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The feeling derived from witnessing a legendary sporting triumph is utterly unique, and ranks alongside the greatest of humankind’s pleasures. 

A defiance of odds or establishment of what was already expected through pure skill and brilliance, spur within us an excitement as we are left in awe of the extent to a human being’s capabilities. 

Sports offer such moments in their purest form and so in honour of those feelings, here is a celebration of the greatest ever sporting achievement.

#5) Muhammad Ali v Sonny Liston – February 25th 1964

Taken from Vichy Water

The Muhammad Ali v Sonny Liston fight will for many go down as the most exhilarating in boxing history. From Ali’s trash talking leading up to the fight, to the slim chances reporters and bookies alike gave Ali, to the infamous “I am the greatest” shouts after defying all odds; this fight can justifiably be described as the epitome of boxing.

That’s not to forget the pure entertainment of the fight itself, with the brooding and seemingly imperishable Liston’s heavy handedness up against the super quick, nimble Clay. 

Contrasts often provide the most entertaining sporting events (i.e. Chelsea’s recent battle against Barcelona), and the difference of Liston’s classic style against Clay’s revolutionary approach provided viewers with the perfect bout.

As if the drama of the night and that leading up to it wasn’t enough, the next day Ali – then names Cassius Clay – announced to the world that he’ll be changing his name to Classius X and converting to the Nation of Islam.

The racial backdrop of a loud arrogant black fighter, proving his skill brashly in the face of conservative white America, is but another reason justifying this fight’s inclusion on our list.

#4) Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympic Games

Taken from Adidas Group

Jesse Owens’ triumphs in the 1936 Olympics served to nullify Hitler’s Aryan vision. It must be noted however, that Owens’ four gold medals were only a minor embarrassment for the Nazi regime. 

Germany still won the most medals in 1936 by far, and in general saw the Games as a propaganda success casting the Nazi’s in a positive light.

Furthermore, the validity behind the ‘Hitler Snub’ has since been refuted by Owens who once said: “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram”. 

Owens even claimed that his reception in Germany was better than that in America, where he received no ad deals, Hollywood offers or endorsement contracts after winning four gold medals.

However, you can’t change all the people all of the time and the ability to intensely touch the hearts and minds of a few can impact far more powerfully than mass connections. 

Whether it was in Berlin, America or any other country his talents were being televised, Jesse Owens certainly helped change the opinions of a minority through his sprinting ability. 

With the 1936 Olympic Games proving to be the highlight of his career – and containing the heartfelt moment when white German Luz Long advised Jesse to play his long jump safe for fear of the black American being disqualified – Jesse’s  contribution merits it a place on our list.

#3) Arkle’s Win in the 1965 Gold Cup

Taken from The Guardian

Irish thoroughbred racehorse, Arkle, was truly a sight to behold for those with an appreciation for horse racing. Winning a staggering 22 of his 26 steeplechases between November 1962 and December 1966, Arkle was simply a cut above the rest. 

His accolades included the Hennessy Gold Cup twice, Whitbread Gold Cup, Irish Grand National, King George VI, and three Cheltenham Gold Cups – before a career ending leg break at Kempton Park.

His performance at the Gallaher Gold Cup in 1965 revealed the pinnacle of his abilities. Defeating second placed Rondetto by twenty lengths and beating the course record by 17 seconds, this was Arkle’s defining race.

From his clear display of understanding in a racecourse, to the fact that rival horse Mill House weighed 16 lb less, to the ease with which Arkle swept past Mill in just a few strides – this race will forever leave an imprint on the minds of those who were lucky enough to witness it live. 

Even those like me, who can only resort to viewing it on YouTube, remain in wonder at Arkle’s performance.

Tahar Rajab is a British freelance writer with a passion for sports.

Check out the second part of this series this week.

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