Most iconic sports photos: 15 of the most memorable sports pictures ever captured

Most iconic sports photos: 15 of the most memorable sports pictures ever captured

Professional sports photography freezes moments of incredible sportsmanship and talent, influencing history. Discover 15 of the most iconic sports photos that capture what is considered the greatest moments in sports history.

Why is the Muhammad Ali picture so famous?
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) throws a punch at Conor McGregor (R) during their super welterweight boxing match in August 2017 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller.
Source: Getty Images

This article will rank some of the greatest pictures of power and strength in the human spirit. Dig in to explore iconic sports photos that reveal the intensity of competitive sporting activities.

Why is photography important in sports?

Sports elicit intense emotions such as joy, anger, frustration, and pure delight in fans and players. In the face of victory and defeat, the best sports images give fans a glimpse of players' split-second decisions and reactions to a game's outcomes.

15. Freetown Single Limb Amputee football team

Images of sports personalities exhibiting incredible human strength in the face of adversity tend to stimulate fans to achieve more extraordinary things. Images of the Freetown Single Limb Amputee football team elicited such a response. At the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone in 2002, the Single Leg Amputee Sports Association football team was created by a local pastor, Mamoudi Samai, giving the war survivors a new lease on life.

Read also

Here are the most beautiful African female footballers

What are some of the most inspirational photos ever taken?
A member of the Freetown Single Limb Amputee football team plays football on Lumley Beach, Freetown, Sierra Leone, in November 2006. Photo by Chris Jackson.
Source: Getty Images

Although sports' movement and fluid nature make sports photography even more complicated, its presence creates a rhythmic effect in images. Some of the most iconic sports photos of all time capture intense movement in photography.

14. Sanibel Storm and jockey Julien Leparoux

About 100 metres from the finish line, Matt Goins captured an incredible moment just before the rider, Julien Leparoux, somersaulted off Sanibel Storm. Horse rider Leparoux, who walked off the track uninjured, rode in the next race despite the incident.

The greatest sports photos of all time
Julien Leparoux holds on to Sanibel Storm's bridle after the horse ducked and hit the rail in the sixth race at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, in April 2006. Photo by Matt Goins/Sports Illustrated.
Source: Getty Images

13. The Jos Verstappen fire

FI photographers Steven Tee and Bernd Weißbrod took some of the most shocking photos in sports history, capturing the moment Jos Verstappen's Ford car caught ablaze in a seemingly routine pitstop. Although the fire was put out seconds later, the images released on live television and print showed several members of the Benetton crew and Verstappen engulfed in the blaze.

Read also

Pele: Messi, Neymar lead PSG stars in paying respects to departed football icon

Racing photos
Ford driver Jos Verstappen's car suddenly caught fire at a pit stop during the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring in Baden-Württemberg on July 31, 1994. Photo by Bernd Weißbrod/Picture Alliance.
Source: Getty Images

12. Gymnast Nadia Comaneci

One of the best sports images of the greatest female Olympians of all time, Nadia Comaneci, was taken during the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. Comaneci, whose career ended with the most perfect 10 in gymnastics, made history in 1976 after the first aerial walkover and an aerial cartwheel-back handspring flight series at 14.

The best sports photography
14-year-old Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnast, is pictured leaping one foot high during her floor routine at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Photo by Bettmann.
Source: Getty Images

11. Pete Rose

Since 1989, famed Hit King Pete Rose received a lifetime ban from the MLB for laying wagers on the Cincinnati Reds while managing the team. As a result, despite being the only baseball player in MLB history to play 500 games in five different positions, the 17-time All-Star and three-time World Series championship holder has never been named to the MLB Hall of Fame.

According to Sports Illustrated, a similar image shot by Heinz Kluetmeier also captured the then-all-time hits leader mid-air as he dove into third base against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Read also

Mediocre Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates compared to failing parastatal Eskom

The best MLB photos of all time
Cincinnati Reds switch hitter Pete Rose dove into the home plate past the glove of Giants' catcher Dave Rader in July 1972. Photo by Bettmann.
Source: Getty Images

10. Colin Kaepernick

One of the most memorable sports pictures in recent sporting history was captured when civil rights activist and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem. Unfortunately, his actions made in protest towards racial injustice and police brutality received hostility, including losing his status as one of the most successful NFL players.

Most memorable sports photos gallery
Colin Kaepernick kneels before a game against the New York Jets at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California, in December 2016. Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers.
Source: Getty Images

9. Usain Bolt

At a top speed of 9.58 seconds, Usain Bolt, famously known as the sprint king, broke the world 100 metres record. He also took gold in the 4x100 metres relay and 200 metres breaking the world record in all three events. Following his worldwide success, the world's fastest man became a sensation with his signature victory pose pictured after all his races.

Olympic athletes photos
Usain Bolt celebrates winning the Rio Olympic Games Men's 200m final at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August 2016. Photo by Alexander Hassenstein.
Source: Getty Images

8. Nadal vs Djokovic, 2011 US Open

In 2011, Djokovic became the second man to defeat both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in one Grand Slam tournament. During the 2011 US Open, Djokovic broke 11 of Nadal's serves in what was considered the greatest tennis match ever played, earning himself his first US Open title.

Read also

Lewis Hamilton creates online buzz with rumoured girlfriend

Djokovic's images
Djokovic reacts after winning against Rafael Nadal in the 2011 US Open Men's Final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, in September 2011. Photo by Clive Brunskill.
Source: Getty Images

7. Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield II

Initially, the June 1997 WBA Heavyweight Championship fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield was scheduled for the beginning of May of that year. During the fight, Tyson reported numerous headbutts that were ruled incidental by referee Mills Lane.

In the third round of the infamous 'Bite Fight', Mike Tyson bit off chunks of Holyfield's ear. Although Holyfield underwent a 90-minute ear restoration procedure, the ear was never fully reattached because of a missing piece.

What was the most famous boxing photo?
Referee Lane Mills (L) steps after Mike Tyson (C) bit Evander Holyfield's (R) ear during their 1997 WBA Heavyweight Fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Jeff Haynes/AFP.
Source: Getty Images

6. Juan Marichal

San Francisco Giants baseball player Juan Marichal's fame grew following the release of two images. In one, the pitcher displayed a distinct windup routine featuring his signature high kick that brought the San Francisco Giants more than 20 wins and led Juan to the Hall of Fame. In addition, a nine-foot statue of the Dominican pitcher was dedicated in his honour at Oracle Park.

Read also

Ranking the 15 best pole vaulters in the world right now

His second photo was shot during an infamous game against the Dodgers, capturing the moment when Juan Marichal hit John Roseboro with a bat. Although the two later became friends, tensions flew high in the August 1965 match between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in what was considered the biggest MLB rivalry of the time.

What is the most iconic picture in sports history?
Marichal throws a pitch at Candlestick Park circa 1960. (Left) Dodgers' catcher Roseboro suffered a cut on his head during a fight with Juan in 1965. Photo by Diamond Images and Bettmann.
Source: Getty Images

5. Chloe Kim's 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics victory

At 17 years, Chloe Kim made history after becoming the youngest Olympic gold medalist and the first woman in Olympic history to win two halfpipe snowboarding gold medals. Although the halfpipe queen took a break from her career to focus on mental health, she returned to win gold at the 2022 Beijing winter games.

The most inspirational sports pictures
Chloe Kim skiis during the Snowboard Ladies' Halfpipe Final of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Phoenix Snow Park in February 2018 in South Korea. Photo by Xin Li.
Source: Getty Images

4. Tommie Smith and John Carlos' civil rights movement

Like several athletes today, sprint champions Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested racial injustice on a highly publicized platform during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. The two stood on the podium in black socks without shoes to symbolize the poverty facing countless black Americans. Although only the two raised their fists in the Black Power salute, Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist, also wore the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity.

Read also

Legendary Orlando Pirates fan Goodenough Sithole passes away

In an excerpt from Raise a Fist, Take a Knee: Race and the Illusion of Progress in Modern Sports, Tommy Smith recognized the cost Norman paid for his actions. He said,

“The sad thing is I knew that wearing the button would not be good for Peter. Then, a white guy standing up for two Black guys would not turn out well. I admired him and loved him for doing it. Right then, he did a lot to bridge the gap between black and white, and I wish more people were willing to stand up as Peter did.”
What is the best sports photos of the decade?
Tommy Smith (1) and John Carlos (3) raise their fists in the "Black Power Salute" during the Mexico 1968 Olympics. A statue of the athletes at the Smithsonian. Photo by Rich Clarkson/Jahi Chikwendiu.
Source: Getty Images

3. Brandi Chastain's 1999 Women’s World Cup goal

The best sports image of all time was shot during the 1999 Women's World Cup final match between the US and China. Chastain, a last-minute replacement for the penalty-kick lineup, took the winning goal with her non-dominant foot redeeming herself from the embarrassing own-goal shot against Germany and earning a spot among football legends. The image of Chastain ripping her jersey in sheer elation made it to numerous front pages, including the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Read also

Ranking the 12 best fencers of all time: Find out who tops the list

The most iconic sports photos of football players
Brandi Chastain celebrates after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup finals at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. A statue of Chastain at the Rose Bowl. Photo by Hector Mata/AFP/Harry How.
Source: Getty Images

2. The USA gymnastics scandal

Several photographers shot the most iconic photos of the 21st century during the USA Gymnastics abuse scandal that began in 2014. Rachael Denhollander, in the image below, was later joined by famed gymnasts such as Simone Biles, Mckayla Maroney, and Ali Raisman braved stigma and shame, to testify against Olympic team doctor Larry Nasser accused of assaulting over 150 girls in his career.

The best gymnastic photos
Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander speaks to the press after Nassar's sentencing hearing in Eaton County Circuit Court in February 2018 in Charlotte, Michigan. Photo by Scott Olson.
Source: Getty Images

1. Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston 2

At the start of the Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston rematch fight in 1965, Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer took one of the best sports images ever. The shot captured the most dramatic moment in sports history when Ali knocked out Liston one minute and 44 seconds into the bout's first round.

What is Muhammad Ali's most famous picture?
Muhammad Ali taunts Sonny Liston at the Central Maine Youth Center in Lewiston. (Left) An autographed print was auctioned in July 2012 in England. Photo by Bettmann/Martin McNeil.
Source: Getty Images

The most iconic sports photos capture historical moments that have helped end oppressive sports policies, such as sports safety, abuse and racial injustice. In addition, the images of human endurance continue to inspire courage, tenacity and determination in millions of fans globally.

Read also

Xolani 'Blackberry' Nkala defends kasi flava amid showboating furore

READ ALSO: Which are the most popular jersey numbers in sports history?

Sportsbrief recently published an article ranking the world's most popular jersey number in numerous sports. Jerseys not only identify athletes but also inspire an attachment between athletes and fans.

Click on the link above to discover 10 of the most famous jerseys in basketball, baseball, racing, American football, hockey and soccer.

Subscribe to watch new videos

Source: Sports Brief News