Sports Giants: Athletes Who Tower Over the Competition

By Milo B. JenkinsLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:25:16 PM ET
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Most athletes wake up before sunrise to train for their next game. The blood, sweat and tears they endure training on a daily basis to increase their performance is astonishing to watch.

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Other competitors, on the other hand, are lucky enough to be bigger than their competition. This collection of titans have a literal leg up on others: They’re the largest athletes of all time.

André the Giant, Wrestling

André Roussimoff, famously known as "Andre the Giant," was a French professional wrestler. At 7 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing upwards of 520 pounds, the nickname was fitting. He was a major player in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and its first inductee into its Hall of Fame.

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Photo Courtesy: Janine Marmot/Bill Simmons/IMDB

He also had a successful acting career, appearing in major films, like The Princess Bride. When he wasn't acting or wrestling, Roussimoff had a unique set of problems. His massive size made it difficult to use a rotary phone or sit in most vehicles. Needless to say, playing the piano or taking up knitting was out of the question.

Yao Ming, Basketball

Hailing from China, Ming played for the Shanghai Sharks with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) when he was 17 years old. In 2002, the 7 foot, 6 inch Ming was the first pick in the 2002 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets.

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Ming played with the Rockets for eight straight seasons before retiring from foot injuries. When China caught wind of his retirement, a record 1.2 million comments went up on Sina Weibo, its social-networking site. Ming is still a major celebrity in China from athletic endorsement deals and for being on the board of the CBA.

Tayyiba Haneef-Park, Indoor Volleyball

Haneef-Park is America's tallest female indoor-volleyball player. At 6 feet, 7 inches, Haneef-Park dominated the court and played for the United States team in three Summer Olympic games. Two silver medals later, Haneef-Park retired to start a family and talk openly about mental health.

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Appearing on Dr. Phil in 2009, Haneef-Park addressed what it was like to grow up as a tall girl. "I remember being 5-feet, 11 ½ inches tall in the sixth grade. It was at that point I knew I could take several opportunities to play basketball or volleyball. Being tall is what you make of it."

Ronnie Coleman, Bodybuilding

Most people consider Coleman to be one of the greatest bodybuilders in the world. Weighing in at 300 pounds at 5 feet, 11 inches tall, Coleman has arms that measure an outrageous 24 inches around. He holds the record for the most wins by an IFBB (International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness) professional.

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Photo Courtesy: LocalFitness/Wikimedia Commons

Coleman won the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding title eight years in a row, breaking the record and beating other powerhouses like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If you're looking to build muscles like his, check out his training videos. His catchphrases like, "Nothing but a peanut," and, "Light weight baby!" are now commonplace lingo in the bodybuilding community around the world.

Margo Dydek, Basketball

Born Małgorzata Dydek in Poland in 1974, Dydek traveled to the U.S. to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She was the first pick in the 1988 WNBA draft by the Utah Starzz for her talents and her colossal height of 7 feet, 2 inches.

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Thanks to her massive frame, Dydek holds the record for the all-time leader in blocks in over 323 games and for being the tallest woman in the WNBA.

If you ask her family, her height isn't much of a surprise. Her two sisters played basketball as well, and it also helps when you have a 6 foot, 7-inch father and 6 foot, 3-inch mother.

Morteza Mehrzad, Sitting Volleyball

Mehrzad is a colossal athlete. In fact, he’s the tallest Paralympian in history at an unbelievable 8 feet, 1 inch in height. As a member of Iran’s national sitting volleyball team, he competed in the 2016 Summer Paralympics and helped his team take home the gold.

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Mehrzad lives with acromegaly, a disorder that results from excess growth hormones after the growth plates have closed. His condition is so strong he’s currently the second tallest man alive in the world. Naturally, his team sits him close to the net, blocking balls like no other competitor.

Dalip Singh Rana, Wrestling

Better known as "The Great Khali", Rana stands at a massive 7 feet, 1 inch and dominated the professional wrestling world. Hailing from India, Rana earned himself a fleet of wrestling belts as a heavyweight champion weighing in at 347 pounds.

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In between winning several championship belts, Rana parlayed his talents into several acting gigs on film and television. He most notably played Turley in Adam Sandler’s 2005 film, The Longest Yard, and KAOS agent Dalip in 2008’s Get Smart.

Aaron Gibson, Football

A former offensive tackle for the NFL from ‘99 to ‘10, Gibson holds the distinction of being the heaviest professional football player ever. Standing at an impressive 6 feet, 6 inches, Gibson weighed in at a whopping 410 pounds during his professional football career.

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Two shoulder injuries, unfortunately, cut his football dreams short and ruined his ability to play. After tipping the scale at over 480 pounds, the mighty giant started doing 1500 crunches a day and focused on his health. The big man now sports a much healthier outlook on life- and a sweet set of abs!

Jayne Porter, Wrestling

Known more by her professional wrestling name "Klondyke Kate," Porter was the heaviest professional female wrestler, weighing in at approximately 392 pounds. For a woman measuring 5 feet, 4 inches, that’s an awful lot of weight to manage, especially in a wrestling ring.

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The British wrestler regularly competed against male wrestlers on ITV's World of Sport to the delight of fans. In 1987, Porter competed in the first legal female wrestling match in London. This was a revolutionary step forward for women wrestlers!

Zdeno Chára, Hockey

Hockey is a far cry from any other professional sport on ice. Things get physically intense during a hockey game. Which is why no one wants to be near Chára’s 6 feet, 9-inch tall frame when he skates onto the court. Especially since Chára has the record for the hardest slapshot in the NHL, clocking in at 108.8 mph.

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Chára won the hardest shot competition at the All-Star Games Skills Competition a record five times in a row. As the tallest man to play in the National Hockey League, his stick had to be specially made two inches longer than regulation-sized sticks. So yeah, don’t mess with the soaring Slovakian.

Emmanuel Yarbrough, Sumo, MMA

Yarbrough held the distinction for being the Guinness World Record holder for the heaviest living athlete of all time. Standing at 6 feet, 8 inches and weighing in at a staggering 882 pounds, it’s incredible to picture him walking, let alone wrestling.

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Having dabbled in collegiate wrestling, judo and football, he's most recognized as a successful sumo wrestler. Throughout his diverse athletic career, Yarbrough won five Sumo World Championships, a second-place title in Judo and even won mixed martial arts fights.

Gheorghe Mureșan, Basketball

Surpassing Manute Bol’s record as the tallest NBA player in history at 7 feet, 7.5 inches tall, Mureșan soared over other players. Hailing from Romania, Mureșan played for the Washington Bullets and New Jersey Nets from ‘93 to ‘00. How does someone shoot a basketball with Mureșan as the team’s Center? Legitimate question.

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In 2007, Mureșan played for the Maryland Nighthawks in the American Basketball Association (ABA). His joining the team earned them the title of the tallest lineup in the history of basketball. His teammate, Sun Mingming, stood at 7 feet, 9 inches tall, which was the only time Mureșan wasn’t the tallest person on the basketball court.

Ivo Karlović, Tennis

Karlović is a towering tennis talent, standing at 6 feet, 11 inches. A member of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) since 2005, Karlović is one of the best servers on tour, with a record-breaking 156 mph serve. That’s right, we said record-breaking. Thanks to his incredible height, Karlović can serve at a unique trajectory.

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His speedy serve isn't his only record. Karlović holds the record for the most aces in tennis history, striking 13,060 aces in 662 matches.

He also became the oldest finalist on an ATP tour at 39 years and 10 months since the 43-year-old Ken Rosewall won in Hong Kong’s 1977 championship.

Matt Grevers, Swimming

An aquatic powerhouse, Grevers has the distinction of being the tallest Olympic swimmer of all time. A soaring 6 feet, 8 inches is a lot of mass to move in the water, but he's equipped with a muscular 220 pounds to help him through the water.

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Grevers has won gold medals in multiple Olympic games. In the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, Grevers won two gold medals for freestyle and medley. In the 2012 Games in London, Grevers won an additional two gold medals in backstroke and medley and one silver in freestyle.

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Jon Rauch, Baseball

Standing at 6 feet, 11 inches and weighing in at 290 pounds, Rauch is the tallest player in Major League Baseball (MLB) history. The towering pitcher's 11-year MLB career spans nine different teams. He also led the U.S. Men's team to a gold medal win in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.

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When you're the tallest man to play in the MLB, you get the honor of 'breaking' many records. For example, when he hit his first home run in 2004, he broke the record for the tallest man to hit a home run in MLB history.

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Richard Sligh, Football

Regarded as the tallest player in NFL history, Sligh is the only player in the NFL to measure in at least 7 feet tall. Sligh played as a Defensive tackle, but it turns out he may have had more luck on the field as a goalpost.

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While his record height is impressive, the number of times Sligh actually played on the field doesn’t measure up. Sligh played for the Oakland Raiders in 1967 as a Defensive Tackle for a total of 8 times.

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That’s quite a short career for such a tall drink of water.

Aaron Judge, Baseball

It turns out it’s a great idea to have someone 6 feet, 7 inches play in the outfield. That brilliant idea by the New York Yankees got Judge snatched up in the first round of the 2013 Major League Baseball (MLB) draft. Little did they know that he wasn’t simply prime real estate for the outfield, but Judge proved to be a dominant force at the bat.

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He made his major league debut in 2016 in a major way. Judge ended his season with 52 home runs, which broke Mark McGwire’s MLB rookie record of 49. He went on to win several Rookie of the Month awards as well, further cementing his status as a massive force on the field.

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Jack Bacheler, Track & Field

Sometimes, people have a leg up on the competition. For Bacheler, he had some seriously helpful legs in the world of long-distance running. At 6 feet, 7 inches, he towered over other runners, yet weighed fairly similarly to his competitors at 165 pounds.

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Photo Courtesy: @Alchetron/Twitter

Bacheler is a two-time Olympian, but had some difficult challenges at each event. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, he came down with dysentery and was unable to compete. In 1972 at the Munich Games, Bacheler finished ninth in the marathon, succumbing to the difference in climate from Florida.

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Shaquille O’Neal, Basketball

Standing at a lofty 7 feet, 1 inch and weighing 325 pounds, O’Neal was one of the largest players throughout his 19-year basketball career. After being the first draft overall in 1992 by the Orlando Magic, O’Neal quickly became one of the best centers in the NBA.

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His lengthy career highlights and awards include 1993 NBA Rookie of the year, 4 NBA championships and a gold medal from the ‘96 Olympic games. O’Neal’s larger-than-life size went perfectly with his larger-than-life personality off the court. He continues to dabble in films, music and endorsement deals long after his basketball career ended.

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Nataliya Kuznetsova, Bodybuilding

Kuznetsova is a Russian professional bodybuilder who stands at 5 feet, 7 inches, but weighs in at a staggering 225 pounds. She is currently the world's heaviest known female professional bodybuilder. Kuznetsova currently holds titles in armlifting, bench press, and deadlift.

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She can squat 617 pounds, bench press 385 pounds, and deadlift 529 pounds. While she does hold these records, she is also open about her use of anabolic steroids and estrogen blockers. Naturally, she's married to Vladislav Kuznetsov, another professional Russian bodybuilder.

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Peter Crouch, Soccer

Crouch is soccer’s center forward that you can see coming from miles away. It’s pretty rare to spot professional soccer players reaching over the 6-foot mark. Crouch stands at an astounding 6 feet, 7 inches, which launches him well over other players on the field.

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Photo Courtesy: Alex Morton/Getty

In 2006, Crouch earned the nickname of "RoboCrouch" after he adopted a robotic dancing goal celebration. It caught so much attention that he had to retire the dance, only to bring it out during "really big goals." In 2017, he gave the dance a final spin to celebrate his 100th Premier League goal.

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Randy Johnson, Baseball

Dubbed "The Big Unit," Johnson played Major League Baseball for an astounding 22 seasons. Johnson stands at 6 feet, 8 inches, and is one of the most accomplished pitchers of all time. His 100 mph fastballs were some of the most celebrated and dominating pitches in the game.

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In 2004, Johnson became the oldest pitcher in major league history at 40 years old to throw a perfect game. Johnson led his league in total strikeouts nine times and has the record for most strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Trust us; you don't want to ever find yourself at bat with Johnson at the pitcher's mound.

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Bryce Bennett, Skiing

At a mountainous 6 feet, 7 inches with a size 15 shoe, Bennett’s parents weren’t sure he could ever fulfill his skiing dreams. But Bennett has proven to his naysayers that even incredibly tall athletes can compete in sports meant for compact bodies.

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Bennett has become one of the top downhill racers in the world after finishing 16th in the 2018 Winter Olympics. In fact, his visit to South Korea made him the tallest of the U.S. athletes to compete. His specially designed ski boots, 7-foot wingspan and ambition are sure to take him far.

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Manute Bol, Basketball

Bol was a massive standout during his time in the NBA. Literally. His shot-blocking specialty was untouchable thanks to his 7 feet, 7 inch height. That was where most of Bol’s basketball talent was, as he underperformed elsewhere on the court.

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After his 11-year basketball career ended, Bol used his platform to speak up for human rights and refugee aid in his native Sudan. His son, Bol Bol, is following in his father’s large footsteps by joining the NBA at 7 feet, 2 inches.

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Stefan Struve, MMA

Mixed martial artist Stefan Struve is nicknamed "The Skyscraper" for a good reason. The 7 foot tall, 265-pound powerhouse is a Dutch mixed martial artist who grew up playing football before exploring the world of MMA. He made his debut at just 17 years old.

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Throughout his MMA career, Struve fought in a total of 40 matches, winning 29. In 2013, Struve was diagnosed with a leaking aortic valve and an enlarged heart. After a brief break and a return to victory in 2019, Struve celebrated his final win by announcing his retirement.

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Blanka Vlašić, High Jump

Vlašić is a two-time world champion and two-time Olympic medalist. Standing at 6 feet, 3 inches, she is widely regarded as one of the best in the sport of high jump. Her accomplishments are especially impressive after the health challenges she's endured throughout her entire athletic career.

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Vlašić has had to take breaks between competitions after being diagnosed with a hyperthyroid condition. When she didn’t finish in first place, she reminded herself of her frequent hospital visits to stay humble. She'd later have to have several operations on her Achilles tendon and battle ankle problems.

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Yvetta Hlaváčová, Swimming

The stunning swim star stands at a stupendous 6 feet, 4.5 inches, making her one of the tallest swimmers in the world. Hlaváčová holds the world record for swimming the entire English Channel in 7 hours and 25 minutes.

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When asked about the longevity of her world record set in 2006, she offered advice for anyone trying to top her. "If you want to be the best in the world, then it goes without saying- I never give up. When I start something, I want the expected result."

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Lindsay Davenport, Tennis

Davenport has the distinction of being one of five women who have been the year-end World No. 1 at least four times in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Famous for her powerful groundstrokes, it probably helped that she stands at 6 feet, 2.5 inches tall.

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Known for her powerful and reliable groundstrokes, Davenport won a total of 55 WTA Tour singles titles. She also won three Grand Slam titles and the gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. After her retirement, Davenport has picked up coaching for other powerful female tennis players. Naturally.

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William Perry, Football

Legendary NFL icon William "The Refrigerator" Perry was a defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. Standing at 6 feet, 3 inches and weighing in at a whopping 350 pounds, Perry earned the appropriate nickname, "The Fridge."

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His Super Bowl XX ring size is 25, which is the largest size of any professional football player in the history of the Super Bowl. The average ring size for the average adult male is between 10 and 12. He is also the second person from the NFL immortalized as a G.I. Joe action figure. His figure's name? 'The Fridge,' of course.

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Chuck Nevitt, Basketball

At 7 feet 5 inches, Nevitt was one of the tallest players in NBA history. His name may not be as recognizable as other basketball stars of his stature, but he was able to last in the league for an impressive 12 seasons.

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Photo Courtesy: @si_vault/Twitter

After his basketball career, Nevitt explored other talents for a man his size. His hobbies post-basketball include juggling, carpentry, acting and yes, even stripping. That would have to be one very large pole to dance next to for someone who is 7 feet, 5 inches.

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