11 Amazing Under-the-Radar Sports Dynasties

You've heard all about the great Yankees teams, or the Chicago Bulls dynasty that won six championships in eight seasons. But can they top a 452-game winning streak? Or how about 17 consecutive championships? From squash to horseshoe pitching, here are some of sports' best little-known dynasties.

1. Heather McKay

What's more impressive about Heather McKay's squash career: that she won every women's title at the British Open (the de facto championship) from 1962 until 1977? That she allowed her championship opponents to score only two points (over a three-game match) no less than three times? That in 1968, she won the championship by a perfect score of 9-0, 9-0, 9-0? That she lost only two professional matches over her two-decade career?

No, probably her most impressive feat was that she wasn't content to just dominate the world of squash. After retiring from the sport in 1979, McKay turned her sights to racquetball and almost instantly became a sensation, reaching the semifinals of her first invitational tournament without even knowing how the game was played. She would later switch to the sport full time because, as she told Sports Illustrated, ""There was nothing left for me to accomplish in squash except to do it over again." Oh, and McKay also played field hockey in her spare time well enough to be voted All-Australia in the sport twice.

2. Edwin Moses

Moses had already won an Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles race and set two world records before he began an incredible winning streak that would define his legacy. Starting in 1977, Moses went nine years, nine months and nine days without losing a race, rattling off 122 wins in that time. During the stretch, which ended in 1987, Moses had set two more world records, won two World Championships and won a second Olympic gold (he was unable to compete in a third games because of the 1980 boycott of the Moscow games). Since retiring from track, Moses also went on to win a bronze medal at the bobsled World Cup in 1990 and helped shape the drug testing policies for track and field competition.

3. Esther Vergeer

Esther Vergeer was named the world's number 1 wheelchair tennis player in 1999, a title she hasn't relinquished since. Not that there's any cause to drop her from the top spot -- Vergeer hasn't even lost a match since 2003. She's on an incredible winning streak of 454 straight matches in singles competition. She's also racked up 39 Grand Slam titles, 22 championships and 5 Paralympic gold medals.

Vergeer developed paraplegia at age 8 after a surgery to relieve hemorrhaging around her spinal cord. She started playing wheelchair basketball and even played for the Dutch national team that took the 1997 European championships before turning her attention to tennis. Since then, she's completely dominated the sport, although the bulk of her fame came from the 2010 ESPN: The Magazine body issue, where she posed nude.

4. Wayland Baptist Women's Basketball

When the University of Connecticut women's basketball team was on its way to tying the NCAA basketball winning streak record at 88 in 2010 (they would go on to win 90), the New York Times ran a story on an earlier, even longer streak. In a stretch that lasted from 1953 until 1958, the women's team of Wayland Baptist University in Texas rattled off 131 straight games. The Flying Queens set the streak in the Amateur Athletic Union, since this was almost 30 years before the NCAA sponsored women's basketball. The streak (which included four AAU championships) is unparalleled in the sport, even if it is largely ignored. However, it's something the team is used to -- in their early days, players joked that more players would come to watch their Harlem Globetrotters-inspired warmups (set to "Sweet Georgia Brown," of course) than the games.

5. Alan Francis

It would be enough to look at Alan Francis' 16 world championships in the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association since 1989 and see why the New York Times called him "perhaps the most dominant athlete in any sport in the country." But the real secret to his dynasty lies in his lifetime ringer percentage. He's the only professional to have that mark above 90 percent in a sport where 70 percent is considered great. Known for his three quarter reverse pitching style, Francis actually keeps the sport in the family: his wife, Amy, is a three-time world runner-up.

6. Eddy Merckx

Sure, you know all about Lance Armstrong and his seven straight Tour de France wins. But history's most impressive cyclist might be Eddy Merckx, who over a 13-year career won all of the monument cycling races at least twice (19 total) and took five Tour de France victories. Merckx almost didn't get to even start his first Tour de France in 1969 when a doctor discovered that he had an abnormal heart rhythm. He was later cleared to compete and he ended up not only winning the race, but taking the general, points and mountains classifications, the only rider to achieve that trifecta in the event.

7. Aleksandr Karelin

Known as "The Experiment," Aleksander Karelin is widely regarded as the best Greco-Roman wrestler ever thanks to a 13-year undefeated streak in international competition (including gold medals at three straight Olympic games). Over the last six years of that streak, Karelin even went without giving up a point, before losing to Rulon Gardner at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Karelin was known for using the Karelin Lift, a suplex move where he would lift an opponent lying on the mat, then throw him down. After retiring, Karelin joined the Russian legislature in 2008.

8. The United States sailing team

In terms of length, you'd be hard pressed to find a better winning streak than the U.S.'s 132-year domination of the America's Cup sailing race. After winning the inaugural race in 1851 (the winning boat was named "America" and the trophy was later named in her honor), the country did not relinquish it for 25 more iterations until 1983, when the Royal Perth Yacht Club took the trophy. The "Australia II," which won that race, would usher in a new string of champions and the cup has since also been held by New Zealand and Switzerland.

9. Houston Comets

The WNBA's first champion was also its first dynasty, as the Houston Comets would quickly dominate the new league. Starting with their 1997 championship in the league's inaugural season, the Comets would go on to win every championship until 2000, including one season where they amassed a whopping .900 winning percentage after going 27-3. The team was led by its so-called Big Three: Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. After the four-year streak, however, the Comets dropped off. They never returned to the championship game and were shut down after the 2008 season when the WNBA was unable to find an owner for the team.

10. Trinity Squash

After 252 straight wins, 2012 was not a good year for the Trinity squash team. First in January, the Bantams lost to Yale for their first loss since 1998. Then in February, they were defeated by Princeton in the collegiate finals in their quest to win a 13th straight championship. Still, their perfect record remains one of the longest in college athletics, although it is not without its blemishes. In 2010, Trinity captured national attention when star player Baset Chaudhry screamed at a Yale opponent after defeating him.

11. UNC Women's Soccer

When the University of North Carolina set up their first official women's soccer program in 1979, it was the only such team in the Southeast above the club level. It would quickly become the only team worth knowing, as well. They won the 1981 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championship, then reeled off a string of 13 straight NCAA championship appearances, winning 12 of them. The team has now won 20 of the 28 NCAA women's soccer championships, plus 20 of the 22 Athletic Coast Conference championship games, for one of the most unparalleled dynasties in college sports.

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MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
13 Secrets of Roller Derby
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

When sports promoter Leo Seltzer got the idea to organize a roller skating marathon in 1935, he probably didn’t expect that his event would provide the basis for a fledgling sport known as roller derby. Those early contests had skaters circling a track for thousands of miles over a period of a month to test their endurance; the current incarnation is more of a contact sport that involves players protecting—or blocking—a player known as a "jammer" who is trying to skate past the opposing team for points.

A popular sport through the 1950s and 1960s, derby briefly lost some of its luster when a bit of the theatricality usually found in pro wrestling made its way to the tracks to bolster television ratings in the 1970s. While today's derby still maintains some of that showmanship—players often compete under pseudonyms like H.P. Shovecraft—you’d be wrong to characterize its players as anything less than serious and determined athletes. Mental Floss asked several competitors about the game, the hazards of Velcro, and the etiquette of sending get-well cards to opponents with broken bones.

1. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THEY USE ALTER EGOS.

Derby players looking to erase the image of the scantily-clad events of the ‘70s sometimes bemoan the continued use of aliases, but there’s a practical reason for keeping that tradition going. According to Elektra-Q-Tion, a player in Raleigh, North Carolina, pseudonyms can help athletes remain safe from overzealous fans. “It’s kind of like being a C-level celebrity,” she says. “Some players can have stalkers. I have a couple of fans that can be a little aggressive. Using 'Elektra-Q-Tion' helps keep a separation there. If they know my real name, they can find out where I live or work.”

2. THEY CAN’T ALWAYS RECOGNIZE OTHER PLAYERS OFF THE TRACK.

For many players, derby is as much a social outlet as a physical one—but meetings outside of the track can sometimes be awkward. Because of the equipment and constant motion, it can be hard to register facial features for later reference. “You don’t really get the opportunity to see them move like a normal person,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “People can identify me because I’m really tall, but if someone comes up and says we’ve played, I have to do that thing where I hold my hand up over their head [to mimic their helmet] and go, ‘Oh, it’s you.’”

3. THEY SUFFER FROM “DERBY FACE.”

Extreme concentration, core engagement, and other aspects of the game often conspire to make players somewhat less than photogenic. “'Derby face' is common,” says Barbie O’Havoc, a player from the J-Town Roller Girls in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. “You’re pretty focused on trying not to fall over or get beat up.”

4. THEY CAN KISS THEIR FEET GOODBYE.

Hours of practice in skates usually precedes an unfortunate fate for feet. “Your feet become pretty gross,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “People sometimes say it’s because skates don’t fit right, but it can happen with custom skates. You get calluses, your toenails get worn and fall off, your bones shift, you get fallen arches. One time a doctor thought I had MRSA. He actually recoiled from my foot. I had a blister on my blister.”

5. THEY HAVE TO CONVINCE DOCTORS THEY’RE NOT BEING ABUSED.

Flying, crashing bodies skating at velocity will become heavily bruised, with players sporting black eyes and large-scale blemishes. If they need to seek medical attention when something is broken, those superficial marks often raise suspicion. “The first question people will ask is, ‘Are you okay?’” says Elektra-Q-Tion. “Once, my husband took me to the emergency room because I had broken my hand. The nurse asked him to leave the room and asked me, ‘Did he do this to you?’”

6. THEIR GEAR SMELLS PRETTY BAD.

“Derby stink is very much real,” says Barbie O’Havoc. “It comes down to body chemistry. Some players don’t have a problem. Others can wash their gear all the time and it still stinks. After I sold my car that I used to haul my gear in for years, my sister told me it smelled awful. The entire car.”

7. NO PLAYER WEARS A “1” JERSEY—AND FOR GOOD REASON.

Attend a derby bout and it’s unlikely you’ll see any player sporting a “1” on their jersey. “I've always heard you shouldn't use the number 1,” says Cyan Eyed, a player for Gem City Roller Derby in Ohio. “But not everyone is aware of the 1937 bus crash.” On March 24 of that year, a bus carrying 14 skaters and 9 support staff was driving from St. Louis to Cincinnati when it crashed, killing 21 passengers. Joe Kleats, a veteran player who was riding on the bus, wore the number; when he and the others died, the sport retired it in memory of the tragedy.

8. THEY HAVE SKATE MECHANICS.

The pounding endured by skates, wheels, and bearings often requires attention from someone versed in repair and maintenance work. Enter the skate mechanic, typically an official or significant other of a player who doubles as the team’s wheel-person. “Players are afraid of taking their expensive skates apart,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. But she'd prefer that skaters know how to care for their own wheels. “I don’t like the idea of someone not understanding how they work. What happens if the ref retires?”

9. VELCRO IS THEIR ENEMY.

Much of a derby player’s gear, such as knee and elbow pads, is held in place with Velcro, that useful-but-dangerous adhesion system. “The problem with Velcro is the close contact,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “If people don’t have it on correctly or part of it is peeling off, they’ll scrape you with it and you won’t realize it until you’re in the shower later and the water hits it, which is a miserable feeling.”

10. THEY TRY TO BE POLITE EVEN AFTER SMASHING SOMEONE.

Injuries are expected in derby, but if you unwittingly broke someone’s nose, it’s considered polite track manners to check up on them later. “I remember seeing a nasty injury and our league sent her flowers and a card,” Barbie O’Havoc says.

11. THEY CAN WATCH OTHER TEAMS PRACTICE.

Good luck allowing members of an NFL team to drop in on an opposing team’s practice. Derby, which prides itself on a communal atmosphere, doesn’t mind opening its doors for visiting rivals. “If I go to, say, San Diego and ask to practice with the local team there, most of the time they would say yes,” Elektra-Q-Tion says.

12. A PENNY CAN SPELL DOOM.

It’s not often something as tiny as a coin can bring a sporting event to a complete halt, but that’s what happens when you’re dependent on skate mobility. Barbie O’Havoc says that although tracks are swept and cleaned before bouts, the odd foreign object can still pop up, causing wheels (and feet) to go flying. “There’s a washer on the toe stop that can fall off,” she says. “And I’ve seen people lose their wedding rings.” Pebbles and other tiny hazards will prompt a time-out until they're found and disposed of.

13. THEY DISLIKE HOLLYWOOD.

Whenever television crime dramas depict derby, it’s typically presented as a bunch of “bad girls” with sour attitudes and a thirst for blood on the track. “That seems to be very attractive to movie and television people,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “Usually someone gets murdered.” 2009’s Whip It, a comedy-drama starring Ellen Page and directed by Drew Barrymore, didn’t fare much better in terms of believability—but players will give that one a pass. “Whip It was great press for us. That’s when we had most of our new audience and skaters come in.”

All images courtesy of Getty.

A version of this story ran in 2016.

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Shout! Factory
Original GLOW Wrestling Series Hits Twitch
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

When it premiered in June 2017, GLOW was a bit of a sleeper offering for Netflix. With the amount of original programming ordered by the streaming service, a show based on an obscure women’s pro wrestling league from the 1980s seemed destined to get lost in the shuffle.

Instead, the series was a critical and commercial success. Ahead of its second season, which drops on June 29, you'll have a chance to see the mat work of the original women who inspired it.

Shout! Factory has announced they will be live-streaming clips from the first four seasons of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), which first premiered in 1986, beginning at 9 p.m. ET on June 28. The stream, which will be available on shoutfactorytv.com and Twitch, will feature original footage framed by new interviews with personalities including Godiva, host Johnny C, and Hollywood. The show will air live from the Santino Brothers Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles.

Godiva, who was portrayed by Dawn Maestas, inspired the character Rhonda (a.k.a. Brittanica) on the Netflix series; Hollywood was the alter ego of Jeanne Basone, who inspired the character Cherry in the fictionalized version of the league. Basone later posed for Playboy and takes bookings for one-on-one wrestling matches with fans.

Shout! Factory's site also features a full-length compilation of footage, Brawlin’ Beauties: GLOW, hosted by onetime WWE interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

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