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An Olympic shirt with the Midas touch

Steven Lynch April 16, 2012
Parry O'Brien's shirt led a medal-winning life at the 1952 Olympic Games © Getty Images

I heard a rather garbled tale about an American shirt that was passed around at the Olympics and won three gold medals. What was that all about? asked Ron Gifford
The story, which dates from the 1952 Olympic Games, is recounted in David Wallechinsky's superb Complete Book of the Olympics. The day shot-putter Parry O'Brien took part in the final of his event in Helsinki, it was rather cold, so he kept his university sweatshirt on under his American vest. O'Brien won and, thinking it might bring them good luck, he then loaned the rather sweaty sweatshirt to two of his room-mates - discus thrower Sim Iness and javelin specialist Cyrus Young - who duly won their events too. The fourth man in their room, 110-metre hurdler Jack Davis, was then offered the lucky garment too - but, he said, "By the time the shirt got to me it was kind of ripe, and stretched out with wear." So he didn't put it on ... and only finished second, after hitting the ninth of ten hurdles when well placed for the gold medal.

Who has won the University Boat Race most often? asked Henry Clarke
The overall score in the annual University Boat Race currently stands at Cambridge 81, Oxford 76, with a dead heat to add from 1877. If you meant an individual, then the record is held by the Oxford rower Boris Rankov, who took part in six - finishing on the winning side each time - between 1978 and 1983.

What was the shortest boxing world title fight in boxing? asked Jim Gibson
My first thought was that it might be Naseem Hamed, whose WBO featherweight title fight against Nigeria's Said Lawal in Edinburgh in 1996 lasted all of 35 seconds, but actually there is at least one that was quicker than that: in Puerto Rico in 1993 Gerald McClellan beat another American, Jay Bell, in just 20 seconds to retain his WBC middlweight title. According to Guinness World Records, the shortest fight of any kind lasted just four seconds, when Mike Collins knocked out Pat Brownson with his first punch during a Golden Gloves tournament in Minnesota in 1947. The bout was stopped without a count.

Which jockey and trainer have won the most Breeders Cup races? asked Leslie Morton
The leading trainer at the Breeders Cup is - by a distance, you might say - D. Wayne Lukas, who has been associated with 18 winners at the prestigious American meeting. That's twice as many as the next-best, Claude McGaughey's nine. Lukas has also trained 13 winners of the races that make up the American Triple Crown, including all three in 1995, when he became the first trainer to win the Triple Crown with different horses (Thunder Gulch and Timber Country). Two jockeys are tied at the top of the Breeders Cup winners' table - the American pair of Jerry Bailey and Mike Smith.

Who was the first golfer to lose a sudden-death playoff in a major? asked Brian Burton
Golf was originally such a leisurely pursuit that ties at the end of the scheduled four rounds were often resolved by playing one, or even two, additional rounds. This sometimes led to anticlimax - in the 1929 US Open at Winged Foot, Al Espinosa was tied with the great Bobby Jones after four rounds, but Jones won the 36-hole playoff by no fewer than 23 strokes!

Partly to satisfy the demands of television, the sudden-death playoff (or variations of it) were gradually introduced. The first major decided by sudden death was the 1977 PGA Championship at Pebble Beach, when Lanny Wadkins edged out Gene Littler at the third extra hole.

You wrote in your last column about footballers scoring hat-tricks for England. But how many people have scored hat-tricks against them? asked Matt Cooper
It's perhaps a tribute to England's traditional strength in goalkeeping that the national team (which has scored 81 hat-tricks) has conceded only ten in all international football - and only one of those since Juan Seminario's in a friendly for Peru in Lima in 1959. The most recent one was by Marco van Basten, during the Netherlands' 3-1 victory in Dusseldorf in the 1988 European Championships. The first five hat-tricks against England were all scored for Scotland: it wasn't until 1930, when Richard Hofmann scored all Germany's goals in a 3-3 draw in Berlin, that an overseas team managed one. Arguably the most famous hat-trick against England came from Hungary's Nandor Hidegkuti, when the "Mighty Magyars" thrashed them 6-3 at Wembley in 1953.

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