- Ask Steven
An undercard full of Krays
Which palindrome (two names, not just the surname) has won one of the world's classic marathon races? asked Geoff Murray via Facebook
At first I thought I was in a Monty Python sketch here, but then I remembered that Martin Lel, whose surname is a palindrome, won the London Marathon three times (and the New York one twice). However, that's just one name, and the question specifies two ... so it was back to the books, where I discovered that the winner of the women's race in the 1996 New York Marathon was the Romanian Anuta Catuna, whose name reads the same backwards and forwards. She was also second in the marathon at the 1995 world championships in Gothenburg.
What was the surname of the three brothers who all boxed on the same bill at the Royal Albert Hall in 1951? asked James Morrison via Facebook
I didn't know this one - my first thought was that it might be the Turpins - so I had to start searching. It turns out to be none other than the Krays: twins Ronnie and Reggie, and their older brother Charlie, who were on the undercard at the Royal Albert Hall in December 1951. They later became notorious gangland personalities, and were eventually jailed for life. On looking it up I discovered that Bill Sliney was foolish enough to defeat Ronnie Kray that night ... I can't help wondering what happened to him later on?!
I heard that Frankel has retired with the highest Timeform rating of any horse. What was the previous record? asked Michael Bradley
Timeform Publications was established in 1948, with a view to working out a mathematical formula to rate racehorses. Frankel, who has just retired after wining all his 14 races, has been given a rating of 147 which, as you say, is the highest ever. Only six other horses have finished with a rating above 140 (Nijinsky, my bet as the previous-best, was "only" a 138). Mill Reef, the 1971 Derby and Arc de Triomphe winner, was rated at 141; Abernant and Ribot 142; Tudor Minstrel and Brigadier Gerard 144. But the leader before Frankel, with a Timeform rating of 145, was the French chestnut Sea Bird II, which won the Derby, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in 1965. The legendary Arkle has the highest rating of any steeplechaser, with 212, just ahead of his stablemate Flyingbolt (210) and his long-time rival Mill House (191). Kauto Star was also a 191, while Desert Orchid was rated at 187.
Who has played the most games in the European rugby Six Nations championship? asked Peter Sampson
For many years the record for appearances in the Five (latterly Six) Nations championship was held by the Irish centre Mike Gibson, with 56 between 1964 and 1979. But his record was finally broken in 2012, by another Irishman, Ronan O'Gara. He has now played 61 Six Nations matches. O'Gara also holds the Six Nations point-scoring record with 551, just ahead of Jonny Wilkinson (546). The try-scoring record is held by Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll, with 25: he recently broke the long-standing mark of 24 set by Scotland's Ian Smith, who played from 1924 to 1933.
Which track and field athlete has had the longest Olympic career? asked Andy Charrington
The only track and field athlete to take part in seven different Olympic Games is the sprinter Merlene Ottey, who ran in six for Jamaica between 1980 and 2000, and then represented Slovenia in 2004, reaching the semi-finals of the 100m in Athens, aged 44. Ottey won nine Olympic medals in all - three silvers, in the 100 and 200m in 1996, and the sprint relay in Sydney in 2000 (when she was 40), and six bronzes (two at 100m, three at 200m , and one in the relay). Six other athletes have taken part in six Olympic Games: Terry McHugh (Ireland, javelin), Lia Manoliu (Romania, discus), Maria Mutola (Mozambique, 800m), Joao N'Tyamba (Angola, distance runner), Tessa Sanderson (Great Britain, javelin) and Dragutin Topic (Serbia, high jump). For the record, the overall record for Olympic participation was broken in London, when the Canadian show jumper Ian Millar took part in his tenth Games, while the Italian canoeist Josefa Idem broke the women's record by appearing at her eighth Olympics.
Now that Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, who will be considered the winners? asked Jeremy Baker
I don't think it's quite as simple as anointing the man who finished second to Armstrong as the winner of the Tour, as almost all the leading cyclists of that era seem to have been implicated in some way. The US Anti-Doping Agency recently claimed that 20 of the 21 podium finishers in the Tours in which Armstrong finished first (1999-2005) had been guilty or suspected of drugs offences (the one exception was Fernando Escartin, third in 1999). The International Cycling Union confrmed last week that the winner's name will be left blank: "There won't be a winner," said Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme. "The formal decision will be taken by the UCI, but for us, it's very clear. We want to leave the palmares blank. The USADA report accuses a system and an era. This era must be remembered as an era without winners." For the record, though, the men who finished second to Armstrong were Alex Zulle (1999), Jan Ullrich (2000, 2001 and 2003), Joseba Beloki (2002), Andreas Kloeden (2004) and Ivan Basso (2005).