Top 5 - sportspeople who changed their sport

Top 5 - sportspeople who changed their sport

When Anna Harrison of the Northern Mystics performed the “chair lift” or “lady lineout” to reject the Melbourne Vixens shooters, she changed the game. This manoeuvre had never been performed in competitive netball before, and people didn’t know what to think. The obvious road for netball to take would be to outlaw the practice and get back to “normal netball”. What a shame. Still, this got me thinking about those rare times in sport when a player or tactic comes along that changes the game. Here are some of the best (and worst) game-changers in the world of sport.

Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) too good for college basketball

Kareem was so dominant in college that the rules were changed to disadvantage him. Over seven feet tall with athleticism to match, Kareem was a rare athlete at the time. College basketball had never seen anything close to his skills before. After the 1967 season, which Kareem dominated while playing for UCLA, the NCAA inexplicably outlawed the slam-dunk, the shot that Abdul-Jabbar (then called Alcindor) had used to dominate the competition. At the time he didn’t seem to mind too much and used the rule change as motivation to develop his hook shot, which he used to dominate the NBA for 20 years and enter the hall of fame. After he left college the officials changed the rules back to allow dunking again. Ridiculous.
Youtube: “Lew Alcindor College Basketball’s greatest”

Ben Johnson – drugs in athletics

Ben Johnson was already a good sprinter before the ‘roids. He won a bronze at the 1984 Olympic Games, but that wasn’t enough. By the time Seoul 1988 rolled around, Johnson was juiced to the eyeballs and setting world records all over the show. He smashed Carl Lewis in the 100m final, setting a world record of 9.79 seconds, but something wasn’t right. Looking back at the old Youtube footage, Johnson is the epitome of ‘roid rage. Sprinters look a bit freaky anyway but Johnson was on another level: bloodshot eyes, ridiculously veiny, and unbelievably angry-looking. After the race his urine test was found to be full of stanzolol, and his gold medal was taken from him. Ben Johnson was the first high-profile drugs cheat to get caught, which woke the whole world up to drugs cheats at the Olympics.
Youtube: “Ben Johnson Seoul 1988”

Jardine, Larwood, Voce and the Bodyline series

Douglas Jardine, the captain of the English test cricket team in 1932, was a hard-ass. Sick of losing to the Aussies and getting belted around by Bradman, he devised a new tactic. He would instruct his two fastest bowlers, Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, to direct fast, short pitched deliveries at the body and head of the Australian batsman (helmets weren’t used at the time). Jardine then positioned heaps of fielders on the leg side to wait for catches as the batsmen tried to defend themselves. It was hugely successful. The fall-out was massive. The Aussies kicked up a stink. Political relations became strained and Jardine became the most hated man in Australia. The end result was that the Marylebone Cricket Club changed the rules so that only two fielders could field behind square on the leg-side at any time. Bodyline was outlawed, but cricket changed forever.
Youtube: “Bodyline series”

The Harlequins Rugby Club’s fake blood capsules – Bloodgate

The rules of Rugby Union allow unlimited substitutions for players who start bleeding. So what did the HRC do when they wanted to get their best player (ex-All Black Nick Evans) back on the field? They gave a player a fake blood capsule to bite on and got Evans straight back out there. Only problem was the player supposed to do the acting got caught winking at the physio, there was no evidence that he ever actually got hurt, and the blood was ridiculously bright. Nearly everyone involved lost their jobs. An enquiry was launched and the Harlequins become football pariahs.
Youtube: “Bloodgate”

Helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL

Feared Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison had an interesting party trick. When a receiver, running back or quarter back came anywhere near him he would viciously tackle them in the head – with his own head. While rugby players would regard this as extremely poor technique, the helmets that NFL players wear combined with Harrison’s recklessness made it his favourite method of toppling hapless attackers. Several sickening hits later, the NFL wised up to the danger Harrison posed and changed the rules to discourage helmet-to-helmet contact. Harrison didn’t care though. He just kept doing it and ended up with some big suspensions. Evidence that playing NFL eventually turns you into a drooling vegetable means that players like Harrison are a probably a dying breed.
Youtube: “James Harrison hits Colt McCoy”
This article first appeared in Issue 13, 2012.
Posted 7:40pm Sunday 27th May 2012 by Gus Gawn.