• July 19 down the years

Ali carries the Olympic flame

Muhammad Ali provided one of the great iconic images of Olympic Games history © Getty Images
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1996
The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Steve Redgrave carried the United Kingdom flag for the second Games in a row - but the most striking sight was Muhammad Ali, now suffering from Parkinson's, carrying the flame. One of those images.

1877
The first ever Wimbledon final. The only event was the men's singles, which began on 9 July and ended in a one-sided finale. A Wimbledon tradition was established from the start when the semi-finals were postponed from Monday to Thursday because of rain! William Marshall was given a bye into the final, but Spencer Gore had to play two matches on the same day. He beat CG (Charles Gilbert) Heathcote in straight sets, including the second 6-5 (no misprint), then had even less trouble with Marshall. A score of 6-1 6-2 6-4 tells its own story. The first set lasted 15 minutes, the others 13 and 20. Marshall led in the third set but double-faulted twice. He then beat Heathcote for the third prize. The net was five feet high at the sides but only three feet in the middle! So Gore simply stationed himself in the middle of the canyon and volleyed everything, even reaching over the net at times. Things weren't quite so simple for him the following year (18 July), but he was the inaugural champion for ever.

The same day in 1884 saw the first ever Wimbledon women'sfinal. There were only 13 entries, including Blanche Bingley, who reached her last Wimbledon final 17 years later. Here she lost in the semis after winning the first set against Maud Watson, who won the final in a similar way - against her own sister. In the opening set, there was never more than a game in it until the end, when Lilian won 8-6. But Maud led 3-0 in the second before taking it 6-3, then came from 3-2 down in the decider to win it by the same score. Maud was unbeaten in tournament play at the time, having won the prestigious Irish title that year. Typical of the period, their dad was a vicar and their mum a champion at croquet. They were the only sisters to contest a Wimbledon singles final before Venus and Serena Williams in 2002. Maud retained the title in 1885 by beating Bingley in the final.

Another Wimbledon doubles champion was born today. Ilie Năstase in Bucharest in 1946. He never won the singles there, losing an epic final to Stan Smith in 1972 and gifting Björn Borg his first title in 1976. But remember that this was a player brought up on clay, who did wonderfully well to stretch the serve-volley monster Smith to five sets. And Năstase did win a Grand Slam title on grass, coming from two sets to one down to beat Arthur Ashe in the Final of the US Open later in 1972. He continued his great form by winning the French Open the following year (5 June) - but the downhill slide began at Wimbledon, where he was seeded No.1 after a boycott by the top players but lost in the fourth round. Winning the doubles with Jimmy Connors was small consolation. And Năstase did really badly to lose to Smith in the 1972 Davis Cup final - in straight sets, at home, on clay. But even when he wasn't winning Grand Slams, he was the best player to watch - in any era. Only he could have imagined some of the shots he played. His antics made McEnroe look like a choirboy at times, especially when they became a tool as he grew older. But for a while Nasty was a champion as well as a genius. He won the Wimbledon mixed doubles twice with Rosie Casals.

1987
Nick Faldo won a Major golf championship for the first time. In the British Open at Muirfield, he showed the kind of grit under pressure that was to win him another five Majors after this. Not so much grit as trust in his remodelled swing, knowing it would stand up under pressure. In the last round today, he shot every single hole in par, a tremendous feat in difficult conditions, keeping the squeeze on leader Paul Azinger until he bogeyed the last to give Faldo the title by a single stroke.

On the same course five years later to the day, Faldo won the Open for the third and last time, but only after his great nerve let him down for a while. Four shots in the lead before the last round, he was two behind John Cook at the 15th. But again an American cracked at the last, losing the Championship by one shot after Faldo birdied 15 and 17. Nick was in tears at the end. So was Cook, probably. He never won a Major.

Nick Faldo claimed his first Major © Getty Images
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In 2009, Tom Watson very nearly won a record-equalling sixth British Open. Only a few weeks short of his 60th birthday, he returned to Turnberry, the scene of his famous 'Duel in the Sun' with Jack Nicklaus in 1977 (9 July) - and shocked everyone by sharing the lead after two rounds, holding it outright after three, and still being a stroke ahead at the last hole. Just as everyone was contemplating by far the oldest winner in Major history, Watson's perfectly adequate second shot bounced through the green and he lost the four-hole play-off by six strokes to Stewart Cink. He had to settle for being the oldest Major runner-up. He shot 67 in the opening round of the 2010 Masters, one shot off the lead held by Fred Couples, who was only 50.

2003
South Africa's heaviest home defeat in rugby union. In their 52-16 hammering in Pretoria, they conceded seven tries to New Zealand, two each to supersonic wingers Doug Howlett and Joe Rokocoko and one to fly-half Carlos Spencer, who also kicked 17 points. On the same day six years earlier, Spencer had scored a try and kicked 15 points in a 35-32 win in Johannesburg. Rokocoko set a record by scoring another three tries on 26 July.

2003
IBU boxing titles aren't the real thing. But try telling John Sargent that. When he met Shannon Briggs for the vacant heavyweight title, he lasted only 17 seconds, which equalled the shortest ever 'world' title fight (3 September 1994). Briggs made a habit of this kind of thing. This was his 32nd stoppage win as a professional, his 24th in the first round, and his fifth in the first minute. In 2005 he won a fight in just 11 seconds. In 2006 he won the WBO title, and in 2009 failed a drugs test after a fight.

1976
One of the landmark moments in sport. During the women's team event, Nadia Comăneci of Romania was only 14 when she became the first gymnast to be awarded 10 out of 10 for a single exercise. The scoreboards weren't set up to deal with such an eventuality, so they registered 1.00, one of the iconic images. Comăneci received another six 10s during these Games, winning gold in the all-round individual event, the beam, and the uneven bars.

1971
Vitali Klitschko was born in Kyrgyzstan but boxed for the Ukraine at the 1995 World Amateur Championships, where he reached the final. As a professional, he went one better, winning the vacant WBC heavyweight title in 2004. Heavily muscled, with a powerful dig, he was already a champion-in-waiting, persuading Lennox Lewis into retirement (21 June 2003). Klitschko defended the title against opposition barely worthy of the name, including Britain's Danny Williams in 2004 (11 December). His brother Wladimir was a triple world champion at the same time, as well as Olympic gold medallist in 1996.

1912
British oarsmen won the two blue riband events at the Olympic Games: the single sculls and the eights. Wally Kinnear of Scotland won all three rounds easily, including the final, finishing nearly nine seconds ahead of Belgium's Polydore Veirman. The final of the eights was contested by two British crews, the Leander Club beating New College, Oxford by a length.

1900
The most mysterious marathon. Unlike the first one at the Olympics (10 April 1896), the second didn't grab everyone's attention. Only 13 runners took part, only seven finished a race held in horrible heat, several took wrong turnings through the streets of Paris and had to double back. The top American, Arthur Newton, claimed he'd gone into the lead and never been overtaken, only to find himself in fifth place when he reached the finish. The story's been rubbished recently, but it sums up a mess of a race. Michel Théato, a Luxembourger living in Paris, was the only runner to break three hours, finishing more than four minutes clear. The two other medallists were Émile Champion and Ernest Fast. Nearly and not quite.

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