5 Real Athletes With Bizarre Superpowers
As much as we like to poke fun at superheroes, it's a scientifically proven fact that there are people out there with abilities that wouldn't look out of place in an X-Men movie.
But amazing powers are just one part of the equation. The rest of it is actually figuring out how to put your newfound superpower of, say, farting show tunes or stacking cups really fast to good use. Regardless of their particular power and how it manifests, many of these people seem to wind up as fairly successful athletes. For instance ...
Michael Phelps Is Basically A Seal
Michael Phelps is so good at swimming that people actually recognize his name, despite the fact that his claim to fame is traveling at the speed of a canoe. In fact, he's so good at swimming that not only are other swimmers compared to him, but other athletes are as well. He holds the all-time Olympic medalist record with 18 gold medals, eight of which were from Beijing in 2008.
It's all absolutely awesome and inspiring to the point of unbelievability. Hell, I doubt that a single person on Earth would raise an eyebrow if Phelps one day chose to take off his human mask and reveal that he was actually a were-seal all along.
Which, incidentally, he kind of is.
The "wingspan" statistic also indicates the possibility of a were-penguin.
According to many sources, nature has designed Michael Phelps to be a better Aquaman than Aquaman himself, to the point where you start to suspect he could easily sic a sharknado on his worst competition, if he ever actually had any. His massive hands and feet are custom-designed to act as paddles. His ridiculous arm length gives him a massive stroking advantage (hee hee hee), while his tiny, possibly double-jointed legs are basically designed to propel him through water. In fact, his entire body is built out of landlubber proportion, with his 6'4 frame divided in the way that gives him the upper body of a 6'7 dude and the legs of someone under 6' tall. Here's how goofy this makes him look out of water:
Note to the next gritty, realistic Aquaman reboot: Model the dude after an emperor penguin instead of Khal Drogo.
In all fairness, the man is not the absolute superhuman some of the stories out there like to present him as, and as a trainer and former swimmer points out here, a decent chunk of his success comes from plain old hard work and great technique. Still, if you're looking for someone who's a genuine freak seemingly engineered for a very specific sport, there's always ...
Miguel Indurain Was An Extension of His Bicycle
Cycling is a very special sport that requires a very, very specific set of talents -- not the least of which is a complete lack of spandex-and-funny-helmets related shame. Back in the 1990s, Miguel Indurain was the king of the sport. A cycling machine who won five consecutive Tour de Frances between 1991 and 1995, he was a wholly abnormal creature in the world of cycling. At 6'2, he was larger and more muscular than the average cyclist. Yet his large, relatively weighty frame didn't hinder him at all, thanks to some peculiar physical properties that made him King of Cycling of the period.
In his prime, Indurain's lungs were said to be able to take in a ridiculous two gallons of air (twice that of a normal man), which did wonders for his oxygen intake. His heart was an equally powerful instrument, with a reported resting heartbeat of just 29 beats per minute (as opposed to the 60-100 bpm rate of the average Joe). With an engine room like that, he was able to use his long legs to pump his pedals with such force and determination that his opponents gave him the name "The Extra-Terrestrial."
Unlike many of his more Armstrongian colleagues, Indurain has never been caught (or admitted to) doping. Knowing that we're talking about a sport in which people have routinely inhaled, ingested, and injected any and all substances that keep them going, it's hard to believe he never once used anything. Still, what if he didn't? What if he won all his gold solely because of his superior, almost-fused-with-the-bike physiology, while fighting against the hordes of 'roided up freaks consisting of literally everyone else in the game? Man, that would be a Golden Age superhero tale all in itself.
But not a visually intimidating one.
Are these physical qualities genuine superpowers? Or was Miguel's dice game just really, really on point in the athletic attribute crapshoot? We don't know for sure. By now, Indurain's incredible physical properties are the stuff of legend, to the point where they might be, shall we say, somewhat embellished. Besides, the man was also known for his meticulous, high-tech training methods, which probably helped.
However, what we do know is this: In 2012, 14 years after his retirement, scientists ran a series of physical tests of the 46-year-old, comparatively out-of-shape Indurain, and found that his power output and physical values still compare favorably to active top cyclists, which led people to start wondering if he could just up and make a comeback if he one day felt like it.
Man, if you're 14 years out of active competition and science basically declares you as ready to hit the damn Tour de France as the guys who actively ride the Tour de France, just like that, I don't care which bits of your physical attributes from the 1990s were embellished and which weren't. Here are your official Superman papers. The spandex ... well, it looks you've got that covered.
Andre The Giant Could Eat And Drink As Much As He Damn Well Pleased
As a denizen of the Internet, you may have heard about professional wrestler and part-time Fezzik Andre the Giant and his inexplicable talent for handling alcohol. The way the man could gulp down 100 (or up to 156, depending on who you ask) beers like it was nothing has cemented his status in the annals of popular culture far more than his famous Wrestlemania 3 match with some mustachioed racist with a skullet.
When people think about Andre's mighty booze deeds, they often miss the fact that he wasn't just some rampaging alcoholic (at least, not until later in his life, when his celebrity and the pain his condition was causing him drew him into boozy depression in his attempts to avoid the painkiller hell that many of his colleagues had succumbed to). He drank in no small part because a day at his office required getting his strained back smacked with steel chairs. Still, peers suggest there was always a different aspect to his antics.
Andre was an entertainer through and through, and when he found out that his bulk enabled him to soak up vast amounts of alcohol and enormous amounts of food, he incorporated it as an act into the show of his life. "Andre the Giant" was a larger-than-life character, because duh, so he gathered around drinking comrades and unleashed his powers on them, downing absurd amounts of booze and, according to his colleagues, happily chowing down a ridiculous 12 steaks and 15 lobsters at one sitting. Although his friends say his drinking was largely motivated by the painkilling aspect, they're also quick to confirm tales about Andre passing out in a hotel lobby and getting cordoned away with velvet ropes because no one could move him, or the LAPD actually assigning a cop to follow him around in his bar rounds in case he fell on another patron (which apparently happened once).
He's doing shots with Roddy Piper in heaven right now.
Over time, Andre -- presumably well aware of his reputation as the Superman of Drunks -- developed a few specialties seemingly custom-designed to impress people. Princess Bride cast mate and frequent drinking partner Cary Elwes still shudders at Andre's favorite cocktail, a ridiculous 40-ounce pitcher of various liquors that the French Andre no doubt innocently dubbed "The American," comparing it to a fairly decent approximation of jet fuel. That's right -- people like Michael Lotito might be able to eat planes, but only Andre could drink freaking jet fuel for fun. Who's the real life Matter-Eater Lad now, Lotito?
Mick Foley Is Unkillable
Now that Lemmy Kilmister is slowly succumbing to the forces of time, despite decades' evidence to the contrary, our society is facing the sad task of needing to find a new backup poster boy for against-all-odds immortality (Keith Richards, of course, is still holding to the throne). We need someone who has ravaged their body and mind for decades in a manner that should have finished them ages ago, yet the only damage that seems to be done is a few errant grey hairs.
Luckily, I may know a guy. For there is a man who should be dead. I don't use that sentence about very many people. In fact, the total tally of the folks that sentence from my mouth applies to is precisely one. This man:
"Wait, what did my drunk uncle ever do to you?" -- everyone reading this
For the readers who don't keep up with their wrestling (Yes, another wrestler. Turns out they're reasonably hardcore), that's Michael Francis Foley, aka Mick Foley, aka Mankind, aka Cactus Jack, aka Dude Love, aka a guy who has done his level best to murder his own ass in the ring for several decades, with a considerable amount of success. As our John Cheese has pointed out before, Foley's whole character was about being able to take a ridiculous amount of abuse. The problem was that this required the actual man to take damage like no one's business, which he did with the gusto of a man possessed. Foley has taken high-power moves directly into a concrete floor. He's had the majority of his ear torn off. The Rock has smashed his head into a giant open wound with 11 consecutive shots from a steel chair. He has been cut, burned, and bombarded by barbed wire and C4 explosives, and also is completely OK with the fact that someone once stuck him in a ring with a bunch of C4.
Oh, and there's also this:
Most wrestling aficionados are well-familiar with Foley's Hell in a Cell match from the 1998 King of the Ring Pay-Per-View event, but in case you aren't one and didn't watch the video, that's Foley getting tossed off the top of a large cage on to the unforgiving ground 16 feet below with such force that his opponent, the Undertaker, legitimately thought he was dead. Somehow, Foley got up and resumed fighting.
Then, they climbed right back up and Undertaker chokeslammed him right down again, this time through the roof.
This one was an accident, which is kind of worrying, because that means the first fall was completely planned.
Foley freely admits that he himself fears the shit out of the stunts he keeps pulling, yet the man just keeps on keepin' on. During his career, Foley has broken half the bones in his body and lost enough bodily fluids to keep an entire blood bank in business for a century. It seems impossible that he's still alive and well. Yet here he is, a New York Times bestselling author in his 50s, looking exactly like he did two decades ago.
You know what? I'm calling it. Mick Foley is a Highlander.
Eero Mantyranta Could Ski Forever
For four consecutive Winter Olympics, between 1960 and 1972, Eero Mantyranta was the king of winter sports. His seven Olympic medals in the last three of them gave him such a reputation among his peers that they flat-out couldn't think of a badass enough nickname, and started calling him "Mister Seefeld" based on the venue of his most successful year. You know you've made it in the world of sports when people start confusing you and the very stadium you sport in.
All of this was actually kind of strange, because there was nothing particularly athletic about Eero. He was reasonably fit and trained hard at his chosen sport, yeah, but so does your mom (although their sports of choice somewhat differ, if you know what I mean). Put Eero next to some of the other Olympians, and he was just some dude.
Some dude, that is, who is the best-known example of a genetic mutation that specifically allowed him to be super good at sports.
"Suck it, gym rats."
Here's how good Eero was: In 1964, he won a 15K skiing race by a ridiculous 40 seconds, an accomplishment no one else has come even close of repeating. Later that year, he won a 30K competition by a minute. And it's all because of a single, slightly twisted erythropoietin receptor gene. This naturally increased his blood's oxygen-carrying capacity by about 50 percent, giving him a massive endurance advantage of the kind Lance Armstrong had to resort to some serious blood doping to achieve.
Mantyranta's mutant advantage was in fact so vast that we might one day end up manufacturing serial Eeros: Certain proponents of human genetic engineering suggest that future athletes might one day be able to alter their DNA to contain his "sports gene," essentially turning doping into a gene-dabbling hodgepodge. So don't be surprised if a few decades down the line, everyone's Olympic squads consist exclusively of grumpy Finns who keep one-upping each other 40 seconds at a time before presumably pissing off to get drunk.
In other words, future sports will be fucking awesome.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked weekly columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
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