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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 05:22 GMT 06:22 UK
Who's the hardest of them all?
By Matt Slater

I'm not sure if 1980s pop rocker Bonnie Tyler is still holding out for a hero, but if she is, I think I've found one.

By winning stage 16 of the centenary Tour de France only two weeks after breaking his collar bone in a spectacular crash, Tyler Hamilton has proven beyond all doubt that he is strong, fast and fresh from the fight.

Tyler Hamilton
Hamilton has eclipsed Lance Armstrong as cycling's iron man.
Hamilton's refusal to quit the Tour had already made him a shoo-in for many observers' man of the race, but Wednesday's breakaway victory has confirmed his status as cycling's iron man.

In fact, it is not even the first time the 30-year-old American has shown a remarkable disregard for pain.

He came second in the 2002 Giro d'Italia despite breaking his shoulder in the opening week. He gritted his teeth so much he had to have 11 of his teeth recapped after the race.

But as impressive as Hamilton's true grit displays have been, the world of sport has not been short of the right stuff over the years.

Below are his main rivals for the title of sport's number one hard man.


Football

When it comes to examples of heroism in the world's most popular sport, there can be only one choice.

Terry Butcher's bloodied shirt may have looked gory, and few can doubt Pele's bravery in carrying on after the rough treatment he received in Escape to Victory, but for true lump-in-throat stuff you have to tip your hat to Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautman.

The German earned his place in football folklore when he played on for 15 minutes after breaking his neck in the 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham.


Cricket

While some cynics might think the bravest thing most cricketers do is eat unrefridgerated crab paste sandwiches during the tea interval, there are plenty of examples of courage to choose from.

Malcolm Marshall
A broken thumb could not stop Windies pacemen Marshall
India's Anil Kumble and Australian Rick McCosker are just two players who have played on despite breaking their jaws.

And Colin Cowdrey and Paul Terry have both gone out to bat for England against West Indies with broken arms.

But for true win-at-all-costs ruggedness, the nod must go to Malcolm Marshall.

The Windies paceman not only batted one-handed against England at Headingley in 1984 after breaking his thumb, he also hit a boundary.

And when he was given the ball in England's innings, Marshall produced a match-winning spell that included a caught-and-bowled that did his biffed thumb no favours.


Motorsport

There's no questioning these chaps when it comes to bottle, but there is one driver who has shown more than any other.

When Niki Lauda's Ferrari careered off the Nurburgring at the 1976 German GP and burst into flames, there were many watching who wondered if they would ever see Lauda alive again.

They did, but only just. And within six weeks of being given last rites whilst in a coma, the Austrian was back in a car at Monza.

He finished fourth - and ultimately lost the drivers' title by a point to James Hunt - but the blood stains on his balaclava told their own story.


Rugby

Both codes of the game played by men with oval-shaped balls - you know what I mean - are littered with tales of stunning stupidity/extreme bravery.

Wayne Shelford
A wayward testicle proved a small obstacle for Shelford
New Zealand second row Colin Meads could almost warrant a section on his own.

His most famous exploit was refusing to come off against Eastern Transvaal in 1970 despite breaking an arm - his own, for once.

But pride of place in the red badge of courage stakes must go to fellow All Black Wayne Shelford.

In 1986, a French pack gave the number eight a most fearsome shoeing that left him with a concussion, a few less teeth and, wait for it, a ripped scrotum.

Unperturbed by the sight of one of his testicles hanging out, Shelford instructed the physio to stitch him up on the side of the pitch so he could play on.

The All Blacks lost but nobody would ever mess with Shelford again.


Boxing

The world of organised fisticuffs is another that isn't short on old-fashioned courage.

And while few can forget Rocky Balboa clambering off the canvas, with blood streaming down his face, to put his man down, British heavyweight Danny Williams' extraordinary display against Mark Potter in 2000 surely takes the biscuit.

Williams dislocated his shoulder in round two but soldiered on for four more rounds only to end the contest with a series of leaping left hooks that knocked Potter spark out.





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