• October 20 down the years

The day Fosbury flopped

Dick Fosbury set new ground in the high jump © Getty Images

Dick Fosbury flopped in Mexico City. No-one had seen his style of high-jumping at international level before. And when they did, it looked weird and unworkable. Instead of the stylish roll-over straddle, here was a tall gawky American twisting his body as he took off, crossing the bar on his back. It surely wasn't going to catch on. Except it did of course. Within a decade, no-one was using anything other than the Fosbury Flop - all because the original Fosbury won Olympic gold today. His winning height of 2.24 metres is poor by today's standards, but it was only four centimetres short of the world record, and you make allowances for prototypes.

Spectators were spoiled today. In the same stadium, Kenya's Kip Keino won an amazing 1500 metres final. He wouldn't have won it at sea level, where America's Jim Ryun had thrashed him by 25 yards in setting the world record. But Mexico's thin air gave Keino an unbeatable advantage: he trained at similar altitudes back home. And he had a team-mate to act as a pacemaker. After Ben Jipcho had covered the first lap in 56 seconds, Keino took the field through 800 metres in a crazy 1 minute 55.3. Ryun closed on him in the last lap but never came really close and had to drop back exhausted, leaving Keino to win by 20 yards in an Olympic record of 3 minutes 34.9 seconds, a simply astounding time at that altitude.

The thin air made things hard for distance runners but easy for sprinters, producing world records in all three relay finals. America's 4x400-metre men clocked 2 minutes 56.1 seconds, a world record which lasted almost 24 years.

2006 At the World Gymnastics Championships in Aarhus, European champion Beth Tweddle won gold on the asymmetrical bars. It was a triumph of nerve as well as technique: she'd qualified in fifth place and fallen from the bars during the all-round competition. The year before, the USA's Nastia Liukin had won the event with Tweddle in third place. Today Liukin finished second to Beth's almost faultless high-difficulty routine. Italy's new all-round champion Vanessa Ferrari won the bronze. The only British gymnast ever to win a world title, Tweddle did it twice, the second time on home ground (October 18, 2009).

2007 After England's first two matches in this rugby union World Cup, you could have had any odds on them taking their defence of the trophy all the way to the final. Not that you would have asked for odds: the very idea would have made you laugh out loud. England began with a laboured win over the USA and an embarrassment against South Africa: a 36-0 defeat which was their worst in any World Cup. They scraped their way out of the group by beating Tonga (September 28) - then amazed everyone by finding enough form to beat co-favourites Australia (October 6) and co-hosts France (October 13). So here they were today, looking for the revenge against the Springboks that would make them the only country to retain the World Cup. A tough ask, of course. There was never going to be a repeat of that 36-0, but England had scored only one try against France, none against Australia, and they were the only team not to score one against South Africa. In both matches.

The Springbok defence tightened up today, and England had only one real chance of breaching it: when Mathew Tait made a superb break that took him almost to the try line. When the ball was recycled out to Mark Cueto on the left wing, he squeezed in at the corner - and it took the video referee an age to disallow the try. It's still being debated today, but let it rest now: there's no doubt that Cueto put his foot on the touchline before crossing the line. England were 9-3 down at the time, and the score stayed the same until half-time. Jonny Wilkinson kicked another penalty in the second half, but England didn't have the guile to break down the Springbok defence (centre Mike Catt, playing against the country where he was born, was 36, the oldest player in any World Cup final). Meanwhile the Springboks didn't need the guile to break down the England defence: Percy Montgomery landed four penalties and François Steyn another. The only two World Cup finals without a try were the ones won by South Africa (June 24, 1995). This time they were the least worthy winners of all time. They didn't play the All Blacks, Australia, or France, just Fiji (who scored two tries when they were down to 14 men), Argentina, and some English blunt instruments. Their huge prop 'Os' du Randt had played in that 1995 final; now he won his 80th and last cap, 13 years after his first, a record span for a Springbok. Another World Cup winner also made his international exit: England icon Lawrence Dallaglio was playing in his 89th international match, including four for the British Lions.

Olympic gold for Britain as Ann Packer drew back the second string to her bow. Visibly disappointed at finishing second in the 400 metres (October 17), she didn't look like going one better in the 800 - until the home straight of the final. She finished fifth in her heat and third in her semi, and now she was last of the eight runners at the start of the final bend. No surprise in that, given that this was only her eighth race at the distance. But when Packer made her move, it was one of the greatest in British athletics. With 70 metres to go, she shot past long-time leader Maryvonne Dupureur of France, who'd set an Olympic record in the semi-finals. Packer simply kept on accelerating away, clocking an official world record of 2 minutes 01.1 without any obvious effort. She ran into a hug from her fiancé Robbie Brightwell, who'd been disappointed to finish fourth in his 400 metres final (October 19). 'Oh what a consolation!' cried commentator David Coleman. But it was rather more than that. Packer was only 22 when she retired after the Games (born March 8, 1942).

Sergio Garcia is looking to get his career back on track © Getty Images

The youngest golfer to play in the final of the World Matchplay at Wentworth. Sergio García was 22 years 284 days old, eight days younger than Tiger Woods two years earlier (October 18). And he had his work cut out. Ernie Els was appearing in the final for the fifth time. He'd won three of the other four, and although the third was back in 1996, he was at his best again this year. He was never behind in any of his matches, and in the quarter-final against Colin Montgomerie he set an incredible Championship record of 60. In the final against García, Els continued that vein of form, leading by five holes after 12 and three with six to play. But Els wasn't putting especially well, and he double-bogeyed the 31st and bogeyed the 32nd to leave García only one down. But the Spaniard conceded the 34th after hooking his drive and trying to hack his way out of the rough - then landed among trees at the next. Els won the match 2&1 and the trophy in each of the next two years, the second time he'd lifted it three years in a row. He won it for a record seventh time in 2007 (October 14). García never has.

For the first and only time, the organisers of a rugby union World Cup fitted a play-off round in between the group stage and the quarter-final. Just what teams needed if they weren't tired enough already. Good thinking, someone. Anyway, here they were, six countries playing off for the privilege of losing a quarter-final. At Twickenham, England coach Clive Woodward rested some key players as England had a typical encounter with Fiji, out-muscling them up front, conceding a few tries behind, ultimately winning by a handy margin. Jonny Wilkinson kicked seven penalty goals, three in the first 15 minutes of each half, and England scored two well-worked tries to lead 21-3 at half-time. A series of injuries forced Woodward to send on three first-choice players, and England scored two more tries. They conceded three, but one of those came in the last minute and they won 45-24. But South Africa had been putting their feet up while waiting for them in the next round (October 24).

In Lens in northern France, the referee awarded 17 penalties to Argentina and 16 to Ireland, and the respective kickers filled their boots. In Argentina's three matches in the tournament so far, fly-half Gonzalo Quesada had kicked six penalties against Wales, eight against Samoa, and seven against Japan. Now he added seven more in his total of 23 points. His opposite number David Humphreys went one better, scoring all of Ireland's 24. He matched Quesada in penalties and added a drop goal. The Irish led 21-9 just after half-time, but with just seven minutes left, little left winger Diego Albanese scored the only try of the game. Quesada's conversion put Argentina 24-23 ahead, and they won 28-24 as Ireland persisted in trying to barge their way through. Right at the end, they were awarded a string of penalties and must have been close to a penalty try, but Argentina held on for the right to lose to a fresher team in the quarter-finals.

In golf, Britain & Ireland hadn't won the Ryder Cup since 1957 (October 5). They'd lost the last one by a record margin (October 22, 1967). And they didn't win it today. But they came as close as you can - thanks to the generosity of an American. Yes, really. As usual, man-for-man the contest looked a mismatch. Tony Jacklin had just won the British Open (July 12), but none of his team-mates ever won a Major. Meanwhile, although ten of the Americans were making their Ryder Cup debuts, the ten included Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Ray Floyd. But this time class didn't tell as much as fighting spirit. After two days, the teams were tied at 8-all, and GB & Ireland led 13-11 after the morning singles. Then young Bernard Gallacher beat Trevino - but there was only one other home win that afternoon, and everything came down to the very last hole in the very last match. When Jacklin was faced with a tricky three-footer to halve the whole thing, Nicklaus conceded it - to the fury of his captain Sam Snead and the admiration of just about everyone else. It was the only time the Ryder Cup ended in a tie until 1989 (September 24).