- April 5 down the years
Three in a row for Mansell
Nigel Mansell won the Brazilian Grand Prix. It was the third race of the season, and he'd already won the first two. He won the next two too, five wins in a row on his way to becoming world champion at long last, dimming the horrors of October 26, 1986. He almost didn't make the starting grid in Brazil, after crashing into a wall during practice. He and team mate Riccardo Patrese made it a Williams one-two for the third race out of three. It was the 24th Formula 1 win of Mansell's career so far, putting him level with the great Juan Manuel Fangio. A young Michael Schumacher came third.
The first ever rugby league international match. Scheduled for Oldham on New Year's Day, it was postponed when the pitch wouldn't unfreeze, then moved to Central Park in Wigan. There was something artificial about it all. Only twelve players a side and billed as England v Other Nationalities, who were Wales with a couple of Scotsmen, one of whom, George Frater, was made captain. England started the match with only eleven men when their star centre Jim Lomas arrived late, but took the lead with a try by Jackie Fish. That was their only score. Dai Thomas equalised before half-time, then Willie Thomas and Dai Harris added tries to win the game 9-3. The return fixture next year featured 15 men on each side and a 26-11 win for England after they were 11-0 down at half-time. But the history men were Welsh and two Scots.
When Jack Johnson was convicted of taking a white woman across state lines 'for immoral purposes', he jumped bail and spent the next seven years away from the USA. In the middle of this exile, he defended his world heavyweight title against Jess Willard at the Havana racetrack in Cuba. Willard was a Kansas cowboy who'd been boxing professionally for only four years, and most of his opponents had been nobodies. Plus he was already 33. But he was relatively fresh and he had size on his side. By the standards of the time, Johnson was a big heavyweight: 6' 1 and just under 15 stone at his peak. But Willard was a giant. 6' 6 and anywhere between 17 and 19 stone. And this made all the difference. The fight was dead dull. Both men spent most of the fight not throwing any punches for several seconds at a time. Every single time Johnson came inside to land some blows, big Jess grabbed him and held on. It was a tactic Johnson himself used against other opponents, and it worked against him now. He was 37 and past it. His punches simply weren't fast enough to catch Willard before he could start wrestling. And it was a long fight under an afternoon sun. Both men had two attendants employed purely to flap away with towels to cool them between rounds. As Johnson began to run out of puff, he drove Willard across the ring in the 20th and 21st rounds. But by the 26th he had nothing left. A long right hand and exhaustion put him down for the count. He later claimed that he'd thrown the fight to get a lighter sentence when he returned to face jail. Look at the photo, he said, showing him shielding his face against the sun as he lay on his back. But it doesn't add up. For a start, Johnson didn't go back to the States for another five years - and if he was going to throw the fight, why wait 26 rounds? Age had simply caught up with him - and therefore with every other black heavyweight. None of them was allowed to fight for the world title again until June 22, 22 years later. When Willard met someone who was still at his peak, he lost the title pitifully on July 4, 1919. Johnson did his porridge for a 'crime' committed before the law came out. He led that kind of life: in Havana, the all-white crowd had jeered his every move.
The first British male squash player to win the British Open since 1973. The final took place on Peter Nicol's 25th birthday. The year before, he'd taken Jansher Khan to a fifth and last game in the final. Today he played on the great man's knee problems by extending every rally he could. In the opening game, Jansher led 13-10 and had game ball at 16-16. But he lost it, and the rest was all pain. Nicol won the remaining games 15-4 15-5. He lost in the Final again the following year, to his greatest rival Jonathon Power of Canada, and to Australia's David Palmer in 2003, but beat another Oz, John White, in the 2002 final. In the World Open, Nicol reached three Finals in a row, losing the first two, including one to Power, before climaxing his career by easily beating Ahmed Barada of Egypt in 1999. Nicol was Commonwealth Games singles champion in 1998 (beating Power in the final) and 2006, and silver medallist (behind Power again) in between. In the doubles, he won gold with Lee Beachill in 2002 and 2006. Nicol was born in Scotland but switched his allegiance to England in 2001 and completed the full set of titles with the World Team Championship four years later. He clinched the Final by hammering Mohammed Abbas of Egypt 9-0 9-2 9-1.
On the same day that Nicol beat Jansher, Michelle Martin won the women's British Open for the sixth year in a row. Her last three Finals were all against fellow Australian Sarah Fitz-Gerald, who was the world champion and top seed by now but lost more heavily than ever: 9-4 9-2 9-1. Martin's brothers Rodney and Brett lost four British Open Finals between them.
In rugby union, France beat Wales 51-0 at Wembley to complete back-to-back Grand Slams for the only time in their history. They scored seven tries, five converted by Christophe Lamaison, who also kicked two superfluous penalty goals. Thomas Castaignède was an imp at fly-half, and their pack won ruck after ruck. But this was one of the poorest Wales teams ever, especially in the centre and the pack (their entire back row was booked). They'd lost 60-26 at Twickenham in February - and would happily have gone home at half-time here, when they were 29-0 down. In the first quarter of an hour, full-back Jean-Luc Sadourny scored two tries from short passes by Stéphane Glas, who scored one himself. Xavier Garbajosa grabbed two in the second half.
On the par-3 fourth hole at Bidwell Municipal Course in Chico, California, 102-year-old Elsie McLean became the oldest golfer to hit a hole-in-one.
Rotterdam has one of the fastest Marathon courses in the world, responsible for several world and European records. Commonwealth too, especially today, when two runners ran the same time. In the last 500 metres, Duncan Kibet swapped the lead with fellow Kenyan James Kwambai before edging ahead right on the line. Their time of 2 hours 4 minutes 27 was the third fastest of all time. Other Kenyans set personal bests in finishing third and fourth: Abel Kirui and Patrick Makau, who was running his first Marathon.
In golf, the inaugural Babe Didrikson Zaharias Open was won by...Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Born on June 26, 1911, she was one of the great all-rounders. Two Olympic track and field gold medals in 1932, ten Majors in golf. Soon after winning her own tournament, she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a colostomy. She died in 1956.
Johnny Weissmuller set his second and last world record at 200 metres (actually 220 yards) freestyle. His 2 minutes 8 seconds smashed his own 2:15.6 and lasted another eight years.
Clas Thunberg was born in Helsinki. The world's top speedskater in the 1920s and one of the most successful of all time, he won five Olympic gold medals and was all-round world champion five times, equalling the men's record that stood until 2013. At the 1924 Winter Games, he won the 1500, 5000, and all-round title as well as silver in the 10,000 and bronze in the 500. In 1928 he retained the 1500 and won the 500. In Lake Placid four years later, the system of pairs competing against the clock was replaced by the American tradition of actual races. Thunberg knew the Europeans had no chance unless they raced as teams. When the Norwegians rejected his suggestion, he didn't take part. Sure enough, North Americans won ten of the twelve medals. Thunberg was nearly 39 by then but the reigning world champion, so there would surely have been more medals under the European system. A bathetic end to one of the top careers. He set world records at 500, 1000, and 3000 metres.
Art Wall hit more than 40 holes-in-one in his golf career - but won only one Major. Still, he won it in the grand manner. Six shots off the lead going into the last round of the Masters, he covered the last four holes in five under par, holing from 15 feet twice, 20 feet, and 12 at the last to win by one stroke.