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A legendary Olympian

Steven Lynch October 24, 2011
Fracesco Molinari triumnphed alongside his brother © Getty Images

What was unusual about the 3000-metre steeplechase final at the 1932 Olympics? asked Brian Lunnon
This race was unusual because it was actually a 3460-metre steeplechase, as the officials made an error and all the runners had to do an extra lap! The story goes that the man whose job it was to ring the bell to tell the athletes they were starting their last lap was distracted, as he was watching the decathletes taking part in their long-jump event. Eventually the mistake was realised, and Volmari Iso-Hollo of Finland came home to claim the gold medal. It's unlikely that the winner would have been different if the officials had managed to count the laps properly - Iso-Hollo had a big lead - but it's possible the other medals were affected: Joe McCluskey of America was second after 3000 metres, but was passed by Britain's Tom Evenson during the extra lap. Iso-Hollo was possibly denied a world record by the error, but put that right the following year, and three years after that smashed the record again in retaining his Olympic title in Berlin.

I notice that the golf World Cup was not held last year but is about to happen again. Why was this, and who has won it most often? asked George Grover
You're right, golf's World Cup was not played last year, having been won by the Italian Molinari brothers in 2009: it is now a biennial event, apparently to avoid a clash with golf's return to the Olympics in 2016 (I'm not quite sure why this precludes playing one in 2010, 2012 or 2014!). The World Cup, which involves two-man national teams, was started in 1953, when it was won by Argentina, and since then it has been won on no fewer than 23 occasions by the USA. South Africa are next with five victories, while Australia and Spain have won it four times and Canada three (quite appropriately, as the event was known as the Canada Cup until 1966). Two legendary Americans have been part of six winning teams: Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Next, with four wins, comes Sam Snead, and two more Americans in Fred Couples and Davis Love III, who won the title four years running between 1992 and 1995. This year's event is due to take place at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China, on November 24-27.

John Higgins won his fourth world snooker championship in 2011. How many people have won more than this? asked Ricky Norris
Since the world championship was reorganised into its current format, and moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in 1977, only Stephen Hendry - with seven titles - and Steve Davis (six) have won it more often than Higgins, the current champion, who also won in 1998, 2007 and 2009. Ronnie O'Sullivan has so far triumphed on three occasions. If you include all events called the world championship, then Ray Reardon also won six titles (the last of them at the Crucible in 1978), but the runaway leaders are Joe Davis (15 titles from the first one in 1927 to 1946) and his brother Fred (eight between 1948 and 1956).

Who was the only man to fight Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman? asked Martin Aitchison
This brave - or possibly foolhardy - boxer was the Canadian heavyweight George Chuvalo, a world-title contender throughout the 1960s. He actually fought Ali twice - in 1966 in Toronto, when Ali won on points, and again in 1972, in Vancouver, when Ali outpointed him again during his successful comeback. Joe Frazier and George Foreman both knocked Chuvalo out - something no-one else managed in a 93-fight professional career that lasted almost 22 years - Frazier in the fourth round at Madison Square Garden in 1967, and Foreman in the third round at the same famous venue in 1970.

Michael Phelps has 14 gold medals ahead of London 2012 © Getty Images

I know that Lester Piggott won the Epsom Derby a record nine times. Does he hold the records for the other Classics as well? asked Bill Ward
Yes, Lester Piggott won the Derby on a record nine occasions between 1954 (when he rode Never Say Die to victory) and 1983 (Teenoso). Piggott also won the St Leger at Doncaster eight times, but that remains one short of the record of nine, set by Bill Scott between 1821 and 1846. Lester won the Oaks at Epsom six times, but trails Frank Buckle there (nine between 1797 and 1823). In the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket Piggott's six wins are headed by Jem Robinson's nine between 1825 and 1848, while "The Long Fellow" only emerged victorious twice from the 1000 Guineas (on Humble Duty in 1970 and Fairy Footsteps in 1981), well behind George Fordham's seven wins between 1859 and 1883.

Who has won the most Olympic gold medals? And who has won the most medals without any of them being gold? asked Bridget McAlpine
The person with the most Olympic gold medals to his name is the American swimmer Michael Phelps, who currently has 14, six from Athens in 2004 and eight from Beijing in 2008. Next, with nine golds, come another American swimmer, Mark Spitz, the track and field athletes Carl Lewis (USA) and Paavo Nurmi (Finland), and the Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, the leading woman in this category. Some books show the American field athlete Ray Ewry as having won ten gold medals, but two of those came at the 1906 "Intercalated" Games in Athens, staged to mark the tenth anniversary of the rebirth of the Olympics, which are no longer recognised as official by the International Olympic Committee. Phelps also has two bronze medals, making a grand total of 16: only Latynina, with 18 (nine gold, five silver and four bronze between 1956 and 1964) has ever won more. In answer to the second part of your question, the German swimmer Franziska van Almsick won ten Olympic medals, none of them gold (four silver and six bronze) between 1992 and 2004, while the Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey won nine (three silvers and six bronzes) between 1980 and 2000.

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