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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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Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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olympics
9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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