5 World Records Achieved By Accident
Usually, if you’re looking to set a world record, it serves as the peak of years of effort put into a (possibly completely useless) skill. You spend countless hours grinding away at the gap between you and the very best of all time. When you finally scale the daunting mountain to stand on the summit as the best there ever was at whatever you do, it’s a testament to hard work and tenacity.
Sometimes, though, breaking a world record just happens. You’d think, given the extended timeline of civilization, that we would be well past the point at which anyone would be able to unknowingly surpass everyone that’s ever existed at something. Still, showing maybe just our own untapped potential, occasionally somebody stumbles into first place without so much as a set jaw.
Here are five people who set a world record by accident…
Women’s Freestyle 1,500 Meters
Now, it’s not like a world-class swimmer setting a record is particularly surprising. Katie Ledecky is one of the best swimmers to ever grace a pool, not some name that came out of nowhere to knock a stalwart out of the top spot. One of her world records was still notable, though, not because of who broke it, but when and where.
You’d think that if someone was going to shatter an Olympic World Record, it would at least be in the finals, pushed to the limit by competition against the best of the best. A fierce, churning effort that ends in confetti and tears of joy, the crowd erupting in celebration. Yet, when Ledecky set a new world record in the 1,500-meter women’s freestyle, there wasn’t even much of a crowd to witness it, since it wasn’t a premier matchup, but instead a simple preliminary heat. Her coach hadn’t expected anything special either, literally telling her to take the bulk of the race easy and to use it as a warm-up. To both of their surprise, she finished that warm-up faster than anyone else on Earth had ever finished the event.
Fastest 300,000 Points in ‘Tetris’
There might be something to the fact that it can be easier to break a record when it’s not your primary goal. Without the pressure, or the mental block of knowing where exactly that supposed brick wall lies, you can truly focus on just getting everything right. It seems it also applies to pro competitors in pursuits that use entirely less physical power, like Tetris.
If you want to talk about a game that rewards entering a flow state (and not just the kind tech bros talk about that means “sending a lot of emails”), Tetris is the perfect example. It might not burn the most calories, but it’s definitely mentally exhausting, and Jonas Neubauer was putting his brain through its paces attempting to break the record for clearing 100 lines in the classic Russian game. After another failed attempt, he probably felt disappointment — until his chat informed him that his latest attempt had indeed broken a world record, just the wrong one. He had just beaten another notable Tetris record, reaching 300,000 points in just one minute and fifty-seven seconds.
Highest Recorded Blood Sugar
Most of us that didn’t grow up in one of those draconian healthy households where rice cakes were considered a “fun snack” probably remember a time when we tested our young body’s sugar limits. Maybe it was a particularly productive Halloween haul combined with a parent dozing off in their favorite armchair, or a poorly supervised trip to a boardwalk candy store. What followed was a gorging worthy of a Roman vomitorium, complete with the end result of a chocolate-forward stream of upchuck.
In March 2008, though, a six-year-old named Michael Patrick Buonocore, during the Easter holiday, experienced a sugar rush of near-fatal levels. After what must have been a historic binge, he didn’t find himself bouncing off the walls, but instead unconscious, lying on the floor. He was rushed to the hospital, where his parents discovered two things: first, that their son had a form of diabetes; and second, that he had the highest blood sugar level ever recorded: 2,656 milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood. For reference, anything above 500 mg/dL is considered a coma risk. For further reference, if my math is right, he was almost a quarter of the way to his blood having the sugar content of Coca-Cola Classic, at 11,700 mg/dL.
Highest Fall Survived Without A Parachute
That last record is anything but enviable, but at least little Michael didn’t know how much danger he was in while it was going on. The same is definitely not true for Vesna Vulovic, who probably wasn’t considering any world-record possibilities when the plane she was serving as a flight attendant on was sent hurtling to the ground thanks to a terrorist attack. A briefcase bomb had exploded in the luggage compartment, and JAT Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367, in three pieces, plummeted 33,333 feet out of the sky into a snowy forest in Czechoslovakia.
I can’t imagine that when a local villager, Bruno Honke, climbed onto Vesna’s one-third of the plane, he was expecting anything more than a seatbelted graveyard. Instead, he heard Vesna, who had somehow survived the crash, screaming for help. She was severely injured (no shit?) but alive. Her continued existence was probably a win enough for her, but she later discovered that she had also, in the least pleasant way possible, set the world record for the highest fall ever survived without a parachute. Whether that’s worth structural damage to the pelvis is up to you.
First Person Killed By A Car
If you think Vulovic’s record is weird and dark, allow me to posthumously introduce Bridget Driscoll. A woman who broke a world record, though she would never live to know the fact. A world record that, honestly, doesn’t feel like something that should be nestled in a glossy hardcover decorating a dentist’s waiting room. Bridget Driscoll’s pioneering achievement? She was the first woman ever killed by a car. She walked out in front of an old-timey car in Crystal Palace, London, in the year 1896 and died. Worse, or better, depending on your opinion, the car was only going four miles per hour at the time. Maybe it had a really pointy hood ornament?
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts.