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Greatest Sporting Achievements

Tom Walker
September 24, 2010
Ronnie O'Sullivan was a picture of focus as he raced to a maximum break in five minutes and 20 seconds © Getty Images

Frankie Dettori returns to Ascot this weekend, the scene of his astonishing feat of seven race victories in one glorious day in 1996. It may be 14 years since the diminutive Italian shot to prominence with his 'Magnificent Seven', but as with all great sporting triumphs, it has been etched in the memory forever. We take a look at some of the other most memorable sporting achievements to have left their mark...

Ronnie O'Sullivan - 147, 1993
'The Rocket' has made 10 breaks of 147 and hit the five fastest in history but none compare to his first competitive maximum, at the 1997 World Championship. As his nickname suggests, O'Sullivan is no slouch around the table, but even he could not have imagined compiling a 147 in five minutes and 20 seconds. Has a sportsman ever looked such a master of his craft? O'Sullivan resembled a man attempting to win his partner a prize on the BBC show 'Big Break', almost running around the table in a bid to pot as many balls in the time permitted. What was so astonishing was the fact that he wasn't even playing against the clock, he was simply in the zone and nothing was going to stop him sinking balls at the rate of knots. Left handed, right handed, the whole array of shots was there for all to see as O'Sullivan completed his ridiculous feat with a shot average of nine seconds. Mick Price, his first-round opponent, couldn't help but grin like a cheshire cat - probably because, like the thousands in attendance at the Crucible in Sheffield, he had just witnessed a sheer genius at work.

Tiger Woods - Tiger Slam, 2001
Woods may still trail the great Jack Nicklaus in the Major's department, he has 14 while 'The Golden Bear' is out on his own with 18 to his name, but no other golfer in the history of the sport has held all four Majors at one time as Tiger did in 2001. In 2000, Woods was at the peak of his powers. At the beginning of the year he claimed his fifth consecutive victory and began a record-setting season, winning three consecutive Majors, nine PGA Tour events and setting or tying 27 Tour records. The American entered the 65th Masters Tournament at Augusta on the crest of a wave. With the other three Majors in the bag already, the pressure on him to rewrite the history books was immense. And the weight of expectation appeared to be too much for him as he shot a two-under 70 to leave him lying in a six-way tie for 15th after the first round. Normal service soon resumed, however, with Woods catapulting up the leaderboard into a tie for second place with a classy six-under 66 on day two. When he shot his second successive round in the 60s, a four-under 68, to take the 54-hole lead at 12-under-par, everybody knew what was coming. The Tiger juggernaut was in full flow and he ended up beating David Duval by two strokes to complete his 'Tiger Slam'.

Arsenal - 2003/2004
At the start of the 2002/2003 season, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger attracted ridicule when he had the temerity to suggest that his charges could go the whole season unbeaten. That year he was proved wrong - but, by the end of the subsequent campaign, he would have the last laugh. The Gunners team Wenger assembled - a perfect blend of Gallic flair and English grit labelled "The Invincibles" - went unbeaten in the 03/04 Premier League season, drawing 12 and winning 26 on their way to compiling a 49-match undefeated streak that came to an end in an acrimonious battle with Manchester United in October 2004.

Sir Steve Redgrave - Five Olympic gold medals
"I hereby give permission to anybody who catches me in a boat again to shoot me." Any yet, four months after winning gold in Atlanta, Britain's greatest ever Olympian did a U-turn and declared he would compete at Sydney 2000. Thank goodness he decided to let his heart rule his head because at Penrith Lakes, Redgrave, accompanied by Matthew Pinsent, Tim Foster and James Cracknell in the coxless fours, edged out Italy by less than half a second to win one of the most enthralling races of all time. After the race Redgrave said to his crewmates: "Remember these six minutes for the rest of your lives. Listen to the crowd and take it all in. This is the stuff of dreams." Redgrave is one of only four Olympians to have won a gold medal at five consecutive Olympic Games - a truly stunning achievement made even the more extraordinary with the knowledge he did it all as a diabetic.

Lance Armstrong - Seven straight Tour de France titles
To win one Tour de France title would be a dream for any up and coming cyclist. But to be crowned the champion on seven successive occasions almost defies belief, especially when you throw in the fact that Armstrong had overcome a life-threatening illness. Before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, Armstrong offered glimpses of his talent by winning two Tour de France stages - the eighth in 1993 and the 18th in 1995, before he was forced to withdraw from the 1996 Tour after falling ill. Several months later, as his cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain, Armstrong's cycling career looked all but over, with doctors giving him only a 40% chance of survival. Simply fighting off the disease wasn't enough for Armstrong, however, as he returned to competitive racing in 1998 where he finished fourth in the Vuelta a EspaƱa. Driven by an insatiable appetite to succeed, the American went on to defy all logic, winning not only the 1999 Tour de France but the following six as well.

Brian Lara - 400 not out
Lara was England's nemesis in the final Test in Antigua in 2004, with the Trinidadian left-hander becoming the first man to reclaim the world Test batting record. A decade earlier, Lara had broken the record on the same ground, hitting 375 against, you guessed it, England. But Matthew Hayden bettered his effort with an astonishing knock of 380 against Zimbabwe in 2003 to re-write the record books. But, after 582 deliveries, that brought 43 boundaries and four sixes, Lara reached the magical figure of 400 before proceeding to declare. A battered and bruised England had bowled over 200 overs as Lara finished unbeaten in West Indies' humungous 751-5. Although England were dismissed for 285, the match finished as a draw mainly because Lara's innings took a mammoth 773 minutes to complete.

Sir Steve Redgrave is arguably Britain's greatest ever Olympian © Getty Images

Manchester United - treble in 1999
The 1998-99 season for United was one of those campaigns where all of their luck came along at once. To win the Premier League title alone, you need results to go your way, the ball to bounce in your favour, key men to stay fit at crucial times and the referee to favour you when it comes to the big decisions. To become the first English club to achieve the feat of winning the domestic league and cup as well as the European Cup in the same season, required all the above and more. As well as gaining a reputation for refusing to admit defeat, United went undefeated from their Boxing Day fixture in December to the end of the campaign in May 1999 - a run of 33 matches in all competitions. Along the way, it seemed inevitable Sir Alex Ferguson's side would slip up. In the FA Cup fourth round, Liverpool led from the third to the 85th minute before United gave a glowing example of their never-say-die attitude. They needed a penalty save from Peter Schmeichel and a wonder goal from Ryan Giggs to get past Arsenal in the semi-finals, but they saved their ultimate comeback for the biggest stage of all, the Champions League final. Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer score a goal each in injury time to break Bayern Munich's hearts and earn the red of Manchester their first European cup since 1968.

Roger Federer - 23 consecutive grand slam semi-finals
Of all the Swiss maestro's remarkable records, it is his run of 23 successive grand slam semi-final appearances that really stands out. The 'Fed Express' currently boasts the record for grand slam singles titles, with 16, but it is his incredible longevity at the top of the game which truly beggars belief. The fact that we have become accustomed to seeing him cruise into the last four of majors only fails to highlight what an unbelievable achievement it is. We have taken his brilliance for granted. His run began at the 2004 French Open and lasted for six years until he fell to Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros this year. When asked which of Federer's records is his most impressive, Rafael Nadal, who currently has nine grand slam titles to his name, said: "If I have to say something, 23 semi-finals in a row at grand slams. Because it is five-six years, playing all four grand slams. You can have no injury, not one bad day, so it is amazing. Twenty three semi-finals in a row, in my opinion, it is impossible to do it another time."

Red Rum - winning three Grand Nationals
Red Rum achieved an unmatched historic treble when he won the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. Not only did he win it three times, but for five years he was either first or second. After claiming back-to-back Nationals, he was beaten into second place by the Gold Cup winner L'Escargot in 1975. Another victory at Aintree appeared beyond him as he again lost out in the following year, this time finishing behind Rag Trade. In 1977, Red Rum was 12 years old and his trainer, Ginger McCain knew it was now or never to create history. Tommy Stack was given the honour of taking the reins and he didn't disappoint, leading 'Rummy' home for his third Grand National.

Phil Taylor - 15-time world champion
'The Power' is undoubtedly one of the most prolific individual sporting champions of all time. He has completely dominated the sport, racking up 15 world titles (2 BDO and 13 PDC) and more than 150 tournaments overall - an unparalleled number of titles. The greatest player ever to throw a dart is showing no signs of slowing down either - during the Premier League final this year he became the first person to hit two nine dart finishes in a single televised match, and he overcame Australian Simon Whitlock 7-3 at Alexandra Palace in the final of the World Championship to show he is still very much the man to beat.

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