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A surprise entrant and brief stint at the top

Steven Lynch August 16, 2010
Ginger Rogers cut a graceful figure on court © Getty Images

Is it true that the actress and dancer Ginger Rogers took part in the US tennis championships? asked Matt Metcalfe from Liverpool
It sounds unlikely ... but actually it's true: Ginger Rogers was an avid tennis player, if not a great one, at a time when tennis was a particularly popular pastime among the rich and famous in California. In 1950, when she was 39, she took part in the mixed doubles at the US national championships at Forest Hills, although she lost in the first round. Ginger's partner was not Fred Astaire but Frank Shields, who had been the runner-up in the men's singles at Wimbledon in 1931 and later became the American Davis Cup captain. Shields flirted with Hollywood, appearing in several movies, but is probably better remembered now as the grandfather of the actress Brooke Shields, who had a rather more successful film career. And Brooke had a tennis connection too: she was briefly married to Andre Agassi.

I know that Britain's Mo Farah won two gold medals at the recent European Athletics Championships, but did anyone win three? asked Gary Winstone from Ipswich
The only athlete to emerge from the 2010 European Championships with three gold medals was the 20-year-old French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre, He won both the 100 and 200 metres - just pipping Britain's Christian Malcolm on the line - then was part of the French 4x100m relay quartet which overhauled the Italians to win another gold on the final day in Barcelona.

Which swimmer, who won three Olympic gold medals, was once arrested for "nude swimming" - although actually she'd only removed her stockings? asked Fiona Stapleton from Bristol
This was the American Ethelda Bleibtrey, who won three Olympic gold medals in 1920, even though she described it as like swimming in mud: so soon after the Great War there were no suitable pools in Antwerp, and the events were held in a tidal river estuary. The previous year she shockingly removed her stockings to swim on a Manhattan beach where it was forbidden to expose "the lower female extremities" in public. She received a summons, but little came of it: the Encyclopedia Britannica states that "subsequent public support for Bleibtrey led to the abandonment of stockings as a conventional element in women's swimwear".

Harbinger was a brilliant winner of the King George © Getty Images

I read that Harbinger, the horse recently forced to retire, was rated the best in the world. Does that mean ever, or just for this year? asked Colin Appleton from Northampton
Harbinger, the winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2010 (among other big races), was indeed forced to retire after breaking a leg while working on the gallops in Newmarket earlier this month. Harbinger had just been given a provisional Timeform rating of 142, higher even than the leading horse of 2009, the double English Classic winner Sea The Stars (140). The highest rating ever awarded is 145, to Sea Bird II, the French winner of the Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1965. Next come Brigadier Gerard and the 1940s horse Tudor Minstrel with 144; Abernant and Ribot were both also rated at 142.

Who was the first world heavyweight boxing champion to lose the title in his first defence? asked Ben Barling from Canterbury
The first heavyweight champion to suffer this indignity was Jack Sharkey, the American boxer of Lithuanian descent who won the title from Germany's Max Schmeling in June 1932. The following June Sharkey made his first defence, against the giant Italian Primo Carnera - the "Ambling Alp" - and was knocked out in the sixth round. Carnera made two successful defences before losing to Max Baer, who himself lost in his first defence, to James J. Braddock, the "Cinderella Man". Sharkey holds another unwanted record: in his first tilt at the heavyweight title, against Schmeling in 1930, he was disqualified for hitting below the belt: this was the first (and still only) tine that the world heavyweight title has been decided on a disqualification.

Is it true that the US PGA Championship used to be a matchplay event, like the Ryder Cup, rather than a strokeplay one? And how many non-Americans have won it? asked Dennis Clarke from Southampton
The US PGA Championship was indeed a matchplay event until 1957, although it was an individual event rather than a team one like the Ryder Cup. In the matchplay years only one non-American won it, the Australian Jim Ferrier in 1947 - and even he was an American citizen by then. Three other early winners - Tommy Armour, Jim Barnes and Jock Hutchison - were born in Britain but were naturalised Americans by the time they won their titles. The PGA became a strokeplay event like the other Majors in 1958 - Dow Finsterwald, the beaten finalist in the last matchplay tournament, won the first strokeplay one - and since then non-American winners have still been quite rare. Gary Player of South Africa won in 1962 and 1972; the Australians David Graham in 1979, Wayne Grady in 1990 and Steve Elkington in 1995; Nick Price of Zimbabwe won in 1992 and 1994; the Fijian Vijay Singh in 1998 and 2004; Padraig Harrington of Ireland in 2008; YE Yang of South Korea in 2009 and Martin Kaymer, dramatically in a play-off, this year. You'll notice that no European had won it until Harrington did - and no British golfer ever has.

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