• July 20 down the years

Harrington retains the Open

Padraig Harrington was eight shots behind Greg Norman © Getty Images

Irish golfer Pádraig Harrington retained the British Open. The previous year, he'd won a play-off after being six shots behind (22 July). Today he made up eight on Greg Norman, who was 53 by now but led by two shots after the third round. His recent marriage to former tennis star Chris Evert was doing the trick, the press boys chortled. But Norman maintained his reputation of blowing up in the last round of a Major, although it was understandable at his age. He eventually tied for third, six shots off the lead. Meanwhile Harrington made a 69, matching Ian Poulter's last round and beating him by four shots. He was the first European to retain the Open since Jimmy Braid in 1906.

Sad to say, Greg Norman deserves his reputation for messing up final rounds of Major tournaments. Just look at the 1996 Masters for gut-wrenching confirmation (14 April). Ten years earlier, he led after three rounds in all four events. At the Masters, he handed Jack Nicklaus a glorious farewell by bogeying the last hole (13 April). Then he shot 75 to give away the US Open. And the golfing gods rubbed it in at the US PGA, where Norman lost to an outrageous fluke (10 August). But he did win a Major for the first time - and gloriously, too. At a windswept Turnberry, he equalled a Major record with a brilliant second-round 63 which would have been even lower if he hadn't three-putted the last. Then he kept it together on the final day, making 69 to win by five shots. Norman won the Open again in 1993 (18 July). With a great last round.

The golfer who travelled from Kent, Ohio to Kent, England to win the British Open. Ben Curtis was the most complete outsider ever to win a Major. This was his very first, he was ranked 396 in the world, and he'd never won a professional tournament or played in Britain. Before the last round at Sandwich, Curtis hadn't broken 70 in the tournament. He was only two strokes off the lead held by Thomas Bjørn of Denmark, but he was surrounded by Davis Love, Sergio García, Vijay Singh, and someone called Woods. No chance, surely. But Curtis carried on playing no-nonsense golf in a very close last round, shooting 69 while Singh was making 70 and Tiger 71. Curtis was the only one to break par, finishing one stroke ahead of Bjørn, who double-bogeyed the 16th and needed a birdie at the last to force a play-off. His putt stopped inches short, leaving Curtis as the first golfer to win his maiden Major since 1913 (20 September). He never won another one.

Britain's Steve Backley made the first 90-metre throw with the redesigned javelin. At Crystal Palace, he reached 90.98 to regain the world record broken by Jan Železný only a week earlier. The specifications for the javelin changed again in both the next two years. Each time, the world record reverted to one set by Backley. He launched another 'first' 90-metre throw in 1992 (25 January).

Frank Bruno's first world title fight. It began on the 19th and ended in the early hours of the morning. His punching power was obvious from early on, but his weak chin had been exposed by Floyd 'Jumbo' Cummings and especially James 'Bonecrusher' Smith, who'd inflicted his first defeat as a pro with a 10th-round knockout. But manager Terry Lawless did his usual crafty job of picking soft targets in a minefield, and Bruno won a title shot by knocking out former WBA champion Gerrie Coetzee in the first round. Unfortunately for Frank, current holder Tim Witherspoon was made of sterner stuff even though he was floppy round the middle, in contrast with Bruno's bodybuilder look. Lawless made sure the title fight was at Wembley, but Bruno ran out of gas again. By the 11th round, he was ahead on points, but his stiffness contrasted with Terrible Tim's loose limbs and street-fighter's style, and he couldn't cope with a barrage of punches. Lawless, who knew this might be coming, threw in the towel. Big Frank didn't have another world title fight until 1989 - and didn't have much chance in that: it was against Mike Tyson (25 February). Meanwhile Witherspoon lost the title in his next fight, flattened by the Bonecrusher in the first round.

Steve Backley threw a then-world record in the javelin © Getty Images

At the first Olympic Games in London, Britain won a whopping 56 gold medals, mainly because many events were contested almost exclusively by British competitors. The women's archery was one of those. The top eight were all British, including the winner, 53-year-old Sybil 'Queenie' Newall, the oldest woman to win a medal in any Olympic Games. She scored 46 points more than Lottie Dod, the former Wimbledon tennis champion, whose brother William won an archery gold two days earlier. Lottie led by ten points at the end of the first day, but Newall came through to score 688 points to Dod's 642. The world's greatest archer Alice Legh missed the Olympics but beat Newall by 151 points a week later.

In Formula 1, the British Grand Prix was disrupted by the defrocked Irish priest who also attacked the leader in the Olympic Marathon the following year (29 August). Wearing a kilt and brandishing religious banners, Neil Horan ran down the middle of a straight, forcing cars to swerve to the right to avoid him. He was eventually dragged away by a steward and imprisoned for two months. Oh, and Rubens Barrichello won the race.

At the Olympic Games, Scottish superswimmer David Wilkie won silver in the 100 metres breaststroke. America's John Hencken had to set his third world record in two days to beat him - but Wilkie felt he could have won: he went too deep into his dive from the blocks, so his feet hit air when he kicked into his first stroke. Still, this wasn't his better distance. He had a second chance of gold, and beating Hencken, four days later.

The same day saw some incredible bravery or daftness in the Olympic gymnastics hall. In the men's team event, Japan's Shun Fujimoto broke his leg during his routine on the floor - but didn't tell anyone and went through with the vault and rings. Imagine the pain of landing on a broken leg from those two - especially when the dismount from the rings dislocated his knee! He was eventually persuaded to retire from the competition, which Japan won.

One of the most famous Davis Cup matches, packed with overtones that didn't exist at the time. An American beating a German not long before the Second World War: no-one was thinking in those terms. It was the tennis match itself that mattered, and Gottfried von Cramm turned it into a classic. A couple of weeks earlier, he'd lost a Wimbledon singles final for the third year in a row, this one to the mighty Don Budge. Now he was back on the same court for a match to decide which country would meet Britain in the Davis Cup Challenge Round. Grass was never von Cramm's favourite surface. He had a fast serve but didn't follow it to the net, and his groundstrokes were better on clay: he won the French Championships twice. So he was at a disadvantage against Budge, whose booming game won every Grand Slam tournament, three of them on grass. Von Cramm won the first two sets, but they were long ones - 8-6 7-5 - and took a lot out of him. He let the next two go while he had a breather, then took a 4-1 lead in the fifth. After that, his determination was always struggling with his stamina. Budge ended a match of superb shots ('one has never seen so many clouds of chalk') by winning the set 8-6. Budge & Co had no trouble taking the Cup from Britain on 27 July, when there was still no talk of wartime alliances.

In Paris, one of the all-time tennis giants won the women's singles at the Olympic Games. Helen Wills Moody (born 6 October 1905) was only 18 and still just Helen Wills when she outclassed local favourite Julie 'Didi' Vlasto 6-2 6-2 in the final.

At the same Games, Harry Mallin retained the middleweight boxing title. He survived being bitten by Roger Brousse of France, who was disqualified from their quarter-final, before outpointing another British boxer, John Elliott, in the final.