In the past, flat feet were considered a handicap to those with aspirations of becoming professional athletes, and having the condition was often seen as detrimental to somebody’s chances of participating in high-level sports.
However, more recently, the medical community has started to revise the commonly-held assumption that flat-footed people struggle in sport – and this is supported by the number of professional athletes who have been successful despite suffering from the condition.
So for anybody with flat feet who’s worried about their opportunities to make it as a professional sportsman or woman, here we talk about famous athletes with flat feet to encourage you not to give up on your dreams.
What is flatfoot?
The condition we usually refer to as flat feet is also known as pes planus or fallen arches – and as the latter name suggests, it is characterized by the arches of the feet collapsing so that the whole sole is in contact with the floor.
There are two types of flat feet.
The first, known as “rigid” flatfoot, is where the arch is completely absent both when standing and when sitting – this is the more extreme type of flatfoot.
The second type, on the other hand, is where the arch is present when the person is sitting or standing on their toes but disappears when the person is standing normally. This type is called “flexible” flatfoot.
A simple way to test for flat feet is to wet the feet and then stand on a piece of paper (or another surface that will show a clear footprint).
A “normal” footprint will show the outside edge of the foot, but there will be nothing on the arch side. However, if the outline of the whole foot – or at least most of it – is visible, it is a good indication that the person has flat feet.
Most children start life with flat feet, but then arches develop when they start to walk as toddlers. However, some don’t develop arches and thus remain flat-footed from childhood.
It is also possible to develop flat footedness as an adult through injury, illness or other causes.
How was flat footedness viewed in the past?
In the past, having flat feet was seen as undesirable since it was thought it could lead to foot, leg and back pain and would also make the person more susceptible to injuries.
This meant that various armies have traditionally not accepted people with flat feet – during World War II, for example, many recruits were rejected due to flat feet.
Doctors have often also tried to treat the condition with braces and even surgery.
What about now?
Nowadays, there is a growing realization that flat footedness is not necessarily the handicap it was once thought to be, and in fact, some in the medical profession are beginning to think that being flat-footed may have its advantages.
When it comes to foot shape, there is no binary distinction between “flat-footed” and “normal”. There are degrees of being flat-footed, and people can also have higher than average arches, a condition that also has associated problems.
For example, having high arches reduces the shock-absorbing properties of the feet, and one study in 1989 revealed that US army recruits with high arches suffered more injuries than those with flat feet, most likely because flat feet are better able to absorb shock.
It is also known that many successful athletes have some degree of flat footedness, especially in basketball, for example.
So while severe cases of rigid flatfoot may cause discomfort and hinder a career in professional sport, flexible flatfoot is often asymptomatic, shouldn’t prevent somebody from competing at a high level and may even offer some kind of advantage.
Some famous athletes with flat feet
Much more work is still required in the field, and it’s impossible to give concrete answers about the condition and how it affects sporting performance – and, of course, every case is different.
However, a look at a list of just a few high-achieving athletes should certainly give hope to budding sportsmen and women who are worried about the shape of their feet. So let’s do that now.
A double Olympic gold medal winner and former marathon world record holder, Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie sits comfortably among the greatest long-distance runners of all time. He competed at distances between 1,500m and the marathon, and his illustrious career spanned 25 years. So all in all, not bad for someone who had flat feet.
Saïd Aouita was a Moroccan long-distance runner who took the gold medal in the 5,000m event at the LA Olympics in 1984 along with many other titles during his career. He also held various world records at distances ranging from 1,500m to 5,000m. And he managed all this despite suffering from flat feet.
Alan Webb is a former athlete who competed in the triathlon and is the current holder of the American national record for the mile. He also competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens over 1,500m, although he didn’t finish among the medals. And he achieved all this as an athlete with flat feet.
Shawn Crawford is different from the other athletes we’ve mentioned here since he competed in sprint races rather than in long-distance events, showing that having flat feet is no obstacle to success over shorter distances. Among his achievements was a gold medal over 200m at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as well as a silver in the same event at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Inspiration for all aspiring flat-footed athletes
There are many other famous athletes we could add, but as you can see from just this short list, with the right training and dedication, having flat feet need not be a hindrance to achieving your sporting goals.
If these athletes could achieve sporting greatness through determination and hard work, so can anybody else. And that should be an inspiration to us all.