11 Amazing Under-the-Radar Sports Dynasties

Brian Bahr / Getty Images Sport
Brian Bahr / Getty Images Sport

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. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

4 Reasons Why Climbing Everest Is Deadlier Than Ever

Prakash Mathema/Getty Images
Prakash Mathema/Getty Images

On April 18, 2014, an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas on Mount Everest, making it the deadliest day in the mountain’s history. But one year later, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake triggered another fatal avalanche that killed more than 20 climbers and shut the mountain down for the 2015 season. During this year's season, at least 11 climbers have died on Everest experts say.

At 29,029 feet, Everest is known for its dangers; that's part of the allure. But in recent years, tragedies have spiked, and frozen bodies scattered across the mountain are an eerie reminder of the growing hazards. So why is the world’s tallest mountain claiming more lives than ever before?

1. Climate change makes Mount Everest unpredictable.

Everest tragedies are nothing new; since 1990, at least one climber has died in pursuit of the summit every year. But each climbing season, Everest is getting more unstable. Kent Clement, a professor of outdoor studies at Colorado Mountain College, argues that climate change is possibly the most imminent risk for climbers.

“As temperatures rise, Everest’s thousands of feet of ice and water are becoming unstable, making the mountain even more volatile,” Clement said.

Collapsing seracs—50- to 100-foot columns of ice formed by intersecting glacier crevasses—are a growing threat. Seracs can stand perfectly still for decades, then spontaneously fall over, killing those nearby and, in some cases, triggering avalanches further down the mountain. Case in point: The deadly 2014 avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas was caused by a serac collapse in the Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous section of the route up Everest's southeastern face.

As you’d expect, climate-related risks are the new norm. A study in the journal The Cryosphere [PDF] predicts that Mount Everest’s glaciers could shrink by 70 percent this century, making currently unstable sections of the routes even more so.

2. Human biology is at odds with high altitudes on Mount Everest.

Climbers ascending the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest
Prakash Mathema/Getty Images

In addition to natural disasters, Everest climbers face a number of life-threatening health risks.

In high-altitude settings, there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, and oxygen doesn’t diffuse into a climber’s blood as well as it would at sea level. That can lead to serious medical problems. The two most common illnesses on Everest are high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), in which constricted blood vessels cause fluid to leak into the lungs' air sacs; and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), in which fluid leaks from blood vessels in the brain, causing headaches, neurologic dysfunction, coma, and eventually death if not treated (and in some cases, even when treated).

“Altitude illness impacts people in different ways, and we don’t really know who is susceptible until they have altitude illness,” Christopher Van Tilburg, an expert in travel medicine and a physician Oregon's Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, told Mental Floss. “High-altitude pulmonary edemas can hit people suddenly—even highly trained, fit mountaineers.”

3. Neurological and psychological factors can impair Everest climbers' judgment.

Another health risk that affects a climber’s cognition is hypoxia, which is simply when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. According to Clement, hypoxia can drastically impair judgment, making it one of the most dangerous Everest risks.

“The higher you climb, the more your judgment gets impaired,” Clement said. “It’s amazing how hard it is for smart people to do simple math and memory problems at high altitudes.”

In addition to causing treacherous missteps, hypoxia can drive climbers to push harder and go farther than they normally would—but not in a good way. These “cognitive traps” often happen when a climber gets closer to the top and replace logic and safety with stubborn determination, putting everything at risk to reach their goal. Another word for it? Summit fever.

According to Clement, the cure is setting a strict turnaround time: an ironclad moment when a climber promises to turn around and forego the summit to save their life. Turnaround times are decided before setting foot on Everest, and should be agreed upon between climbers, guides, and expedition leaders. But hypoxia, exposure, and inexperience can encourage climbers to ignore the protocol.

“Every time you ignore your turnaround time, you’re putting yourself at risk,” Clement said. “Professional guides are also supposed to follow these rules, but they get stuck in cognitive traps, too, because the more clients they get to the top, the more clients they’ll have next season.”

4. Medicine can reduce—but not eliminate—Mount Everest's dangers.

Any climb above 19,000 feet—the altitude known as “the death zone”—will have associated health risks, but there are treatments that can help climbers survive. Medicines include acetazolamide (sold under the brand name Diamox), a diuretic that helps prevent a mild edema, and dexamethasone (brand name Decadron), a steroid used to treat a brain edema and reverse the symptoms of acute mountain sickness. The only true fix for acute mountain sickness is immediate descent.

The best way to stay alive on Everest is proper training, fitness, and organization, but even those steps can't guarantee safety.

“Training doesn’t really offset objective hazards like rock falls, ice falls, avalanches, and earthquakes,” said Van Tilburg. “And while we have medicine for altitude illness to help people acclimatize, we don’t have medicines for the myriad other risks on Everest.”

What Bill Buckner Said 19 Days Before Game 6 of the 1986 World Series

Gray Mortimore, Allsport/Getty Images
Gray Mortimore, Allsport/Getty Images

In the early morning hours of May 27, 2019, former MLB player Bill Buckner passed away at the age of 69 after battling Lewy Body Dementia. "Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life," Buckner's wife, Jody, told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap. "Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Buckner, who played for more than 20 years, had a storied career: He made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969 at the age of 19, was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1977, then moved on to the Red Sox from 1984 to 1987. He spent time with the California Angels and the Kansas City Royals before making his way back to Boston in 1990 as a free agent; it would be his final season.

Though he logged more years with the Dodgers and Cubs, Buckner's time with the Red Sox is the period he's most remembered for—specifically because of a fielding error that cost the Red Sox a game during the 1986 World Series.

On October 26, 1986, New York Met Mookie Wilson's routine ground ball passed right through Bill Buckner's legs, forcing a Game Seven that the Mets would also win.

You've seen the clip and heard the call, but did you know that Buckner himself laid out the scenario weeks before the fateful play?

On October 6, 1986, Buckner was interviewed by WBZ-TV's Don Shane about the pressures of postseason play. In a quote that later appeared in ESPN's Steve Bartman documentary Catching Hell, Buckner eerily explains his worst case scenario:

"The dreams are that you're gonna have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you're gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs. Those things happen, you know. I think a lot of it is just fate."

According to Dan Shaughnessy's 1997 book At Fenway: Dispatches from Red Sox Nation, the footage didn't resurface until 1995, when intern Maggie McGrath spent two weeks looking through old tapes after a viewer said he remembered the interview.

When Buckner returned to Boston as a free agent in 1990, the city made it clear that there were no hard feelings. "Opening Day I got a great ovation," Buckner told ESPN in 2006. "Fans in Boston are really good. They really are. They liked me and they were always good to me, and I think they just got caught up in the media. Overall, they were good. That was probably why tears came to my eyes, and it was pretty emotional."

Buckner, too, eventually came to forgive himself. "I have come to the understanding that it is here to stay, so I try to look at it in a positive way," Buckner told ESPN in that same interview. "Everybody still remembers me, they say, 'Yeah, he was the guy that made the error, but he was a pretty good player.' So I guess that is a positive about it."

Eventually, even Buckner was able to poke fun at his own mishap. In 2011, he appeared in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where he redeems himself by catching a baby whose mother throws it from a burning building.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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