1. Scott Overall
A year before qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, salesman Scott Overall had never even run a full marathon.
2. Jeremy Lin
The New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin and dozens upon dozens of ensuing “Lin” puns seemed unescapable in early 2012. Before he surprised everyone with his abilities as a point guard, Lin had gone undrafted after graduating from Harvard and had previously been assigned to the D-League and rarely given the opportunity to play.
3. Kurt Warner
After graduating college and becoming an undrafted free agent, Kurt Warner went on to win NFL MVP awards while playing for the St. Louis Rams.
4. Rulon Gardner
When American wrestler Rulon Gardner went up against Russia’s Alexander Karelin in the 2000 Olympics, Karelin had gone undefeated for 13 years. To the dismay of the entire world, Gardner beat the man known “universally considered the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time.”
5. Dotsie Bausch
Ex-model Dotsie Bausch battled drug addiction and eating disorders for years before becoming one of the country’s best cyclist.
6. Danica Patrick
Getting to the top of her game wasn’t all fun and games for racing’s most famous female driver. For years, detractors and fellow race car drivers derided her for her gender, often calling her flowery and feminine nicknames. She since has been voted “Most Popular Driver” several years in a row.
7. Oscar Pistorius
Better known as “Blade Runner,” double-amputee Oscar Pistorius has participated in and won many international competitions. This year he will be the first double-amputee to compete in both the London Olympics and Paralympics.
Because of his small stature, Seabiscuit’s racing success was unexpected at first. He nonetheless became one of the best known horses in history, appearing in cartoons, movies, stamps and museums across the nation.
9. Tim Tebow
Another sports figure, like Jeremy Lin, whose name seems inescapable didn’t always have it that easy. His unconventional playing tactics as a quarterback have made many-a-sports writer question his ability to replicate his 2011 success but in the meantime, audiences seem to embrace Tebow with optimism and hope.
10. Goran Ivanisevic
The Croatian tennis player came in as number two in the world in the mid-90s and winning a handful of Bronze medals but never won the top title. A year after he had to sit out an entire season due to a shoulder injury, Ivanisevic shocked many when he won the Wimbledon title in 2001.