• March 1 down the years

Mansell makes flying start

Nigel Mansell celebrates his win at Kyalami © Sutton Images

The Formula One season opened with the South African Grand Prix. Britain's Nigel Mansell began as he was to go on by winning it, and the next four races, on his way to becoming world champion at last. Here at Kyalami, he led all the way from pole position and finished 24 seconds ahead of his Williams team mate Riccardo Patrese. The new Williams helped, with its computer-driven active suspension, but it was driven by a hungry fighter who'd been waiting six years since the last-day disaster on October 26, 1986. Mansell clinched the title on August 16. In South Africa, a young German called Michael Schumacher was impressive in finishing fourth.

Everyone picked on John Ruiz. Well, picked him, anyway. When Nikolai Valuev wanted a world heavyweight title, he went after the WBA version held by Ruiz and not, say, Hasim Rahman, who had a punch in him. James Toney, a blown-up super-middleweight, beat Ruiz in a title fight before testing positive for drugs. So this was the man to come to if you were from a lower weight division and wanted to make some history. Roy Jones proved that today, winning an easy points decision to take the WBA title and become the first former world middleweight champion to win the heavyweight title since Britain's Bob Fitzsimmons on March 17, 1897 and the first to win middle, light-heavy and heavy since Fitzsimmons on November 25, 1903. Jones was 34 by then and not the all-time great who'd dominated an entire decade - but there was enough left in the tank to beat the John Ruizes of this world. Ruiz had won the title from Evander Holyfield, which looks good on a CV until you realise Holyfield was 38 years old. The three titles look good on Jones's CV too, until you remember there was only one champion in each division in Fitz's day, so he couldn't pick and choose his targets.

On the last day of the European Indoor Championships, British athletes picked up two gold medals. One was the least surprising of the weekend: Jonathan Edwards had triple-jumped 40 centimetres further than anyone else. His first attempt was enough to win gold by 28. But the 1500 metres was another matter. The Championships were held in Valencia, and the event was the last on the programme - because it was Spain's best chance of a gold. When their three runners tried to knock John Mayock out of the inside lane, he knocked back, using his elbows when necessary. After winning the race, he reacted to being booed by the crowd by pointing to his British vest. Alberto García pushed him during the race, and Manuel Pancorbo refused to shake his hand at the medal ceremony. So he must have done something right.

Not just boxing's fight of the year but probably the whole decade. The previous year, Israel Vázquez lost his WBC super-bantamweight title when fellow Mexican Rafael Márquez stopped him in the seventh round. A few months later, he did the stopping, in the sixth. Today they met for the third time in a year. Márquez knocked him down in the fourth round and was ahead on points until the last few seconds of the fight. Then Vázquez came up with a knockdown of his own, just enough to tip the split decision his way. Two big hitters banging away: fight fans love 'em. But they were lucky not to have another Gerald McClellan on their conscience (February 25, 1995). Márquez was so beaten up he didn't fight for 14 months, while Vázquez was out for 19 and needed three operations on a damaged retina.

Jan Kodes was born in Prague. You have to go along with the view that he wouldn't have won Wimbledon in 1973 if the top serve-volleyers hadn't boycotted the event. But he might have made the final. He'd reached the semis the previous year, and after winning Wimbledon he went all the way to the US Open final, which he lost to John Newcombe after leading by two sets to one. He'd also reached the final in 1971. Anyway a Grand Slam title on grass would have been just icing. His cake was clay, and with his strong legs and punishing ground strokes he ruled the French Open in 1970 and 1971, winning his first Final in straights sets (6-0 in the third) and the second against Ilie Nastase. So this was one worthy champion. Shame about the moustache.

A young-looking Lawrence Dallaglio scores England's opening try © Getty Images

Some people are never satisfied. Even though England beat Scotland 41-13 and Ireland 46-6 in Dublin, there were mutters about a team not turning it on until the last quarter. So today, against France at Twickenham, England came sprinting out of the traps, playing some of the best rugby of the decade. Lawrence Dallaglio motored 30 yards for an imperious try, and Paul Grayson kicked his goals. England led 14-6 at half-time and 20-6 with twenty minutes left. Even when Laurent Leflamand shot past Rory Underwood for a try, France seemed to have too much to do. But even in their purple patch England had turned the ball over too much, and now they couldn't get their hands on it any more. With ten minutes left, Christophe Lamaison beat two men for the equalising try, then kicked the winning penalty. Agony for England, who finished the season with the Triple Crown while the French won the Grand Slam. Lamaison eventually scored 380 points for France, still the national record. He scored the last on March 17, 2001. These were his first. He scored in all four ways: a try, two conversions, two penalties, and a drop goal.

Sugar Ray Leonard had made a comeback before. He beat Marvin Hagler on April 6, 1987 after nearly three years away. But this was just silly. After losing his WBC light-middleweight title to Terry Norris on 9 February 1991, he retired as one of the greatest boxers of all time. Now, six years later, he returned to fight Héctor Camacho for something called the IBC middleweight title. Camacho, once a top fighter himself, was 35 by then - but Leonard was 41 and should have stuck to his pipe and slippers. He lost this daft comeback in the fifth (the only time he was ever stopped as a pro) and stayed away for good.

Two of rugby league's greatest players made their debuts for Great Britain today. So did ten others. And all that inexperience was still too much for France. They lost 50-4 at Headingley against a team that included Ellery Hanley and an 18-year-old Shaun Edwards. Hanley scored the first and last tries, the first with a typical burst through the middle. GB kicked nine goals, eight by David Creasser, before Christian Macalli added a coat of gloss for France.

From little to very large. On March 28, 1929, Tommy Loughran kept his world light-heavyweight title against middleweight Mickey Walker. Later that year, he beat 'Cinderella Man' Jim Braddock, then gave up the title to go after the big boys. And they didn't come bigger than Primo Carnera. Even nowadays, he'd be regarded as rather hefty. At the time - well, people had never seen a 19-stone man in a boxing ring. He won the world title in 1933 and now defended it against Loughran, who weighed six stone less, the biggest weight difference in a world title fight until Nikolai Valuev came along. Loughran was a master boxer, but he couldn't get near the giant, who won almost every round. On June 14, Carnera lost the title when Max Baer (born 11 February 1909) knocked him down 11 times.

Gastone Nencini was born in Tuscany. One of the fastest cyclists going down a mountain, he won the Tour de France in 1960 and the Giro d'Italia three years earlier.