• May 25 down the years

Clay-Liston - Take II

Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay were great rivals © Getty Images

Clay-Liston II - except that Cassius Clay was Muhammad Ali by now and Sonny Liston was a shadow of the champion who came out for their first fight on February 25 1964. A horizontal shadow at that. There were only 2,434 spectators (the smallest crowd for any world heavyweight title fight) - but the whole event should have been hidden from view. Even now, it stinks the room out. Yes, Ali did land a punch. No, it wasn't the special twisting tornado he claimed. A short gentle right caught Liston in the face, and he fell over and lay there. By the time he got up, the referee had messed up. Jersey Joe Walcott was once a world heavyweight champion himself, but he was a better boxer than ref. He ruled that Liston hadn't beaten the count - after taking advice from a ringside reporter! Why Liston crashed out has never been explained. A betting scam through his alleged links with the Mob? Pressure from Ali's Nation of Islam? Neither of the above? Whatever, he never got another title shot. But by then maybe big Sonny was sick of the whole business.

A momentous day in Johannesburg as South Africa made their World Cup debut. They had the decided advantage of making it at home, in front of a typical noisy Cape Town crowd which was too much even for the reigning champions. Australia won the lineouts 3-1, but the Springboks defended like tigers. Aussie captain Michael Lynagh scored a try after half an hour, but Pieter Hendriks went past David Campese in reply - and while Lynagh missed a couple of straightforward kicks, his opposite number at fly-half Joel Stransky became the first to score in all four ways in a World Cup match: try, conversion, drop goal, and four penalties: 22 of South Africa's points in a 27-18 win. Australia were only 14-13 down at half-time but needed a late try by Phil Kearns to gloss the final score. It left them with a tricky match against England on June 11, while their hosts were already dreaming of the final on June 24.

Jonny Wilkinson was born in Surrey. The rest is history we haven't got space to recite in full. For a long time, it looked as if his winning drop goal in the 2003 World Cup final (November 22) was going to be the last thing he did in international rugby. His famous injury problems kept him out until the woeful Lions tour of 2005, and he missed four entire Six Nations seasons in all. Not everyone makes the link between his absence and England's decline, which means he doesn't get the credit for their earlier supremacy. It's true his tactical kicking wasn't his great strength, but it still led to several spectacular tries. And anyway he was a giant in everything else, taking the ball right up against the opposition line, making those short passes that sent his runners through gaps, putting in those astounding tackles. Oh, and there's the little matter of his place kicking. His copied and parodied cupped-hand preparation led to well over 1,000 points in internationals, and his injuries cost him at least another 500, so he didn't break the world record until 2008. On his England comeback (February 3 2007), he scored 27 points. Enough said. Later that year, he led an ordinary team back to the World Cup Final (October 20). As for the drop goal that won the trophy, there were many more where that came from. In 2009 he became the first to land 30 in international matches.

Jesse Owes was the first man to break the eight metre barrier in the long jump © Getty Images

The day Jesse Owens set six world records. Rather less than that. Less than a day and less than six records. He set four really, but two counted for the 200 metres and 220 yards. And he actually broke only three records. Still, eh? Pretty good for 45 minutes' work. At Ferry Field in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he won the 100 yards in 9.4, which equalled the world best. Ten minutes later, he had time for only one long jump but reached 8.13, the first eight-metre jump in history, which remained unbroken for 25 years. Then he ran the 200/220 in 20.3 seconds. A quarter of an hour later, it was the 200/220 hurdles in 22.6. Not bad for someone with a bad back!

Leicester became the only club to retain the Heineken Cup, rugby union's Champions League. In the final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, they were 6-5 down to Munster at half-time, but they scored the only tries, through Geordan Murphy (ironically an Irishman) and Austin Healey - enough to beat Ronan O'Gara's three penalty goals for Munster. But the match is best remembered for some evil sleight of hand by Leicester flanker Neil Bank. Near the end, Munster were 15-9 down when they were awarded a scrum near the Leicester line. Back patted the ball illegally into the Leicester end of the scrum and the score remained unchanged to the end. The boos from the Irish supporters washed off Leicester's, er, back.

As so often, the Monaco Grand Prix was the sixth race in the Formula 1 Championship. By winning it, Lewis Hamilton regained the lead in the drivers' table from reigning champion Kimi Räikkönen. Felipe Massa started on pole, a huge advantage in Monte Carlo, but Hamilton overtook him during a pit stop, a crucial move in a season decided on the last corner of the race of the season (November 2).

The 1986 drivers' championship was also decided by the final race (October 26). Today Nigel Mansell put himself in the early frame by winning the Belgian Grand Prix. He was only fifth on the grid but came through to win comfortably from Ayrton Senna. Mansell won the next race too, in Canada three weeks later.

Stefano Baldini was born. He couldn't compete with the times set by African Marathon runners, but his personal best of well under 2 hours 8 minutes was world class, and anyway he was more of a racer than a time triallist. He finished third at the World Championships in 2001 and 2003, regained the European title in 2006 when he was 35, and above all ran a strongman's race to win Olympic gold in 2004, a deserving champion despite the intervention of a usual suspect (August 29).