Sports photography meets art in the form of iconic, historic and memorable images. Here are our five favorite iconic sports photos.
Muhammad Ali’s Phantom Punch
This photo captures Muhammad Ali’s unforgettable first-round knockout victory over Sonny Liston to earn the heavyweight title in May 1965.
Even after nearly 50 years, it remains one of the most controversial and debated endings to a championship fight in boxing history, and Ali’s now famous “phantom punch” is the source of heated debate. Some argue that the punch didn’t strike Liston. Others contend that the punch wasn’t hard enough to knock out the former champion. The popular opinion is that the shot that sent Liston to the canvas was no phantom at all—rather, the strike was fast and precise enough to knock out the aging veteran.
Muhammad Ali and his punch—phantom or not—are one of the most loved sports photographs, and are certainly in our top five faves.
Jesse Owens breaking the 200m record at the Olympics in Germany, 1936
American track and field athlete Jesse Owens collected gold medals in the long jump, 100-meter sprint, 200-meter sprint and 4×100 relay in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. Owens’ intense determination and focus at the start of the 200-meter sprint, captured in the historic photograph below, is another of our favorite iconic sports photographs.
Roger Bannister breaks the 4-minute mile
In 1954, British athlete Roger Bannister became the first man to run one mile in under four minutes—at an astonishingly fast time of 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, in front of a crowd of nearly 3,000 at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England. Bannister, a practicing doctor, held the record for a mere 46 days. This photograph of Bannister mid-stride is another of our favorite historic sports photographs.
Chuck Bednarik: “The Hit”
Chuck Bednarik was an absolute powerhouse of an American football player, known for his knockout tackles. Bednarik’s tackle on Frank Gifford of the New York Giants is now simply known as “The Hit,” knocking the 235-pound Gifford out and flattening him after catching a pass at center field. “The Hit” sidelined Gifford for the remainder of the 1960 season and the entire following season.
A photographer captured Bednarik celebrating his tackle with an incapacitated Gifford at his feet—another of our favorite iconic photos.
Fight of the Century: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
In 1971, undefeated former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali faced current champion Joe Frazier in the aptly named Fight of the Century.
Boxing authorities stripped Ali of the title in 1967 after he refused to join the draft into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. In Ali’s absence, Frazier emerged as the dominant force in the heavyweight division, creating a huge buzz about a future fight. Billed as a clash of champions, the bout was a thriller going the full 15-rounds. Frazier emerged victorious, winning by decision and retaining his belt.
This iconic snap, captured mid-punch in the Fight of the Century, is our final favorite sports photograph.
Browse more of our iconic sports photos here.