Cricket: England vs. South Africa (1939)
If you thought a five-day test match was long enough, think again. And if you thought a marathon was the ultimate test of endurance, yes, think again. And again.
Timeless tests existed once upon a time, and the last – England versus South Africa at Durban in 1939 – turned out to be the longest ever test match played.
For some, following the game became a tiresome ordeal, as one impatient fan told an English newspaper on day five: “Sir, no matter how important the match, batting of this dreary description can by no feat of imagination be called cricket. It is merely a certain cure for sleeplessness.”
It lasted nine days, ending in an anti-climactic draw as England had to catch a boat home.
Chess: Anatoly Karpov vs. Garry Kasparov (1984)
Garry Kasparov upon winning the World Chess Championship in 1985
When the reigning world champion Anatoly Karpov sat down at the 1984 World Chess Championships to play the young, brash Garry Kasparov it was much more than a simple game of chess.
For many this epic, Cold War match-up defined the struggles between reformists and hardliners at the heart of the Soviet Union; the regime represented by Karpov, the reformists by the boy from Baku.
Little did they know that the match would last for months. Karpov quickly took a 3-0 lead before Kasparov decided on a different approach: grinding down his opponent. Kasparov ground out 40 draws in a bid to tire his opponent until the match was abandoned at 5-3.
Squash: Jahangir Khan vs. Gamal Awad (1983)
When six-time world squash open champion Jahangir Khan locked horns with Gamal Awad in 1983 at the Chichester Festival final in England, everyone anticipated an epic encounter. Little did they know that the two kings of the squash court would slug it out for 166 minutes, the longest match in the history of the sport.
Khan eventually overcame the acrobatic Awad with one of his best displays in the history of the sport, to win it 9-10, 9-5, 9-7, 9-2.
The match was part of the longest winning streak in squash between 1981-86: Khan won 555 consecutive matches.
Wrestling: Alfred Asikainen vs. Martin Klein (1912)
The most epic of sporting battles tend to have a political sub-plot, which was the case when Estonian wrestler Martin Klein (who had decided to represent Russia) met Finland’s Alfred Asikainen at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Despite Russia having dominion over Finland, the Finnish were allowed to fly their own flag, much to the chagrin of the Russians.
So when the two wrestlers met in the semi-finals, neither wanted to let their respective motherlands down. Their 11 hour and 40 minute duel was almost inevitable. In the end it was the Russian who came out on top.
But it was a Pyrrhic victory: Klein was so exhausted he couldn’t fight in the final the next day, automatically handing the gold medal to a Swedish wrestler. Asikainen, on the other hand, returned home a nationalist hero.
Table tennis: Alex Ehrlich vs. Paneth Farcas (1936)
Polish table tennis legend Alex Ehrlich and his Romanian counterpart Paneth Farcas played out arguably one of the most astonishing points in any racket sport: the opening rally of their World Championship match lasted for two hours and twelve minutes, the ball crossing the net over 12,000 times.
With both players staunchly refusing to press for a winner, the International Table Tennis Federation held an emergency meeting whilst the point was being played. They returned to the match to find that Ehrlich had started a game of chess with his trainer whilst still playing the point.
The Pole won the point but the match was abandoned after the referee’s neck locked. “But I have rook for knight and a winning position,” Ehrlich drolly replied.
Ice hockey: Detroit vs. Montreal Maroons (1936)
Alas, the Montreal Maroons are no longer with us but they have left an indelible mark on the NHL record books: they were part of the longest overtime in ice hockey history. Having played out three periods for no score, the game ran into overtime. And ran, and ran, and ran.
By the time Mud Bruneteau scored the winning goal, 116 minutes and 30 seconds of overtime had been played, a few minutes shy of an extra two games. The goal was no classic, either: such was the exhaustion of the players the puck meekly limped over the line.
Golf: Cary Middlecoff vs. Lloyd Mangrum (1949)
When Cary Middlecoff and Lloyd “Mr Icicle” Mangrum finished on the same number of shots at the Motor City Open, the rules were clear: a sudden death playoff was in order.
But few could have predicted what happened next. The two golfers couldn’t be separated, halving every hole on the front nine. By the time they had drawn the 11th, the authorities had had enough. The tournament was stopped and both were declared the victor.
Tennis: John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut (2010)
The epic final set between American John Isner and France’s Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon – which finished 70 games to 68 – has ripped up the game’s record books. The set alone is longer than any match in Wimbledon’s history.
Boxing: Andy Bowen vs. Jack Burke (1893)
Some people may balk at the brutality of boxing these days, but back in the 19th-century the sport was a vicious endurance match, where round limits were dismissed as the effeminate ramblings of molly coddled liberals. Nature would take its course and the weak would eventually succumb.
But when Andy Bowen and Jack Burke took to the ring at New York’s Olympic Club in 1893, both men staggered on through 110 rounds of brutal pugilism.
By the end of the fight Burke had broken all the bones in both of his hands. His wrists were broken too. In the end, the referee declared a draw, telling the crowd that the men could split the purse having “earned their money”.
Football: KK Palace vs. FC Civics Windhoek (2005)
The Namibian football league isn’t renowned for producing many moments that reverberate around the world, but that changed after a Namibian Cup tie in 2005. When the cup holders FC Civics Windhoek took on KK Palace, the match ended in a 2-2 draw. It was time to decide the match by penalties. Designed as a quick – if painful – way of deciding a tie, it took 48 kicks to separate the teams.
“The penalties were going on and on and on and on and on and on,” recalled Titus Kunamuene, head of competitions at the Namibian Football Association, who was at the match. “Civics had the national team goalkeeper you see, and KK Palace were in the second division at the time so had nothing to lose.” In the end it was the underdog that prevailed, KK Palace squeezing through 17-16.
Baseball: Pawtucket Red Sox vs. Rochester Red Wings (1981)
By 4am, there were only 19 frozen fans left to watch the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings play at the McCoy Stadium. The longest professional baseball game started with a crowd of 1,740 on a bitterly cold Saturday on April 18, 1981. It was so cold, in fact, that players in the dugout used broken bits of bats to start small fires to keep warm.
Fast forward to Easter morning and, after 882 pitches had been thrown, the president of the league, Harold Cooper, finally decided to call it quits following 32 innings and the match tied at two runs each. They may not have seen a winner, but those 19 fans at least saw history being made.