• April 18 down the years

Sevens glory for England

England were surprise winners at Murrayfield © Getty Images

England won the first unofficial World Cup sevens on April 7, 1973. Now, 20 years later, they won the first official tournament - and created one of rugby union's great shocks. The ten players in their squad had won only three 15-a-side caps between them, and the powers-that-be allowed them only enough expenses for three training days. Typical short sight and tight fists. So no-one expected anything from unknowns like Adedayo Adebayo, Nick Beal, David Scully, and some rawboned half-Italian called Dallaglio. Very nice that they got to the semi-final, but that's enough now, chaps. The pivotal moment came in the second half. They'd already surpassed themselves, people thought, by holding sevens masters Fiji 7-7 at half-time. Then they set Dallaglio free on halfway to run at the last man, who happened to be Waisale Serevi, acknowledged king of the short-handed game but a feeble little tackler. He waved Dallaglio through, after which Adebayo put his captain Andy Harriman clear for the third. The team with no hope and no money were in the final. There they met an Australian team who'd scraped past Ireland but had David Campese and Michael Lynagh in their line-up. A match too far, surely. Except that in Harriman England had an absolute greyhound, just made for sevens. In the first minute, he lined up Campese on the left, gave him a look that said 'who are you kidding?', then outran one of the fastest men in world rugby. Chris Sheasby picked up an Australian knock-on and bullocked his way forward before giving Dallaglio an easy run-in; big Tim Rodber ran 60 yards to score the third - and England were in dreamland at 21-0. They led 21-5 at half-time, but Australia then scored two more tries, the first from Campese, who wasn't chastened enough to forget his goose-step. But England scored all theirs close enough to the posts to make Beal's conversions a formality, whereas Lynagh managed only one. England won 21-17 and Lynagh agreed they thoroughly deserved it: 'We were shell-shocked by their start. Then they held on wonderfully.' He was so tired, he said, he'd rather have run the London Marathon.

Ice hockey giant Wayne Gretzky played his last NHL game. His New York Rangers lost 2-1 in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but even then the great one laid on Brian Leetch's goal, a last assist that gave him a record total of 2,857 points. Before the game, words were changed in the national anthems (by Brian Adams, among other people) to mention Gretzky's departure. Fingers down throat, but that's how big he was.

In snooker's World Championship, 21-year-old left-hander Andy Hicks, ranked 33 in the world, beat No. 2 seed and six-time champion Steve Davis. He led 6-3 overnight and 8-3 before Davis pulled back to 8-7 and went 26-0 up in the next frame. Hicks laid a snooker to go 9-7 up, then won it with 84, the highest break of a low-scoring match.

On the same day Willie Thorne recovered from losing the first two frames to win 10-6 against Tai Pichit, a former world amateur champion whose real name was Chuchart Trirattanapradit.

The most points by one player in an Anglo-Welsh Cup final. At Twickenham, a Cardiff team packed with internationals was much too strong for Gloucester, who were without their injured captain Mike Tindall. Leigh Halfpenny scored the first two tries to put Gloucester 17-0 ahead after 20 minutes, and they led 22-5 at half-time. Former All Black Ben Blair scored two of their four second-half tries and finished with 25 points in a 50-12 win.

Haile Gebrselassie has set over 25 world records © Getty Images

Haile Gebrselassie was born in Ethiopia. Even the achievements of Kenenisa Bekele haven't dimmed the star. Early in his career, Gebrselassie was the best 5,000 metre runner in the world, setting four world records. At his peak, he became the best at 10,000, setting three world bests and winning the Olympic title in 1996 and 2000, outsprinting Paul Tergat of Kenya both times. At the same event, he was world outdoor champion four times in a row, beating poor Tergat into silver twice and bronze once. Gebrselassie also finished second to Bekele in 2003, by which time he was in decline on the track, still capable of running hard for long periods but without the trademark sprint off a fast pace. So he reinvented himself as a Marathon runner and he set two more world records, including the one that still stands: 2 hours three minutes 59 seconds set in 2008. He was the only track and field athlete to set world records over a 14-year span - although we're entitled to ask how a 35-year-old asthmatic ran so amazingly fast over such a long distance...

In the replay of the Challenge Cup final, Leeds expected better things after holding Hull to a 7-7 draw with only 12 men. But they probably didn't expect to win by such a wide margin. With the wind behind them, they spent the first half kicking and chasing instead of passing, and were rewarded with a 16-0 lead. They were 26-0 up with 20 minutes to go before easing up enough to let Hull make the final score 26-12. Leeds's four tries were shared by four different players, and Frank Young kicked seven goals, a Challenge Cup final record until May 12, 1973.

On March 2, Émile Pladner of France had won the world flyweight title by knocking out Frankie Genaro in 58 seconds. But Pladner's reign as champion was one of the shortest ever: tonight, 47 days later, he floored Genaro with a low blow in the fifth round, and the American and Swiss judges disqualified him. The French judge disagreed, saying Pladner had won every round. As Genaro left the ring, bottles were thrown, his manager was hit by another French boxer, Genaro himself by a spectator. The money must have good a year later, because he was back in the same ring, defending against another Frenchman. This time he won on points and nobody hit him afterwards. As for Pladner, he suffered a detached retina in a fight in 1936. An operation couldn't save his sight, but he learned Braille, did a massage course, and worked for the French Rugby Federation.

Heike Friedrich was born. In the mid 1980s she was the most successful 200 metre freestyler in the world, winning gold at the 1988 Olympics (and silver in the 400, her first international defeat) and the 1986 World Championships, in which she won three other titles, winning the 400 free and setting world records in both freestyle relays. At the European Championships, she won five golds in 1985 (when she was 15) and four in 1987. Her world record in the 200 free lasted eight years, a long time in swimming. But she was born and raised in East Germany, and a 1990 edition of Stern magazine released the names of prominent East German athletes it claimed participated in state-run drugs programmes. You've guessed it. Kristin Otto was on it too.

Charles 'Kid' McCoy took enough sleeping pills to kill himself, apparently disturbed at 'this world's madness' during a World War. Back in 1896, he'd called himself world middleweight champion after knocking out Tommy Ryan in the 15th round, and reinforced his claims by beating Mysterious Billy Smith, Bill Doherty, and Dan Creedon. He took Jack Root too lightly before the inaugural light-heavyweight title fight on April 22, 1903, but he beat well-known heavyweights like Gus Ruhlin, Joe Choynski, and Peter Maher before losing to former world champion Jim Corbett. McCoy was born Norman Selby in Indiana in 1872, but Irish surnames were the rage for decades (many Italian fighters had to use them). He had his last meaningful fight in 1914 - then the real battles started. In 1924 he shot and killed his lover and robbed a store while waiting for her former husband. He escaped with a charge of manslaughter and was released in 1932. He married for the 9th time in 1937. It's said that the phrase 'the real McCoy' comes from him. Mind you, it's said to come from a lot of people.

One of the all-time greats became world welterweight champion. José Napoles was born in Cuba but defected to Mexico. By the time he challenged Curtis Cokes for the world title, he was already 29 but at his peak. And this wasn't the ageing warrior who lost the title to a British fighter on December 6, 1975. All the moves were still there. Nothing flash, just the right amount of movement to slip punches and find openings, and those hands like wasps. Cokes was taller and had a longer reach. There was something of Bob Foster about him, without the punching power. He won a fair number of points with his jab, but towards the end he wasn't even throwing that, and Napoles beat him to the punch too many times. Cokes didn't come out for the 14th and lost the rematch two months later.