30 Amazing Athletes With Natural Physical Advantages
Some of the best athletes of all time owe their success to rigorous training, but there are other athletes who have the upper hand thanks to natural physical advantages.
Famous athletes like Kawhi Leonard and Usain Bolt are insanely talented. However, what you may not know is that they also have big assets to help them obliterate the competition.
From genetic defects to massive lungs, these are 30 amazing athletes with natural physical advantages.
Michael Phelps, Swimming
Is that a flying fish speeding through the water? Yes. It’s 23-time gold medal Olympian Michael Phelps, aka the “Flying Fish.” With giant arms and hands, Phelps is able to propel himself through the water faster than his competitors. His swimming speed tops off at 6 mph, while the average swimmer can only move at 2 mph.
Phelps also has double-jointed ankles, shoulders and elbows. His body parts bend 15% more than his opponents, helping Phelps paddle easily and smoothly through the water. With his bendable body, size 14 flippers and short legs that reduce drag, it seems Phelps was born to be an Olympic swimmer.
Simone Biles, Gymnastics
At 4 feet 8 inches tall and 106 pounds, Simone Biles can’t stop winning. She swept through the Olympics and World Championship, winning 25 medals. Her small size allows her to breeze through difficult jumps and tricks since her body can easily rotate while in the air.
Unlike other gymnasts, Biles doesn’t need to relearn old skills thanks to her size and dimensions. Since beginning her gymnastics career, Biles has always been smaller than her peers. Those who went through a growth spurt needed to re-examine their routines and timing, but Biles didn’t have to, making her a dominant athlete.
Boban Marjanovic, Basketball
With the biggest hands in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Boban Marjanovic is a powerful force with a basketball. His hands are 10.75 inches long and 12 inches wide. Standing at 7 feet and 3.5 inches, Marjanovic is also one of the tallest players in the NBA.
Marjanovic’s large hands and tall stature give him an advantage on the court. He’s so tall that he can actually dunk without jumping.
Fun fact: He’s also an actor, notably playing the giant villain in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum (2019) alongside Keanu Reeves.
Miguel Induráin, Cycling
Dominant cyclist Miguel "Big Mig" Induráin rides faster and longer than his rivals with an average speed of 28.3 mph. Induráin has an extraordinary lung capacity of 7.8 liters, while an average person’s lung capacity is just 6 liters.
Not only does Induráin have a huge lung capacity, but he also has a superhuman heart. His blood transports 7 liters of oxygen throughout his body per minute compared to 3 to 4 liters for a regular person. Induráin also has a low resting pulse of 28 BPM as opposed to the average 60 to 72 BPM. With his incredible physical assets, he’s won five Tours de France from 1991 to 1995 and the Giro d'Italia twice.
Joey Chestnut, Competitve Eating
Joey Chestnut’s powerful jaws allow him to scarf down enormous amounts of food. Chestnut consumed 71 hot dogs in 10 minutes on July 4, 2019, winning Nathan's Annual Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest for the 12th time. He also devoured 126 tacos in eight minutes at the World Taco Eating Championship in 2017.
What makes Chestnut unique? His stomach can expand to be four times larger than a non-competitive eater, allowing him to hold more food. Chestnut’s stomach can hold so much food that it will stop contracting. Most folks can’t stretch their stomachs as much and their stomachs will still contract.
Rafael Nadal, Tennis
Rafael Nadal is an 18-time Grand Slam champion from Spain. He plays tennis with his left hand, which many tennis players believe is a major benefit. His left arm is visibly much bigger than his right, but Nadal is naturally right-handed.
According to the Bleacher Report, “That gives him an even bigger boost, with his backhand becoming almost as deadly as his forehand [and] his naturally strong right arm controlling the shot, allowing him to return and even attack backhand shots he has no right to.” In other words, both of his arms make him an unbeatable tennis player.
Eero Mäntyranta, Skiing
Eero Mäntyranta was a cross country skiing legend from Finland. Between 1960 and 1972, Mäntyranta snagged seven medals at four Winter Olympic games. What set Mäntyranta apart from his competitors is a mutation in his erythropoietin receptor (EPOR) gene.
He lived with the disease, known as primary familial and congenital polycythemia, which caused the mutation to boost his red blood cell mass and hemoglobin. To spell it out, his blood was able to hold 50% more oxygen than the average Joe, giving him a giant leg up in endurance competitions.
Usain Bolt, Running
The sports world doesn’t call Usain Bolt “Lightning Bolt” just because of his fitting last name. Hailing from Jamaica, Bolt is the fastest person on the planet. Bolt finished the 100-meter sprint in 9.58 seconds and the 200-meter sprint in 19.19 seconds, clinching the world record for both races.
His large size should work against him, but Bolt’s long legs give him longer strides than his rivals. In addition, scientists believe Bolt benefits from an extraordinary rich supply of fast-twitch muscle fibers due to a sprinting gene called ACTN3. Scientists suspect the gene is powered by the aluminum-rich soil of Jamaica.
Ekaterina Lisina, Basketball
At 6 feet 9 inches tall, Ekaterina Lisina holds the Guinness World Record for the woman with the longest legs at 52 inches. She also has a shoe size of 14. Her unusual dimensions greatly benefited her eight-year basketball career. In 2008, her team was honored with a bronze medal in Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics.
Lisina quit basketball to become a model in 2014. Her career change earned Lisina another Guinness World Record, but this time for the tallest professional model as seen in the image above. Inspired by her size, Lisina founded the modeling agency World’s Tallest Model.
Matthias Schlitte, Arm Wrestling
If you think Popeye the sailor has huge arms, you should see Matthias Schlitte’s right arm. Schlitte is an arm wrestling champion from Germany. His left arm is average-sized, but his right arm measures 18.1 inches around his forearm.
Schlitte was born with Klippel-Trénaunay-Weber syndrome, a genetic defect that causes bone and tissue overgrowth. Schlitte decided to use his condition in arm-wrestling tournaments at the age of 17. In 2004, he began his career in an amateur competition. Although he barely trained for the event, Schlitte won. During his career, he’s even defeated an arm-wrestling robot.
Yao Ming, Basketball
Originally from Shanghai, China, Yao Ming was one of the tallest basketball players in the NBA. Ming measures in at a whopping 7 feet 6 inches tall with a shoe size of 18, making his competitors look tiny.
During his time in the NBA, Yao definitely used his size to his advantage. Other players described his legs as moving tree trunks on the court. Yao’s size allowed him to put up an intense offense and defense. When he played with the Houston Rockets from 2002 to 2011, Yao was one of the team’s top players in total points, rebounds and blocks.
André the Giant, Wrestling
Born André Roussimoff in Grenoble, France, he was nicknamed "The 8th Wonder of the World" and "André the Giant." Standing at 7 feet tall and weighing over 500 pounds, André the Giant was most famous as a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler. He was also an international wrestling star, selling out arenas everywhere he went.
As a child, André the Giant’s massive size was a result of gigantism, a condition which caused his body to produce excess growth hormones. Growing up, he had super strength and often moved his friends' cars just for fun. As an adult, he was afflicted by a separate condition called acromegaly, which causes the pituitary gland to produce an excess of growth hormones that affect the extremities and face.
Caster Semenya, Running
Caster Semenya is the South African middle-distance running queen and a 2016 Olympic gold medalist. For 10 years, she’s been scrutinized by people questioning her gender. A leaked report revealed that Semenya has XY chromosomes. According to The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), having a Y-chromosome is a genetic advantage.
In 2018, the IAAF changed the rules regarding testosterone levels, forbidding women with higher than normal levels of testosterone to compete in the 800 and 1500-meter races. Many fans believe the new rule targeted Semenya to prevent her from racing. To continue competing, Semenya must take hormonal therapy to decrease her body’s natural level of testosterone.
LeBron James, Basketball
LeBron James stands at 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. As a large human, James is a powerful force on the basketball court. His massive legs allow him to make 700 pounds of pressure per leap. He also makes huge strides and he’s faster than many point guards.
James continues to climb stat leaderboards, producing many points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes played. James played more games than he ever did before in the 2017-2018 season with a total of 82 regular games. Before this season, he topped off at 81 games between 2008 and 2009.
Tom Sietas, Free Diving
If you think holding your breath underwater is hard, imagine trying to hold it for 22 minutes and 22 seconds. That’s exactly what Tom Sietas did. Sietas is a freediver from Germany, specializing in static apnea events and smashing world records since 2000.
Static apnea is dangerous because while competitors hold their breath, the oxygen in their blood runs out and they can black out. The average person can only hold their breath for two minutes. However, Sietas has a natural advantage: His lungs are 20% larger than those of an average man. With bigger lungs, his body doesn’t prompt him to get air as quickly.
Kawhi Leonard, Basketball
Kawhi Leonard’s size makes him a great defender, but his biggest advantage is his huge hands. What you’re seeing is not photoshopped. Believe it or not, Leonard really does have hulk-like hands, measuring 9.75 inches long and 11.5 inches wide. Thanks to his mitts, Leonard earned the nickname "The Klaw."
His massive hands help him catch and palm the basketball, giving Leonard better ball-handling skills. He can get more rebounds, steals and dunks with those mittens. Although he has great shooting percentages, he mentioned that sometimes it’s hard to shoot due to his hand size.
Brady Ellison, Archery
Katniss Everdeen has some serious competition due to Brady Ellison’s incredible archery skills. From more than 90 yards away, Ellison can hit targets that are only 4.8 inches large—or the size of a Samsung Galaxy S III phone. He also hunts with a bow, targeting deer, boar, elk, bears, mountain lions, bighorn and sheep.
With 20/10 vision, Ellison has above-average eyesight. This means that Ellison can clearly see 20 feet away what most people can only see from 10 feet away. His super vision has benefited him throughout his career. Ellison is a three-time Olympian and is currently ranked as the world’s No. 1 men's recurve archer.
Tony Gwynn, Baseball
The legendary batter, Tony Gwynn, hit almost everything. Known as an artisan with a bat, Gwynn rarely struck out or drew walks. One of the greatest pitchers of all time, Greg Maddux, played against Gwynn 107 times and couldn’t ever strike him out.
What’s his secret? Gwynn saw the ball better than his teammates and rivals, recognizing all types of pitches despite pitchers’ best efforts. The average Major League Baseball (MLB) player’s vision is 20/12, but Gwynn had 20/10 vision. Gwynn’s near perfect vision gave him incredible hand-eye coordination, allowing him to hit the ball wherever he wanted.
Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Running
The real Forrest Gump exists and his name is Dean Karnazes. Karnazes has unusually strong endurance, allowing him to run extremely long distances without getting fatigued. In fact, he ran 350 miles without stopping to find out his body’s limits in 2005. He doesn’t get tired thanks to a rare genetic condition that removes lactic acid from his body.
When the average person exercises, lactic acid builds up, creating muscle cramps and fatigue. This doesn’t happen to Karnazes because his body defies all convention. He can run two marathons at a time like it’s nothing. Karnazes says he only stops running when he gets sleepy.
Shaquille O'Neal, Basketball
At 7 feet 1 inch tall and 325 pounds, Shaquille O'Neal is a massive human being with size 22 feet. O’Neal’s enormous body helped him become a 15-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA First Team pick and four-time NBA champion.
He’s also a stronger person than many of his rivals. O'Neal even shattered the hoop’s backboard after an epic dunk in 1993. In response, the league made the backboards tougher and eventually changed their rule book, making it a technical foul to break the basket’s hoop or backboard.
Daniel Browning Smith, Contortion
Daniel Browning Smith is an actor, television host, comedian, sports entertainer and stuntman. But he’s most famous for being a contortionist, an extremely flexible performer. Known as the world’s most flexible man and “The Rubberboy,” Smith holds seven Guinness World Records.
Smith can dislocate both legs and arms and twist his torso 180 degrees. He has extraordinary bending skills due to a genetic condition called hypermobile Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (hEDS). People with hEDS have incredibly flexible joints and experience severe pain, but Smith only endures moderate pain.
Wim Hof, Extreme Sports
Mr. Freeze has nothing on Wim Hof, aka The Iceman. Hof can withstand extreme cold exposure, such as hiking the world’s tallest mountains in shorts, swimming 188 feet under ice and running barefoot in the Arctic Circle. His body temperature even stayed the same while he sat in 1543.24 pounds of ice for hours.
Hof claims to use special breathing techniques to control his brain and metabolic activity, reducing inflammation and pain. However, scientists believe his genetics play a role. Hof has more brown fat composition than most people his age. The higher brown fat composition a person has means the more a person can endure the cold.
Dwight Howard, Basketball
Many fans comment that Dwight Howard has some of the widest shoulders in the NBA. However, his elite wingspan of 7 feet 5 inches steals the spotlight. Standing at 6 feet 11 inches tall, Howard’s wingspan is longer than many players who are over 7 feet tall. It's his biggest advantage.
Howard uses his long wingspan to defeat opponents and dominate opposing centers, making him an aggressive rebounder and shot blocker. His asset helped him become an eight-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA Team honoree, five-time All-Defensive Team member and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Sarah Robles, Weight Lifting
Sarah Robles’s major advantage is her naturally large dimensions. Measuring at 5 feet, 11 inches, Robles weighs a whopping 309 pounds. As a powerful lifter, she is a two-time Olympian. At the 2016 Olympic Games, Robles weighed 44 pounds more than all of her lifting competitors.
In 2016, she also became the first US athlete to snag a weightlifting Olympic medal since 1994. Robles lifted a total of 626 pounds in the snatch and the clean and jerk, earning a bronze medal. Many fans call her the strongest woman in America.
Martin Strel, Extreme Swimming
Martin Strel is a real-life Aquaman. He’s a Slovenian extreme swimmer, who can swim thousands of miles without stopping. He holds five Guinness World Records for conquering rivers in one go like the Danube (1,866 miles), Mississippi (2,360 miles), Yangtze (2,487 miles) and Amazon (3,273 miles).
He’s been attacked by piranhas and swam around corpses in the world’s mightiest rivers, but even those things don’t deter him. Strel is unstoppable because his body disposes of lactic acid, allowing him to avoid fatigue, unlike other humans. But Strel says he owes his success to his stomach of steel because he never gets sick while swimming.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Basketball
Hailing from Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo boasts huge hands, which measure 9.85 inches long and 12 inches wide. Thanks to his giant mitts, Antetokounmpo has extraordinary ball-handling skills. He’s also 6 feet 11 inches tall and has an enormous wingspan of 7 feet 3 inches.
Due to his incredible dexterity and size, Antetokounmpo earned the nickname “Greek Freak.” Antetokounmpo has many total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. When he was 21, he averaged 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1 block per game.
Sonya Thomas, Competitive Eating
Just like Joey Chestnut, Sonya Thomas is a competitive eating rock star. Known as “The Black Widow” and “The Leader of the Four Horsemen of the Esophagus,” Thomas often beats men who are four to five times bigger than her. In 10 minutes, she devoured 46 hot dogs Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. She has also consumed 564 oysters in eight minutes and 8.4 pounds of baked beans in two minutes and 47 seconds.
Thomas’s stomach is a little bigger than average, but her biggest asset is her slender build. Weighing only 100 pounds, Thomas is able to stretch her stomach easily because it’s not bound by fat. Other heavy eaters have a ring of fat surrounding their stomach, blocking it from easily expanding as they eat.
Ted Williams, Baseball
Ted Williams had superhuman eyesight. As one of the greatest hitters in baseball, Williams had 20/10 vision. He hit the ball no matter how fast it went because he could clearly see and identify the ball's movement. Focusing on the ball helped Williams figure out how to bat each time he stepped up to the plate.
In one incident in Kansas City, Williams recalled feeling as if he was hitting uphill at the plate. He was concerned and mentioned the sensation to the groundskeeper. When Williams and his team returned to play in Kansas City, the plate was leveled. At the game, Williams hit two home runs. The Kansas City manager almost canned the groundskeeper after realizing what happened.
Dutee Chand, Running
Dutee Chand is a sprinting champion from India. In 2019, Chand left her rivals in the dust in a 100-meter race, clocking in at 11.32 seconds. Similar to Caster Semenya, people believe she has an advantage because she has high androgen levels.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games contingent dropped Chand at the last minute. The Athletic Federation of India noted that she couldn’t compete as a female athlete due to her condition of hyperandrogenism. Chand turned to the Asian Athletics Championships for racing. In 2017, she snagged two bronze medals at the competition.
Ian Thorpe, Swimming
Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe has enormous feet. He uses his size 17 flippers to paddle quickly through the water. Thorpe can speed through 200 meters in one minute and 44 seconds. Known for obliterating the competition, he earned the nickname “Thorpedo.”
He’s a five-time Olympic gold medal winner, receiving his first gold medal at age 17. As an 11-time World Championship winner, Thorpe broke many world records. He became the first person to win six gold medals at a single World Championship in 2001.