SI
The shame of it is that Robinson already was 28 years old by the time Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers dared to break the color line in Major League Baseball. In his debut season, the first of his only 10 big-league seasons, Robinson reached base 258 times and scored nearly half of those times (125). His speed and daring on the bases kept fans riveted and pitchers distracted. He received MVP votes in eight of his 10 seasons without ever hitting 20 home runs in a season, and stole home 19 times. Said teammate Duke Snider, "He was the greatest competitor I've ever seen. I've seen him beat a team with his bat, his ball, his glove, his feet and, in a game in Chicago one time, with his mouth."
4 of 15AP
Hockey's iconic image is Orr flying through the air after being tripped following his 1970 Stanley Cup-winning goal. The photograph would suggest Orr was Superman. Well, he was. He was also Batman, Spiderman and every other superhero in the Marvel Comics stable. Orr would take the puck behind the Boston Bruins' net, wheel through his defensive zone and stickhandle his way 180 feet down the ice. He went coast-to-coast better than United Airlines. The all-time edge-of-your-seater wasn't the first rushing defenseman. He was merely the best.
5 of 15George Tiedemann/SI
Nothing could cause the heart rate of a driver to skyrocket like the sight of the Intimidator and his black No. 3 Chevy bobbing and weaving in the rear-view mirror. Earnhardt was never afraid to push a driver out of his way to get to the front, consequences be damned.
6 of 15John D. Hanlon/SI
The North Carolina State forward popularized the term vertical leap by using breathtaking ups to convert alley-oop passes. It wouldn't have been quite as thrilling if he hadn't played during (dunk) prohibition; as with so many of life's pleasures, it's often worth leaving a little something to the imagination.
7 of 15Bongarts/Getty Images
In soccer, you're either a Pele guy or a Maradona guy, and I am an unapologetic Maradona guy -- at least Maradona, circa 1986 World Cup. No player has ever taken over a World Cup like that, and the goals he scored were insane.
8 of 15Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images
Not for nothing is this creative Frenchman nicknamed "The Magician." Though he stands under 6 feet and serves with less wattage than most women, he's made a career (and countless fans) slicing and dicing, lobbing and dinking, playing tennis with a thoroughly unique perspective. This, alas, is the 36-year-old's last year on tour. So catch him while you can.
9 of 15Helmut Gritscher/SI
As the downhill gold-medal favorite in his home country of Austria at the 1976 Olympics, Klammer delivered by skiing on the edge of disaster for 105 seconds. It remains the single most harrowing ski-racing performance in history, as if Klammer forgot how to be afraid and simply gave himself up to the mountain and the event and came away with a gold medal.
10 of 15AP
The Windy City legend's meteoric career was cut short by knee woes, but no player ever thrilled the masses like him. Late in his rookie year, he touched the ball 14 times on a slippery Wrigley Field pitch ... and scored six times, including an 85-yard punt return. If better surgical techniques existed 43 years ago, Sayers might have been the greatest player ever.
11 of 15AP
The Manassa Mauler rode out of the hobo camps of the Wild West to become heavyweight champion during the Roaring Twenties. Bobbing, weaving, forever coming forward, he was a tremendous puncher who chopped down opponents far bigger than he was and then (as permitted by the rules of the day) stood over them ready to attack again as soon as they rose. The bout that symbolized his ups and downs: Knocked clear out of the ring by the giant Luis Angel Firpo in the Polo Grounds in 1923, Dempsey climbed back in and KO'd Firpo in the next round.
12 of 15John D. Hanlon
If you weren't following pro hoops at the time, you simply can't imagine the excitement generated when Dr. J, the ABA legend, moved from the New York Nets to the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers before the 1976-77 season. Remember that games were rarely televised back then, so most of America had only heard tales of the graceful 6-7 forward with the big hands and the gravity-defying artistry. When folks first saw Dr. J, their eyes popped: It seemed as if he could temporarily suspend himself in air while coasting from one side of the basket to the other. And thus was born the concept of "hang time."
13 of 15Jerry Cooke/SI
Big Red's 1973 Belmont Stakes defines greatness across the long history of the sport. His widening 31-length victory transformed the racetrack into a cathedral of adoration, unlike any other moment in the sport's history. It was not just thrilling, it was epic beyond description. And it came after he set track records in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
14 of 15AP
The Norwegian three-time Olympic champ became the first skater whose star appeal crossed the borders of her country and her sport. Taught by a ballerina and attuned to choreography and glamour, Henie later appeared in more than a dozen Hollywood films, often playing herself.
15 of 15John Biever/SI
Even before his near-miraculous, national-title-clinching performance in the '06 Rose Bowl (VY passed for 267 yards and rushed for an even 200, including a game-winning, 9-yard scramble with 19 seconds remaining), the rangy dual-threat QB specialized in leading outrageous, you-cannot-be-serious comebacks: from 28 points down against Oklahoma State in 2004; from 10 down against Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, after which he had the prescience to promise, "We'll be back!"
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