Great sports rivalries are fuelled as much by geographical proximity, as to individual stars or storied teams going at it in epic clashes for athletic glory. Some resemble military clashes, like the long-standing Army-Navy football game or India vs. Pakistan in cricket. Of course, internecine matches like Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spanish football and long distance running battles between Brits Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe are great examples. The tennis world saw great rivalries like Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova duel with Chris Evert. Surfers Kelly Slater and Andy Irons took their rivalry out to the massive waves of the Pacific Ocean. Horses have even been rivals, with Sea Biscuit trying attempting to outrun War Admiral in many a Triple Crown race. Rivalries have even taken a darker turn over the years, as witnessed Tonya Harding taking out rival skater Nancy Kerrigan’s in one of the most bizarre stories ever.
Among individual rivalries, not many athletes could boast the resumes posted by the American Phelps and the Aussie Thorpe, commonly known as “Thorpedo.” Phelps is the most decorated American Olympian ever, winning 22 medals during his career. Thorpe, who won many Commonwealth and Pan Pacific swimming championships, boasted nine Olympic medals, including five gold. In 2004 in Athens, Phelps was blazing a path to six gold medals, just one behind Mark Spitz’ amazing seven at Munich. Thorpe was waiting for him in his specialty, the 200 freestyle, though. In what was dubbed, “the race of the century”, Thorpe won gold in Olympic record time and Phelps grabbed bronze.