To many people, athletes seem almost godlike. Game after game, their actions in their chosen sport raise fans to peaks of ecstasy or send them to depths of despair. But, every season, die-hard fans still watch them for the love of the game.
Athletes also play for an unbridled love of the game too; pushing and straining to score crucial points and bring joy to their fans. All is fine until the brutal reality of sport hits. One knock too many; one mistimed move and their bodies can end up broken and bruised. In spite of modern protective gear and strict rules of the game, sportsmen still get knocked down, and some never get up again.
Not only is there the possibility of a life changing injury, caused by an abrupt stop or failure to land properly, the exertions of many sports can lead to complications from previously underlying ailments
Take a mildly competitive sport like ballroom dancing a.k.a dancesport. What could be dangerous about twirling around a ballroom to a tango or a waltz? In 2010, while Stephen Hevenor was dancing with his partner Dani Atkins, he suffered a massive heart attack and died at the Ritz-Carlton Manalapan, FL.
From boxing to basketball, sportsmen have fallen while playing the game they loved and all fans can do is salute their dedication to their craft. Here are ten other athletes who died doing what they loved.
10. Alexei Cherepanov (Hockey Player)
No game of hockey is complete without the standard flaring up of tempers and a flurry of fists flying. Enforcers are paid to get on the ice, protect their teammates and take other enforcers down. Contrary to popular opinion, these on-ice fisticuffs are not the leading cause of hockey related deaths.
19 year old Alexei Cherepanov had worked his way from the lower leagues in his native Serbia, to the highest division of the main professional ice hockey league in Russia. He had represented Russia at international tournaments; winning gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2007 IIHF World U18 Championships and World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
On October 13, 2008, during a Kontinental Hockey League game, Cherepanov collapsed on the bench and couldn’t be resuscitated. He died later that day, the cause of death was myocarditis.
9. C.R. Johnson (Skier)
Carving tracks through fresh powder is every skiers wish on every run. However avalanches, treacherous terrain or sheer bad luck can stop even the best skiers cold.
Johnson was an innovative professional free skier. His showmanship and skill led to appearances in many freeskiing films. Even after a serious crash in 2005, Johnson was determined to get back in form and compete again.
On February 24, 2010, while skiing at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort, his skis caught the edge of a rock and he tumbled downhill. Though he was wearing a helmet, his head hit several rocks resulting in death from blunt force trauma.
8. Wouter Weylandt (Cycling)
It’s just a bicycle and a road, right? What could possibly go wrong? A lot. Over 90 professional cyclists have died during road races since 1894. Little wonder its ranked one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
At 21, Weylandt had already secured a place on the Belgian team at the 2005 Road World Championships. Known for his sprinting ability, he joined the Quick Step-Innergetic team and they quickly started to amass wins. By 26 years old, Weylandt was on his way to adding to his already impressive medal haul.
In Stage 3 of the 2011 Giro d’Italia, Weylandt’s left pedal struck a guardrail on the side of the road at 50mph and he was thrown across to the other side of the road. He was pronounced dead on the spot, having sustained severe internal organ damage and a skull fracture.
7. Mika Ahola (Off Road Biking)
The world of off-road bikes is another sport one would expect to have a high mortality rate. With bikes whizzing around dirt tracks at 80mph and riders trying to include high jumps in their routine, it can get really hairy and wipeouts are quite common.
As part of Team Finland, Mike Aloha won the prestigious ISDE title seven times. He also won five world Enduro championships across three different bike classes. Mika announced his retirement on January 1st, 2012. On January 15, 2012, Aloha was pronounced dead, having succumbed to complications arising from injuries when he had crashed during training, a few weeks before.
6. Jason Leffler (Racing)
During his career, Leffler had won the national midget car championship 18 times. After moving on to NASCAR in 2000, he won the MBNA Armed Forces Family 200 in 2003 and at the Federated Auto Parts 300 in 2004. Leffler was considered a naturally gifted racer.
While racing at the Bridgeport Speedway on June 12, 2013, his car suffered a suspension failure which caused it to crash into a wall and flip several times. Though he was wearing a harness and the restraint system, the trauma from the sudden deceleration and subsequent whiplash led to death by severe blunt force injury.
5. Carlos Gracida (Polo)
Gracida was considered a polo prodigy, as he came from a long line of polo players. He was so renowned that he even coached HRH Prince Charles and his sons, Princes William and Harry.
Regarded as the favorite polo player of the Queen, he had won almost every tournament in the sport, including the US Open and the British Open, a combined 19 times. By 25, he had reached a 10-goal handicap, the highest possible in the game, which he maintained throughout his life.
On February 25, 2014, while playing polo at the Everglades Polo Club in Palm Beach, he had a freak accident where his horse was struck in the head with a mallet. This led to it throwing him off, collapsing and rolling on top of him, causing severe injuries. He succumbed to his injuries later that day.
4. Phillip Hughes (Cricket)
The odds of dying at cricket should be low, right? Players stand 22 yards apart and the bats are not made of metal or swung directly into players faces. But with fast deliveries reaching up to 140km/h and the leather balls can become quite deadly.
One of the more recent incidents is of 26 year old Australian batsman, Philip Hughes. Branded a naturally gifted player, Hughes had already become the youngest cricketer in history to score centuries in both innings of a test match and become the first Australian batsman in the history of ODI cricket to score a century, in the short time he played.
But on 25 November 2014, he was struck in the neck by a fast bouncer. The freak injury he sustained has only been recorded 100 times in history. The fast ball hit him at an awkward angle leading to an instant dissection of the vertebral artery and massive bleeding in the brain. He collapsed and was rushed into surgery. He died three days later from his injuries.
3. Pedro Aguayo Ramírez Jr. (Wrestling)
Die hard fans of wrestling refuse to believe it’s fake. Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Yokozuna, Owen Hart and other stars of the ring, made Friday nights ( depending where you live) a lot of fun to watch for their fans. But as much fun as wrestling is to watch, it can be brutal on the body.
Ramirez, the son of a Mexican wrestling legend, was a 20 year wrestling veteran. His career had seen him win titles including the Mexican National Tag Team three times, the Mexican National Light Heavyweight title and was also a Mexican National Atomicos champion.
In a tag team fight on March 21, 2015, he was dropkicked onto the ropes by Rey Mysterio. Ramirez landed awkwardly on the middle ropes and immediately passed out. In the heat of the match, the fight went on for another 20 seconds before his condition was noticed. He was rushed to a hospital, but was declared dead on arrival. The dropkick that propelled him into the ropes had snapped his C1, C2 and C3 vertebrae causing an immediate cardiac arrest and death a few seconds after.
2. Gregory Mertens (Soccer)
The physical strength needed to play the full 90 minutes of a soccer game is testament to the dedication of footballers everywhere. The ensuing exertion can also trigger previously dormant medical conditions. Over 100 players have died on the pitch in the past 100 years.
A recent tragedy was that of 24 year old Gregory Mertens who had represented Belgium at the Under-21 level. Since signing for the 2 clubs he played with, he made 109 appearances, scoring 10 times.
During a game on April 30, 2015, Mertens suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch. Though rushed to hospital and put in an artificial coma, Mertens died three days after.
1. Danny Jones (Rugby)
Rugby is considered by many to be one of the most dangerous sports ever. Yet, millions tune in to watch this game. The 29 year old star, Danny Jones was an accomplished goal-kicker and half-back for the Keighley Cougars. So accomplished that he played in and scored in every game in the 2009 season. He also played for the Welsh Rugby team in 2010 and 2013.
During a league match in May 2015, Jones was taken out of the game for feeling unwell. He soon went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to the hospital. He died a few hours later; the cause of death was a previously undetected heart condition.