Perfectly Timed Snapshots of Major World Sporting EventsBy Anglina Roberts
In this compilation of visuals, you’ll see more than just timely captured physical feats by professional athletes and celebrities. Through sheer determination, skill, and mental fortitude when performing under pressure before expectant crowds, these performers are able to rise above the ordinary, transforming themselves into godlike figures, if even for a slippery nanosecond.
Beyond the edges of human physicality, framed too, are the divine flashes of the human spirit. These are pictures of sportsmen and women that, when viewed in hindsight, surprise even the performers themselves. In all their fluidity of action, their physical and geometric potential limits are captured for all eternity.
Dennis Rodman’s mother nicknamed him “The Worm” because he used to wiggle in a way that amused her when he played pinball as a kid. With twisting and turning, he pushed that pinball machine with passion.
Apparently, all those motions stuck with him through his NBA career. In this 1997 photograph at the United Center, he appears to be wriggling his way to catch the basketball in mid-air, perfectly parallel to the ground, as if burrowing through invisible soil.
Michelle Obama’s Advocacy Against Child Obesity
Those who know little about her background might think the former first lady of the United States was an athlete upon glancing at her broad shoulders and solid posture, even at 58. However, she never competed in sports as a student. But she does maintain her figure by eating healthy and exercising.
The camera captured Michelle Obama’s awkward tennis forehand at an angle that makes her appear as though she were a fencer ready to lunge. But the only thing she was fighting against here was child obesity during the “Let’s Move” campaign.
Play In Motion
Because the rain wasn’t heavy enough to get in the way of the players’ performance, it seems that the officials refused to cancel this tennis game. A photographer got a skilled snap of the ball during play as it spun through the light precipitation, whipping up a spiral galaxy of rain.
Probably brought on by a forceful topspin stroke, this sodden tennis ball crossed to the other side of the court in a high-speed whirling motion, surrounded by celestial droplets. It’s as if a universe was created by a big bang serve.
Grace on Ice
Retired ice skater Michelle Kwan is one of America’s most famous athletes. This photograph is a great example of how she attained that status: she matched the sport’s excruciating demand for expressiveness and artistry with determination, tenacity, and skill.
During the World Figure Skating Championships (2004) in Germany, Kwan showed her signature move while gracefully slicing across the ice. Here she is captured in a backbend, her body beautifully warped as if taunting the laws of physics to catch up.
James Dunks It
NBA fans sometimes unfairly accuse LeBron James of trying too hard to be like the GOAT, Michael Jordan. This is exacerbated by his repeated claims of being the best basketball player in the world. Statements like this have increased his publicity over the years, leaving him very little privacy at any given moment.
Eyes follow him wherever he goes. Cameras anticipate a shoulder fake, a fadeaway jump shot, a Jordanesque weaving on defense. Even on the sidelines, his movements are put under the microscope. Here he is laying out a dunk—just not the kind of dunk you’d expect.
Leading the Pack
As a group of cyclists heads around the curve of the road to reduce wind resistance, they are surprised to see the new leader of the pack—a little flag-waving girl running on foot. Or so it seems from this picture.
This child has an expression of triumph on her face. She knows how it feels to be a winner. It is a symbol of hope for those who believe in themselves, which is essentially the true purpose of sport: to build character.
Facing the Man in the Mirror
World champion wakeboarder Shaun Murray is seen here gliding smoothly, pulled by the irresistible traction of the boat. Leaning against the skin of the water, he is inches away from a disgraceful plunge into the waves.
As he searches deep into the mirroring water, could he be reflecting on his early days? Perhaps he is looking back on his time in ‘88 when he took up his first board at eight years old. Or is he examining a parallel universe beneath the water, his other self looking back?
Here’s Canadian weightlifter Marie-Julie Malboeuf with 58kg of weight during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland. Inside the Clyde Auditorium Malboeuf, competitors from countries worldwide exhibit their strength and skills before endless crowds, drawing oohs and aahs that no doubt continue to enhance their pride.
When her name was called, she activated beast mode; a moment captured here by sensitive lenses: her face is fully covered with hair, and her stance is like that of a wild animal ready to tackle a contender.
A Major Trip
In what was supposed to be a moment of glorious ascension to the top of the tri-level podium ends in disaster following a major trip down the rubberized track. Years of hard work ended not with a reward but with a fall. Such is the nature of competitive sports.
And all the crowd ever remembers afterward is the comical blunder—how he hit the hurdle with his pan—how his body contorted like a ragdoll. The crowd can’t help but laugh and cry at the same time over such a tragedy.
The average audience member can only imagine the sacrifice every competitive diver has to make to get to where they stand ten meters high up on the platform, a height equivalent to a three-story building. It takes a lifetime of training for the diver to be in total control of their body the moment they bounce up in the air to a sweet somersault.
This diver’s face seems to express all the hardships of preparation, unable to mask the difficulties of behind-the-scenes training. The expression ranges from mocking to comical to a display of pure grit until the diver finally breaks the pool surface.
Hit by a Curveball
This photograph of Rickie Weeks being hit in the chin with a baseball, utterly bushwhacked, reminds us that we’ll never really know what life might throw at us at any given moment. Like unexpected bad news, he simply didn’t see it coming.
This snapshot is so perfectly timed that the ball appears to be nestled snugly between his left shoulder and chin, rumpling his whole face. This picture shows a very different Rickie Weeks than the one selected as the “Sexiest Baseball Player” in 2009 by Cosmopolitan magazine.
The Headless Gymnast
Sports photography is consistently coming up with interesting snapshots. With a combination of expertise, a little luck, and the effort of a high-speed shutter, which bursts as fast as a machine gun’s rapid-fire, the fleeting movement of the subject is captured for all to see.
A specter of sorts has been made out of this leaping gymnast. It is an image of beauty and pain brought about by the gymnast’s warped form. It evokes the imagined sensation of the performer’s joints bending, creaking, and cracking as her body is bent to its limit.
During his career, Tyler Clary has competed with some of the best swimmers the United States has to offer. He even beat the great Michael Phelps’ 400-yard record in 2009. He also bested Ryan Lochte’s 200-yard backstroke record.
Clary emerges from an underwater backstroke that, as a standard rule, should not go beyond 15 meters after each start and turn. The liquid surface is stretched as he reappears, giving him a glassy shape—as if he were one with the water.
It’s not the most hygienic thought, but it’s clear that everybody has picked their nose at one point or another—even in the public eye. Here, American quarterback Darron Thomas walks down the field after a rough day, defeated by Auburn, casually picking out a booger.
He probably forgot that the cameras were out there on the field, recording every little gesture. Maybe he couldn’t find it in him to care anymore, or perhaps he simply gave in to an old compulsion or habit.
Here, Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis blocks Billy Conn’s right hook and is about to throw a counterpunch during a heavyweight title fight in 1941. This ringside photograph is able to capture the intensity of this legendary match, regarded as one of the best heavyweight battles of all time.
Louis had underestimated Conn, a natural light heavyweight who, being smaller, had chosen a hit and run style, exhausting the dehydrated Louis through 12 rounds. But Conn got overconfident towards the end and opted to fight at close range, a strategy that got him knocked out on the 13th.
The Water Within
Spain’s synchronized swimming team drew cheers from the crowd during the London Olympics as they emerged for another acrobatic performance—their every move was carefully gauged to the musical accompaniment. They can be seen here constructing their work in suits which makes them appear half-water, half-human.
The product of their teamwork: a human dome braced upright by soaked pillars of outstretched limbs atop gasping heads. Synchronized swimmers are able to hold their breath for two to three minutes, trained never to show an inch of discomfort.
Agony on Ice
Despite making the rigorous preparation required to pull through an elegant figure skating performance, Olga Prokuronova and partner Karel Štefl found themselves in a humiliating tumble. Štefl lifted his partner, as they must have done a hundred times during practice, to demonstrate a Lasso lift, but it was not to be.
Instead, they ended up tangled—Prokuronova slammed to the ground in WWE fashion: head-first, legs splayed far apart. The fall was so bad that it prompted the pair to withdraw from the competition. Although tragic, it created a fascinating picture.
Bop on the Nose
Fans of Michael Voss may find this unplanned snapshot evocative of a pet owner’s close relationship with their pet—we can’t help but give our furry friends a little bop on the nose when they greet us after a long excursion away from home.
Except that in Voss’ case, a gentle tap on the nose is replaced by a football hurtling at his face at high speeds. This won the award for Photograph of the Year by the AF, obviously for its perfectly timed capture. It’s seldom that a Brownlow Medal award-winner gets to be the butt of the joke.
A Jaw-Dropping Spectacle
This photograph may as well have been shot at a small-town circus, inside a tent filled with an audience awed by a talented contortionist. Captured, no doubt, by a high-powered lens, this gymnast evaded being identified by eerily tucking her head behind her back.
It is a contortion reminiscent of outlandish beings or black magic. It is both magnificent and freakish, synonymous with the charm of stilt walkers and fire eaters. The human body is an incredible instrument, and this image is proof of that.
Flexibility and Strength
A gymnast is photographed on the beam just as she clocks her perfect balance. Her legs are splayed overhead, and her eyes are locked on her forward sight as she carefully performs a back walkover. For a few seconds, her chin is anchored to the apparatus.
The gymnast displays both her flexibility and strength. Everything she does is in perfect coordination and symmetry. It is mesmerizing. Even more thrilling is the fact that a few centimeters of miscalculation could spell total disaster.
All Tapped Out
The wrestler in the blue uniform decides that it’s time to submit after the wrestler in red attempts to roll his opponent over, belly up, possibly breaking his neck in the process. The blue competitor seems to be waving his hand as if in some kind of final farewell.
From the looks of it, a second more and some serious damage would have been done. It must have been a tense moment. The blue wrestler’s head looks like it’s about to pop off. If we were there, we’d be screaming for somebody to help him.
A boogie boarder is caught on camera, ready to be swallowed by the maw of a monstrous wave. The surfer looks insignificant against the size and strength of the oncoming current. As the hurricane draws nearer to the coast, thrill-seekers flock close to the shore for some surfing action instead of running home for safety.
They seem to delight at the sight of surfboards being split into half, swimmers being flicked like dirt into the air, and other surfers being dumped onto the shallow shore. The wave must carry one heck of a thrill.
Two swimmers appear as one—with a diver behind and the other breaking out of the pool surface—and the effect of their simultaneous splash is spooky. The lens is focused on the right spot at the right time, capturing the surfacing swimmer gasping for air, elated.
The audience of the event is treated to a phantasmagoric theater, a sort of illusory performance, at least for a snap second moment, instead of the synchronized display of grace. This just goes to show that every nanosecond of a performance counts.
Skating as One
To be able to skate like this, both performers must abandon the very concept of individual skating. In this photograph, one appears as a rider, the other a human sled—but there’s no telling for sure which one is which. In order to do this, both skaters must think alike and act as one.
They must be aware of each other’s tendencies, weaknesses, and strengths. This training goes beyond the physical—they must be there for each other, both on good and bad days. They must work on their timing to become one, going beyond the individual skaters they used to be.
The second Zoltan Mesko of the New England Patriots kicked the ball, an overly eager Everson Griffin, defensive end player for the Minnesota Vikings, spun and attempted to sack the punter. Mesko hadn’t even landed on the ground before hitting two birds with one stone.
Griffin was stopped by Mesko’s foot being plugged directly into his face. It’s a photo that has definitely attracted attention from football fans. What it might represent is undoubtedly up for interpretation. Should this be a symbol of tenacity or moderation? You decide.
The bull pulls a face that says it is not amused with his rider’s antics. The rodeo clown tumbles away from the beast. The crowd loves it, but the job of a rodeo clown is no laughing matter—don’t be fooled by the makeup and gaudy clothing.
Riders are dependent on their clothing to keep them safe when they fall or jump off. They use speed and anticipation when distracting the animal, shifting the danger towards the cloth as the rider escapes back to the pen. It’s a life and death affair.
Alex Honnold climbs a wall close to 3,000 feet without any protective gear to save him if he slips. No harnesses or ropes allow him a second attempt at El Capitan or the Red Rock Canyon. Nothing to catch him, nothing to allow him to learn from a mistake and re-study the route up and make the proper adjustments.
The only place a free solo climber gets to resume his ascent if he commits a blunder and falls is the afterlife, assuming they land far beyond the mountaintop, in heaven, or whatever other place waits after the final fall.
In Over His Head
Titus Bramble uses his head to control the ball, although it seems that the ball is dominating him in this photograph, knocking his head down into his neck with its weight. It might look comical but performing a header, despite being a necessary skill in soccer, can have long-term effects on players.
It is a common cause of concussion, and the brain injury might not manifest itself right away. Bramble doesn’t look like he’s having an easy time heading the ball in a specific direction. But who knows? A split second later, this ball might be barrelling towards a goal.
A Dedicated Sasha Cohen
Sasha Cohen started skating at the young age of seven and became popular as a junior during the 2000 US Championships, after which she qualified for the World Team. This image shows the determined skater narrowing her focus as she competed in Russia.
The photograph sums up all her hard work and mental focus as she glides across the skating rink to impress the judges. She took all the necessary steps to take control of the situation, not leaving her success to mere chance.
Sometimes soccer games end up nil-nil—that is, without either team scoring a single goal. The crowd can watch the ball passing from one player to another, numerous attempts by opposing participants to tackle and slide, and countless shots missing their mark for the whole 90 minutes.
While this may be sufficient for the sport’s hardcore fans, casual soccer fans are more likely to get bored forever waiting for a goal. The player in the white uniform has the perfect eye-rolling facial expression for what many casual fans experience.
This photographer was paying close attention to the crucial eight seconds in which a cowboy attempted to ride a raging bull at its most furious and was rewarded with this violent image of a rider being tossed out onto the wind like a weightless, insignificant thing.
It’s funny how the rider seems perfectly poised, with his hat still on his head, except for the fact that he has been turned upside down—as if he were photoshopped in. But this is real, all right, and competitors like him can get fatally hurt in a bull ring.
Despite the league’s imposition of fines and penalties for all instances, fighting has become an unwritten part of ice hockey. With close to seven hundred fights in a single season in the NHL from 2000 to 2010, the fans might at this point expect a brawl in every game.
That is if the fans themselves aren’t involved in it themselves. Here’s a snapshot of two hockey players really going at it, framed at the right moment after the player in red had ducked his head, which now appears invisible under his helmet as if it had been chopped off with a left hook.
High Impact Punch
Former IBF Super Middleweight world champion boxer Lucian Bute fought journeyman Glen Johnson in 2011 when stiffer competition, such as Mikkel Kessler and Kelly Pavlic, eventually declined to take the title fight after initially showing interest. Bute was undefeated at the time, with a high KO ratio.
He dominated the older fighter throughout the match but failed to knock him out in the end. But this picture easily captures the direct effect of Bute’s high-impact punches, how a well-timed left cross to Johnson’s chin sends shockwaves all over his face and around to the back of his head.
Bursting With Energy
The physical demand for a person to perform using gymnastic’s steady rings, especially at a competitive level, is excruciating. This was just so earlier in the sport’s history, with performers banking more on upper body control than on their swinging techniques.
Full of energy from performing exercises like the Inverted Cross, or perhaps the more advanced Maltese, where the gymnast maintains a parallel position to the floor, the performer looks to be shouting for joy, with a ferocious mane appearing above to match.
Throwing a Hail Mary
A point in tennis can sometimes take so much time to get. A game can go on forever, as some people exaggeratingly put it, especially when played between evenly matched athletes. Yulia Putintseva is seen here throwing her racket as she appears to lose her patience. But this was actually a last-ditch attempt to save a point.
This photograph isn’t about her quitting. It speaks more to her tenacity and unwillingness to give up even a single point, even if she has to resort to an odd exertion. She doesn’t hold on to any comfort—she’s willing to put everything, including her racket, on the line to win.
Making a Splash
It’s the perfect day for baseball. You’re away from the rut of routine work at the office, and the weather shows no sign of rain. You take a seat in the stands and sip a fresh beverage. You watch the game and feel the tingle in your drink, bubbles, and fizz—then it pops—the batter hits for the cycle.
The outfielder flies up and reaches towards the spot where you’re sitting. All eyes are on him. The next thing you know, your drink explodes as you instinctively move out of the way as the ball rushes toward you—a glove comes up, protecting you. What a story, right? All of this happened, and luckily for this man, he has photographic proof.
Staring at an Alien
A diver sits alone at the bottom of the ocean when a fish aggregation forms in the vicinity—first as a flying carpet, drifting high above the diver in the silvery sky, then closer, and larger, in a tubular form, transforming into the specter of a large animal, whirling, like a tornado in a desert.
The diver is stared down by a school of fish that seemingly appears ready to devour—a massive demonstration against his intrusion into their world. It is almost no different from how we react to a wild animal that gets lost on its way in a city.
Shaun Cunningham thought he should bond with his son, Landon, over a baseball game when he heard the Pittsburgh Pirates were coming to play against the Atlanta Braves. It was only for a training game, but his son’s birthday was coming, and he loves baseball. Besides, he felt they should go out more often.
His son looked at his dad as a hero, as kids his age normally do, but that’s also because Shaun is, as all dads must be, a hero. He proved it when a bat slid from one of the player’s hands into the stands, spinning. It could have injured Landon as it flew in his direction while he wasn’t watching, but his dad deflected it just in time with his arm.
Flirting With Danger
These two buddies have been flirting with danger since they met back in 2004—as if the only way to live life is on the edge. They started with rock climbing and moved on to base jumping, all the while mocking their ever-present companion: death.
But one of the two, Ian Flanders, died in Turkey, where the two base jumped in 2015. Following this heartbreaking accident, Matt Blank created a base jumping video in tribute to his friend, reading a letter dedicated to Ian at the start of the video.
Garrett McNamara surfed a 78-ft wave in 2011, but others have since questioned this feat, which broke his previous world record. Not to be deterred by controversy, the extreme waterman searched for the next giant wave as if it were an apparition. He finally found it in Portugal.
The hundred-foot wave was the Mount Everest of extreme surfers—the biggest most surfers have ever seen and most treacherous too. Another surfer, Andrew Cotton, broke his back, attempting a similar endeavor. You can barely see McNamara out there on the ride of his life.