Maxwell-ian efforts: 9 times athletes battled through pain to win big

Glenn Maxwell, on Tuesday, produced an all-time great performance after he scored an unbeaten 201 while suffering debilitating cramps. Unable to run singles, he somehow got his big shots away cleanly to steer Australia from 49/4 and 91/7 against a rampant-looking Afghanistan bowling attack to 293/7 and a remarkable victory with a ball and four overs to spare.

ESPN India looks back at similar heroic feats where athletes pushed their physical limits and put their bodies through hell to get that all-important W:

Ellyse Perry

Let’s start with another Australian cricketer, an absolute GOAT of an Australian cricketer. In the 2013 ICC World Cup final, Perry played with a broken ankle that had kept her out of most of the tournament previously, one that would require surgery a few days later… and won Australia the World Cup.

She came on after West Indies had made a decent start and proceeded to rip them apart, ending the match with bowling figures of 3/19 in 10 overs (with three maidens to boot). As Jarrod Kimber wrote, “It’ll be known as the World Cup Ellyse Perry won on one leg“.

Honourable mention: Anil Kumble, walking in with a bandage around his fractured jaw, getting the wicket of a certain Brian Charles Lara and helping India draw the West Indies in Antigua in 2002. His reason for doing it? “I didn’t want to sit around.”

Bert Trautmann

It’s 1956 and it’s the FA Cup final. You are in goal for Manchester City when you get clattered into in the 73rd minute, Birmingham City forward Peter Murphy’s knee smashes into your neck. After a bit of a delay, you get up, you’re in pain, and your neck is visibly crooked.

Now, at this point, you and I would probably just call it a day, but you and I are not named Bert Trautmann. With substitutes not allowed at the time, Trautmann stayed on the pitch, making a few crucial saves to ensure City won the Cup 3-1. Three days later X-rays would reveal he had dislodged five vertebrae in the clash, one of which had been broken in two.

Swapna Barman

Pain has always been a constant companion for Swapna Barman. India’s best-ever heptathlete walked into the 2018 Asian Games with an injured spine (a disc bulge) and pain in her knees and toes. When an infected tooth added to her agony (as anyone who has had a tooth infection will tell you, agony is understating it), she said ‘bah, humbug,’ created personal bests in three of the seven events and won gold.

“My jaw was swollen so much. It was so painful. But I had to go on,” she would say after it all.

Wonder woman Swapna Barman overcomes pain barrier

Michael Chang

Seventeen years old. Two sets down in the 1989 French Open fourth round. Against the top-seed Ivan Lendl, legs barely moving with cramp towards the end, body dehydrated, given warnings for ‘time-wasting‘…and yet Michael Chang kept going. He tore up the how-to-play-tennis guide and started hitting looping forehands that went long and took an age to cross the net, dotted with the occasional smash and even an underhand serve (that’s how you do it, Kyrgios). He won the mental battle with the great Lendl and won the match 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. He would then go on to win the whole shebang, beating Stefan Edberg in the final in another five-set thriller.

PV Sindhu

In the final of the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, PV Sindhu walked in with blue strapping on her left ankle and foot and walked out with a gold medal around her neck. There had been concerns about the injury ahead of the match, and her movement off-court was cautious and awkward, but on court she floated around, dismissing Canada’s Michelle Li 21-15, 21-13.

Only after the Games was it confirmed that Sindhu had been suffering a stress fracture on her left foot. She had been in pain during the tournament (from the quarters on) but she’d pushed through to ensure she came back with one of the bigger golds that had evaded her until then.

Michael Jordan

They just call it the ‘flu game‘. Michael Jordan came into game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals having spent of most of the previous night, and day leading up to the game, throwing up as he experienced flu-like symptoms (later thought to be food poisoning).

He staggered at times during the game, dehydrated and utterly exhausted, but with the Finals score reading Chicago Bulls 2 – 2 Utah Jazz, there was no way he was going to not play. Play he did, and then some, as he hit 38 points (including the tie-breaking three-pointer with 25 seconds left) to lead the Bulls to victory in Salt Lake City.

“Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Jordan would say after the match. “I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.”

Kerri Strug

Atlanta 1996, the final of the women’s team gymnastics event. The USA are leading going into the final event, the vault, but after Demonique Moceanu fell on both her attempts, it was all on the shoulders of 18-year-old Kerri Strug. Her performance would be the difference between gold and silver for the USA (they’d been pipped to gold by the Soviet Union in ’92)…but in her first jump, Strug landed awkwardly, and her ankle gave way underneath her.

If she didn’t do the second jump, it would be silver. Barely able to move, she asked, “Do we need this?” and then somehow raced forward, landed a sensational vault, on essentially one leg, before crumpling in pain. She scored a 9.712 and that sealed the US’ gold.

The video of that vault is quite incredible.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods limped into the 2008 US Open with two stress fractures in his left tibia and a knee which had recently undergone an operation to remove cartilage damage. After 91 agonising holes that he basically played on one leg, he left it with his 14th major. Eight days after his triumph, he had another surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL.

“No ACL and a broken leg, it didn’t feel very good,” Woods said, rather understating it all, after the win, which would turn out to be his second last major (the last came in 2019 at the Masters).

Frank Moss

In March 1935, in a first-division match against Everton, Arsenal goalkeeper Frank Moss dislocated his left shoulder. Of course, substitutes weren’t allowed back then, so instead of seeing his team play a man down as they were chasing the title, he had his shoulder strapped to his side and took up the post on the left wing, from where… he scored Arsenal’s second goal in a 2-0 win (a proper finish with his feet after a swift move down the left).

His injury flared up in the post-goal celebrations, and he left the field for a hospital (where it was found he had also damaged muscle in the left arm) in agony. He would only play seven games for Arsenal after the injury (in early 1936), a second shoulder dislocation bringing his career to an end. Moss remains the only Arsenal goalkeeper to have ever scored for the club.

Honourable mention: Franz Beckenbauer played on with his arm in a sling in the 1970 FIFA World Cup semifinal against Italy after suffering a broken collarbone. His West Germany side, though, lost a thriller of a game 4-3.

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