Professional athletes competing at the highest level in events like the Olympics, NBA, and World Cup push themselves to the limit in pursuit of greatness. However, this pursuit comes with a harsh reality: the risk of injury. From broken bones to torn muscles and even career-ending sports injuries, these athletes have seen it all. Brace yourself for a display of athleticism, determination, and heart-stopping moments as we take a closer look at some of the most intense and famous injuries in sports history.
Elissa Downie - Neck Injury
British gymnast Ellie Downie had spectators holding their breath after a scary fall during the gymnastics team qualifiers in Rio. Downie landed on her neck after a misstep in a tumbling pass but thankfully walked away with no serious injuries. Downie was attempting a flip with two-and-a-half twists when she had a slightly unsteady landing in the middle of her pass. Her legs buckled underneath her, causing her to come crashing down on her neck, in one of the scariest sports injuries sports fans have ever witnessed.
After the fall, and despite attempting to continue her routine, she ended up stepping off the competition floor without finishing. However, she was fortunate to make a fast recovery.
David Robinson - Concussion
In a split second, Karl Malone's elbow turned a game into a life-altering moment for David Robinson. The two NBA legends collided early in a game between the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, and Malone's elbow landed squarely on Robinson's head. The impact was so severe that Robinson crumpled to the floor, knocked out cold. It was a scary moment for everyone in the arena and sports fans across the globe, who were worried for Robinson's wellbeing.
Despite the accident, the NBA took action and fined Malone $5,000. Robinson was held overnight for observation, but a CAT scan found no neurological damage. This moment was a reminder of the inherent danger of professional sports and the importance of player safety.
Samantha Cerio - Broke Both Legs
In the world of competitive sports, injuries are all too common, but some are more devastating than others. Gymnast Samantha Cerio knows this all too well. During a floor routine, Cerio attempted a 720-degree flip but didn't quite stick the landing. In fact, she dislocated both of her kneecaps at the same time and tore six ligaments. Dr. James Andrews, a famous orthopedist, said he's never seen anything like it in his 45 years as a doctor.
Cerio had to undergo surgery and months of rehabilitation to recover. She also had a message for those who shared the video of her injury online: "My pain is not your entertainment."
Sa Jae-Hyouk - Severe Elbow Injury
It was a moment that made everyone cringe. South Korean weightlifter Sa Jae-Hyouk's elbow twisted in a way you couldn't imagine as he attempted to lift 357 pounds over his head during the 2012 Olympics. The crowd gasped as Sa dropped the weight and fell to the ground, clutching his arm in agony. The injury was so severe that he had to undergo surgery and take a hiatus from the sport.
However, Sa proved his resilience and returned to weightlifting. Unfortunately, his comeback was cut short after being banned from the sport for allegedly assaulting another weightlifter.
Jessica Dube - Face Slashed by Skate
Ice skating is often considered an elegant and graceful sport, but it can quickly turn into a difficult scene when accidents happen. In 2007, Canadian figure skater Jessica Dube's life changed instantly when her partner's skate blade came into contact with her face during a competition. Dube crumpled to the ice in pain and was immediately rushed to the hospital, where she underwent surgery to repair the damage. Miraculously, she recovered from the injury and returned to the sport with her partner Bryce Davison.
The two overcame the trauma of the accident and continued to skate together, proving the determination of these athletes to their sport.
Samir Ait Said - Shattered Leg
The Olympics is the pinnacle of athletic achievement, but it can also be a place where dreams come crashing down in a split second. French gymnast Samir Ait Said learned that lesson the hard way in 2016 when he snapped his leg during the men's vaulting competition. As he landed his vault, a crack echoed through the arena. Medical personnel rushed to his side, but the damage was already done.
He completely shattered his tibia and fibula, a gut-wrenching moment for anyone, especially an athlete who dedicates their life to their sport and being a gymnast.
Gordon Hayward - Fractured Leg and Dislocated Ankle
Gordon Hayward's Celtics debut was supposed to be triumphant, but instead, it became a haunting memory for team fans. Just six minutes into the game, Hayward went up for an alley-oop and landed awkwardly, causing his leg to collapse under his weight. The sound of the injury was so appalling that players and fans were visibly shaken. Hayward was taken off the court on a stretcher and flown back to Boston, where he underwent surgery.
It was a long road to recovery, but after a year of rehab, he returned to the court. Despite the setback, Hayward remains a key player in the NBA.
Mick Foley - Ear Torn off
Professional wrestling is known for its scripted drama, but sometimes things can get all too real. Just ask Nick Foley, whose ear was partially ripped off during a match with Big Van Vader. In character as "Cactus Jack," Foley found himself tangled in the ropes, and when he finally broke free, part of his ear came off with it. Despite the injury, Foley continued wrestling and didn't let this stop him.
Today, Foley is missing part of his ear, but he's also a champion, proving that even the most painful injuries won't keep a true wrestler down.
Janos Baranyai - Elbow Dislocation
Janos Baranyai's weightlifting injury at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was one of the most intense moments in Olympic history. His right elbow gave out as he attempted to lift over 300 pounds, and the weight crashed onto his back. The sound of his screams echoed throughout the stadium, and viewers around the world cringed at the sight. Despite the injury, Baranyai was determined to bounce back. He recovered without surgery and was back in competition in no time.
To commemorate his Olympic journey, he got a tattoo of the Olympic rings and "Beijing 2008." Baranyai's resilience and determination serve as an inspiration to athletes around the world.
Markus Schairer - Broken Neck
Austrian snowboarder Markus Schairer showed the world what true grit looks like during the 2018 Winter Olympics. In the quarterfinal race of the men's snowboard cross, Schairer suffered a devastating fall that left him with a broken neck. Despite the injury, he didn't give up and finished the race, showing incredible determination and resilience. Schairer was transported back to Austria for treatment, and early tests showed no sign of severe neurological damage.
In what was indeed a close call, he healed up nicely and showed that he was a true warrior in the snow. Schairer's incredible story will go down in Olympic history as a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
Napoleon McCallum - Hyperextension of Knee and More
Napoleon McCallum’s football career came to a sudden and painful end after an injury during a game. The former Raiders running back was tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ken Norton Jr. and got his cleat stuck in the ground, leading to dislocation and hyperextension of his knee. Norton was trapped under McCallum as medical personnel rushed to his aid. It was a devastating injury that left McCallum with three torn ligaments, a ruptured artery, torn calf and hamstring muscles, and nerve damage.
Sadly, McCallum never played another game after that fateful day, but his injury will forever be etched in the memories of football fans.
Kerri Strug - Sprained Ankle and Torn Ligaments
In a moment that would be etched in Olympic history, Kerri Strug displayed incredible courage and grit in the face of injury during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Strug had injured her ankle on her first vault attempt, but instead of giving up, she chose to push herself beyond her limits. With a fierce determination to prove herself in her sport, she executed a nearly flawless vault on her second attempt.
Strug immediately crumpled to the ground in pain. Despite sustaining a severe injury, she secured a gold medal for her team and forever cemented her place in Olympic folklore.
Clint Malarchuk - Neck Artery Pierced by Skate
Clint Malarchuk's name may not be as well-known as some of hockey's biggest stars, but his injury is one that will never be forgotten. Malarchuk's carotid artery was severed by a skate in a freak accident on the ice, causing blood to spew out onto the ice. Fans and players alike were left stunned, some even fainting or vomiting. But in a true display of heroism, an athletic trainer saved Malarchuk's life by pinching off the blood vessel.
The goalie lost a staggering amount of blood and needed hundreds of stitches, but he was back on the ice just ten days later. Malarchuk's injury is a testament to the danger of the sport.
Mike Utley - Paralyzed by Shattered Spine
In the blink of an eye, Mike Utley's life was forever changed on that fateful November day in 1991. He was tackled and broke his neck, resulting in a severe spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. But even in the face of tragedy, Utley's resilience and strength shone through. As he was taken off the field, his now-famous thumbs-up sign became a symbol of hope and determination for those facing their own challenges.
Despite his devastating injury, Utley refused to let it define him. He has since become a powerful advocate for spinal cord injury research. His legacy lives on through the Mike Utley Courage Award, given annually to an NFL player who has shown exceptional courage in adversity.
Nancy Kerrigan - Leg Injured After Being Attacked
It's a tale of deceit, ambition, and bitter rivalry that still resonates with sports fans worldwide. The infamous attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan sent shockwaves through the Olympic community in 1994, but the darker details of the incident really caught the public's attention. Tonya Harding, Kerrigan's rival, had her ex-husband and bodyguard hire a hitman to strike Kerrigan's leg with a collapsible baton, hoping to give Harding the edge she needed to secure a place on the US Olympic team.
Though Kerrigan didn't sustain serious injuries afterward, the incident has since been immortalized in film, cementing its place in sports history forever.
Tony Saunders - Fractured Arm
Injuries in sports are inevitable, but it was especially hard for this baseball player. Tony Saunders' broken humerus bone on a wild pitch is one of them. It was hard for spectators as Saunders' upper arm snapped on a pitch. The left-handed pitcher also tore ligaments on the pitch, and his career ended at just 26 years old. Though he didn't require surgery for the injury, he broke the same arm during a rehab assignment the following year.
This closed the doors on any hopes of a comeback. Saunders' injury serves as a reminder of the fragility of the human body in sports and that athletes are not superhuman!
Rudy Tomjanovich - Broken Face
The NBA has had its fair share of physical altercations over the years, but few were as difficult as the one between Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington. In 1977, a brawl erupted on the court during a heated game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. Rudy T, then a player for the Rockets, rushed in to help break it up, only to be met with a sucker punch from Washington that fractured his face in multiple places.
The fallout from the incident was significant, with Washington receiving a 26-game suspension and Tomjanovich missing the remainder of the season to recover from his injuries.
Derek Redmond - Torn Hamstring
Derek Redmond's heartbreaking hamstring injury at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona is a moment that still brings tears to the eyes of sports fans worldwide. Redmond's hamstring tore with only 175 meters left in the 400-meter dash, leaving him to hobble on the track in pain. But what followed was an unforgettable display of determination and love. Redmond's father, Jim, ran down from the stands and helped his son cross the finish line.
Redmond may not have won a medal that day, but his courage and perseverance left an indelible mark on the Olympic Games. Buckle up and get ready because these athlete injuries that left a lasting impact on the sports world don't stop here.
Annemiek Van Vleuten - Spinal Fracture and Concussion
It's a moment that no one who watched it will ever forget - the terrifying crash of Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten during the women's road race in Rio. She was moments away from gold when she lost control of her bike during a descent and lay motionless as riders sped past her toward the finish line. She was rushed to the hospital with a severe concussion and three fractures to her spine; it was uncertain if she would ever ride again.
She fought back to compete in the Tokyo Olympics and even won a silver medal—truly a wild moment for this athlete that made sports history.
Kevin Ware - Leg Fracture
In the world of sports, injuries are sadly commonplace. But some injuries are so stomach-churning that they leave an indelible mark on the players, coaches, and fans who witness them. One such injury occurred during a college basketball game in 2013 when Kevin Ware of Louisville suffered a leg injury while jumping to block a shot. The injury was so severe that Ware's bone broke through his skin, something an athlete never wants to experience.
Despite the severity of his injury, Ware somehow managed to return to play just eight months later, a testament to his strength and determination—a strong athlete in the intense world of sports.
Paul George - Fractured Leg
In sports, injuries are an unfortunate reality. They can happen at any moment and completely change the course of an athlete's career. Paul George is no exception to this. During a USA Basketball exhibition, George landed awkwardly and broke two bones in his right leg. The injury was so severe that the scrimmage was canceled, and George was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The injury was intense and a situation no athlete wants to be in.
Although this injury caused him to miss out on 76 games of the following NBA season, he made a remarkable comeback two years later, even winning gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Ervin Zador - Punched in the Face
The Olympic Games have produced some of the most historic moments in sports history, but none more significant than the infamous "Blood in the Water" event of 1956. Ervin Zador, a Hungarian water polo player, became a symbol of his nation's struggle for independence against the Soviet Union during the game's semifinals. As tensions between the countries reached a boiling point, Zador was attacked by a Russian player and emerged from the pool with blood pouring down his face.
Hungary went on to win the match, and Zador became a hero to his people. This harrowing tale is a testament to the power of sport and the resilience of the human spirit.
Nodar Kumaritashvili - Fatal Crash
The world held its breath as Nodar Kumaritashvili, a young and promising Georgian luger, took his final practice run before the 2010 Winter Olympics. But tragedy struck as Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled and flew off the track at a terrifying speed of 88 miles per hour. The crash was caught on camera, and the footage is still chilling to this day. The corner where the accident happened had already been criticized for its safety, but the 21-year-old's death brought the issue to the forefront.
Kumaritashvili's death cast a dark shadow over the Games, and his legacy lives on as a reminder of the dangers of high-speed winter sports.
J. R. Celski - Punctured Thigh
Short-track speed skating is not for the faint of heart, and J.R. Celski knows that better than anyone. In 2010, just weeks before the Vancouver Olympics, Celski suffered a difficult injury during a trial run. While rounding a corner, his right skate blade sliced through his left thigh, causing blood to gush onto the ice. The injury required over 60 stitches, but miraculously, Celski was able to recover in time for the games!
He went on to win two gold medals and a bronze, cementing his place in Olympic history. Despite retiring from the sport, his legacy lives on as a true champion and survivor.
Grant Hill - Sprained Ankle and Staph Infection
Grant Hill's sprained ankle in 2000 might have seemed like a minor injury, but it turned out to be the start of a grueling journey for the NBA star. Hill continued to play on the injury, which caused lingering damage and led to multiple surgeries. Doctors eventually had to perform a risky operation to realign his ankle, which went well at first, but Hill soon found himself fighting for his life due to a staph infection.
It's a testament to his resilience and determination that Hill overcame the infection and went on to play nine more seasons, ultimately earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Kevin Durant - Ruptured Achilles
It was a moment that changed everything. Kevin Durant's ruptured Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals may have shifted the course of the league. Fans held their breath as they watched the superstar crumble to the ground. The injury not only ended his season but also raised questions about his future in the game. Durant's calf strain had kept him out for a month, but the pressure to help his team win another championship was too great.
The injury rocked the basketball world, leaving fans and analysts wondering if Durant would ever be the same. Only time would tell.
Bobby Valentine - Leg Fracture
Bobby Valentine’s career was on the rise until a fateful day on the field changed everything. In an attempt to rob a home run, his spikes got caught in a chain-link fence, causing his leg to bend in an unnatural way. Despite multiple fractures and unsuccessful healing, Valentine opted to return to the game the following season, but the injury continued to plague him. His once-promising career took a sharp decline!
He played his last game at the young age of 29. It's a sobering reminder that a split second can change everything for an athlete.
Kevin Pearce - Brain Injury
Kevin Pearce's story is one of heartbreak, perseverance, and triumph. As a rising star in the snowboarding world, he was poised to make a run at Olympic gold. However, a crash during a training run changed his life forever. Pearce's injury was one of the worst in Olympic history, but he refused to let it define him. After weeks in the ICU and undergoing extensive rehabilitation, he slowly regained his confidence and abilities.
Now, Pearce is using his experience to help others. Through his nonprofit organization, LoveYourBrain, he's helping people navigate the difficult recovery journey after a traumatic brain injury.
Mickey Mantle - Torn ACL
It's hard to imagine how different Mickey Mantle's career could have been without that fateful stumble over a sprinkler head. The young rookie was a promising talent in the 1951 World Series when he suffered a knee injury that would haunt him for the rest of his career. Despite playing through the pain, Mantle was never quite the same, and it's impossible to say what he could have achieved if he had been fully healthy.
Nevertheless, Mantle continued to play at an elite level for 17 years, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest baseball players for the Yankees of all time.
Akil Mitchell - Dislodged Eyeball
Basketball player Akil Mitchell suffered a bad injury during an Australian NBL game when an opposing player accidentally dislodged his eye. Mitchell's eyeball was out of its socket, causing a shock to everyone who witnessed the incident. Mitchell remained calm and composed despite the injury, claiming he could still see from the eye. Remarkably, the eyeball popped back into place on the way to the hospital, a strange sensation that he would never forget.
Although the incident was shocking, Mitchell suffered no long-term effects and has since continued playing basketball without any issues.
Vincenzo Nibali - Fractured Collarbones
The 2016 Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro was a dramatic affair, with many of the world's top cyclists facing tough terrain and high humidity. But nothing was as intense as the crash that happened on the treacherous Vista Chinesa descent. Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali had a rough time as he collided with Colombian rider Sergio Henao and fractured both of his collar bones. The bravery and toughness of these elite athletes are incomparable.
It just goes to show the risks that athletes take to compete at the highest levels and the potential cost of chasing Olympic glory.
Sam Bowie - Fractured Leg
Sam Bowie's injury during an NBA game is a moment that will never be forgotten. While most injuries occur upon landing, Bowie's brittle bones cannot handle the force of his liftoff, resulting in a bone protruding from his leg. Despite having surgery and three screws placed in his leg, two of the screws failed, leading to another surgery and three more screws. A year on the sidelines was followed by a hairline fracture of the same leg, leading to yet another leg surgery.
For Bowie, the injury was career-ending, but the impact of the moment in sports history still resonates with those who witnessed it.
Darryl Stingley - Spinal Cord Injury
Darryl Stingley's tragic injury on the football field is a reminder of the serious risks players take every time they step onto the field. A routine play turned into a life-altering event when Jack Tatum's shoulder pad hit Stingley's helmet, breaking two vertebrae and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Stingley's son Derek has spoken out about the devastating impact this hit had on his family and the lack of remorse shown by Tatum.
However, the incident did lead to positive change, as the NFLPA fought for disability benefits for injured players. Stingley may be gone, but his legacy lives on.
Shaun Livingston - Shattered Knee
Shaun Livingston’s career looked bleak when he suffered one of the most unpleasant knee injuries in NBA history. Landing awkwardly after a layup, Livingston tore two ligaments, his meniscus, and dislocated his kneecap, leaving his career hanging in the balance. The Los Angeles Clippers physician, Dr. Tony Daly, deemed it “probably the most serious injury you can have to the knee.” But Livingston defied the odds, completing 16 months of grueling rehab before returning to basketball.
Injuries are an unfortunate reality in the world of sports. For many athletes, injuries in sports history have been some of the most challenging moments of their careers.
Steve Yeager - Neck Injury
Injuries are always a threat to athletes, but sometimes the danger can come from the most unexpected sources. Yeager, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was hit in the neck by a broken bat barrel that flew toward him while he was waiting to come up to bat. Despite the severity of the injury, Yeager was able to return to the field just 19 days later. Who knew sports could be so intense?
This is another example that shows the resilience and determination that athletes often need to overcome injuries and setbacks.
Joe Theismann - Fractured Leg
Injuries are an unfortunate part of any sport, but sometimes they can be truly difficult to cope with. One such injury occurred in a 1985 NFL game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. It was on this day that Lawrence Taylor's knee drove into Joe Theismann's lower leg, shattering both his tibia and fibula. Theismann's career ended abruptly, something no athlete wants to experience, especially with a sport they love.
It was a tough day, and looking back on this injury doesn't get any easier. Athletes take on a lot for such intensive sports, and moments like these are hard to forget.
Ronnie Lott - Pinky Amputated
Ronnie Lott's decision to amputate his own finger has become a legend in the NFL. The former San Francisco 49ers safety's pinky finger was crushed during a tackle in the 1985 season. He had to make a tough call, undergo surgery and miss significant playing time or amputate part of his finger and return to the field. Lott opted for the latter and went on to have one of his best seasons in 1986.
His decision has been called one of the most selfless acts in sports history, showing the lengths athletes will go to stay in the game.
Manteo Mitchell - Broken Leg
In the world of track and field, it's all about pushing through the pain. And no one embodies this spirit quite like Manteo Mitchell. During the 2012 Olympics, Mitchell was running the lead leg for the US men's 400-meter relay team when he felt a searing pain in his leg. But even with a broken leg, Mitchell refused to give up. He pushed through the pain and finished the race, helping his team qualify for the final.
It was later revealed that Mitchell had run his previous race with a broken fibula that had gone undiagnosed. Mitchell's incredible determination and bravery have earned him a place in sports history.