• July 24 down the years

Wilkie breaks the US dominance

David Wilkie set a new world record in the 100 metres breaststroke © Getty Images

Scotland's David Wilkie (born 8 March 1954) won Olympic gold. Four days earlier, he'd won silver behind John Hencken's latest world record in the 100 metres breaststroke. Now he set one himself in winning the 200. His time of 2 minutes 15.11 annihilated Hencken's world best by more than three seconds. It was Wilkie's second world record and 12th British record in the event. Hencken, who won silver, was stronger in the arms, Wilkie in the legs. Hencken was faster, Wilkie faster for longer. There were 13 men's swimming events in the Olympic Games that year. The USA won the other 12.

A year earlier to the day, Wilkie won the same event at the World Championships, retaining the title he'd won two years before. He set a championship record in finishing more than three seconds clear of America's Rick Colella, who was sure that if the event hadn't been held at high altitude in strong cold winds "David would have been two seconds faster and broken the world record." In Hencken's absence, Wilkie also won the 100 metres, ahead of Olympic champion Nobutaka Taguchi. Today's world title was the last by a British swimmer until 2001 (25 July).

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France for a record seventh time. In a row, too. He finished nearly five minutes ahead of the highly-rated Italian Ivan Basso, with Germany's former winner Jan Ullrich in third. Ullrich had finished runner-up to Armstrong three times, the last in 2003, when he lost by just 61 seconds. Armstrong had recovered from testicular cancer to get here, but the drug allegations never went away. His comeback in 2009 ended with third place in the Tour.

Spain's Pedro Delgado won the Tour in 1988 despite testing positive for probenicid, which could be used as a masking agent for steroids. It was banned by the IOC but not the Union Cycliste Internationale, so Delgado kept the yellow jersey while another rider was given a ten-minute penalty for failing a drug test.

The 1949 Tour de France featured a duel between two all-time greats from the same country. The previous year, Italy's Gino Bartali (born 18 July 1914) had won the race for the first time since 1938, the only rider to succeed before and after the War. Now he faced a huge challenge from Fausto Coppi (15 September 1919), arguably the greatest all-round cyclist ever produced by Italy - or anywhere. It took some serious diplomacy to bring the two giants into the same team, but once they reached France they dominated. After another Italian, Fiorenzo Magni, had led for six stages in the middle of the Tour, Bartali made his big move. He was five years older than Coppi but still a great force in the mountains. On his 35th birthday, Bartali won a stage and took the lead for the first time. The following day, he punctured on a descent. The Italian team manager had once been a great cyclist himself: Alfredo Binda, winner of the Giro five times. Now he persuaded Coppi to carry on down the hill and leave the stricken Bartali behind. Boo hiss. Coppi won the Tour at the first attempt and became the first to won the Giro in the same year. Bartali withdrew from the Tour the following year after being stoned by French spectators. Coppi, who admitted taking drugs "when it was necessary", returned to win it in 1952.

Dorando Pietri was disqualified after officials helped him over the finish line © Getty Images

If the first Olympic Marathon was the most important of all (10 April 1896), this one had the most vivid ending. It was also the first to establish the distance of 26 miles 385 yards, the yards tagged on so the royal kids could watch the start at Windsor Castle. Another privilege for the haves. But it was the last 385 yards that gave the race its fame. Before then, the highly-rated Cogwagee, a Canadian Indian better known as Tom Longboat, dropped out, leaving Charles Hefferon of South Africa and a little Italian called Dorando Pietri to contest the lead. A mile from the finish in Shepherd's Bush, Pietri left Heffernon behind and entered the White City Stadium alone. But something was badly wrong. Pietri turned the wrong way. When officials pointed him in the right direction, he began to fall over. Several times. In film of the race, he looks a figure of fun, a small man with a knotted white handkerchief on his head, performing comic pratfalls. But this was a top runner, who'd exhausted himself with too hot a pace. Eventually officials picked Pietri up and helped him over the line, leading to immediate disqualification. Meanwhile Johnny Hayes of the USA paced himself better and won the race, with Hefferon second. Pietri was later given a special cup by the Queen. Royals at the beginning and end.

That year's pole vault was the first Olympic track and field event with joint winners. Edward Cooke and Alfred Gilbert set an Olympic record of 3.71 metres, 13 centimetres more than the bronze medallist and a good height considering they weren't allowed to use the new technique of planting poles in holes. British officials made them use spiked poles and land on sand, not soft straw. Gilbert later made a fortune as the inventor of the American version of Meccano.

In the outdoor swimming pool, which was built in the infield of the athletics stadium, Britain set a world record in winning the men's 4x200 metres relay - but only because Hungary's famous Zoltán Halmaj blacked out and nearly drowned. Henry Taylor won the second of his three gold medals in these Games; Paul Radmilović also won gold at water polo in these Games and again in 1912 and 1920; and another team mate, 18-year-old William Foster, was Britain's youngest Olympic gold medallist in any sport.

A more famous swimmer drowned while trying to swim the Whirlpool Rapids below Niagara Falls. Eight years earlier, Captain Matthew Webb became the first man to swim the English Channel (25 August), but the attempt at Niagara was frankly suicidal. He got through the lower rapids easily enough, but the whirlpool sucked him down and his body wasn't found for four days. He was 35.

Former world snooker champion Alex Higgins died at the age of 61 following a long battle with throat cancer. Higgins, who won the World Championship at his first attempt in 1972 and again ten years later, was reportedly discovered dead in his flat in Belfast. Undoubtedly one of the greatest talents to ever play the game, Higgins helped to transform the sport in the 1970s and 1980s with his infectious personality and breathtaking shot-making.

In the track and field competition at the Olympics, a famous married couple won gold medals on the same day. Having already retained the 10,000 metres title, the great Emil Zátopek made amends for his narrow defeat in the 5,000 at the previous Games. At the climax of the race today, four runners were in contention. Then Britain's Chris Chataway took the lead with 200 to go - but he was exhausted and it was a bluff. Zátopek overtook him and two others followed. As the three pulled away, Chataway tripped on the kerb and fell over. Zátopek sprinted away to win, elbows akimbo and tongue lolling, chased home by the staccato little steps of Alan Mimoun (born 1 January 1921), who took silver behind him for the third time. Zátopek set an Olympic record...

...And so did his wife. Over on the grass, Dana Zatopkóvá became the first woman to throw the javelin 50 metres in an Olympic Games, enough to hold off the dodgily manly Soviet all-rounder Aleksandra Chudina, who also won silver in the long jump and bronze in the high jump. Mrs and Mrs Zátopek were born on the same day (19 September 1922). Emil decided that if Dana had one gold medal, he needed three. So he entered his first Marathon on the 27th.

Back on the track, Harrison 'Bones' Dillard (8 July 1923) won the 110 metres hurdles at last. Hot favourite in 1948, he didn't make the US team but won gold in the 100 metres instead (31 July). Today he held off the dangerous Jack Davis to win the hurdles by two feet. Dillard won his fourth Olympic gold in the relay three days later, while Davis won silver again in 1956.

Ireland's notorious Michelle Smith won her third gold medal of these Olympics. Having already purloined the 400 metres individual medley and 400 freestyle, she now snaffled the 200 IM in the slowest winning time since 1972. Smith led at the halfway mark, dropped to fourth after the breaststroke, then came through on the freestyle length to beat Canada's Marianne Limpert by almost half a second. Winning both medley events makes you the best all-round swimmer of the Games, no? You've got to laugh. Winning three golds at her age, after years of mediocrity - she wasn't fooling anyone, especially the drug-testers who came to see her two years later (see 16 December).

Still in the pool, Amanda Beard also won a gold medal, with America's medley relay team. Already the silver medallist in both breaststroke events, Beard won gold in the 200 eight years later and became a well-known model. But not just yet. In 1996 she was still only 14.

American golfer Jay Hebert matched his brother by winning the US PGA. Three years earlier, Lionel Hebert won it the last time it was a matchplay event, edging the final 2 & 1 against Dow Finsterwald, who won the tournament when it switched to strokeplay the following year. Today Jay's 70 was enough to win by one stroke from Jim Ferrier, who'd drawn level with him by shooting 66 in the third round.

In Auckland, New Zealand fly-half Andrew Mehrtens kicked nine penalty goals in an international match to equal the world record set on 8 May. No-one has ever kicked ten. Mehrtens's nine penalties naturally made all the difference. Australia scored two tries to the Blacks' one, but his 29 points won the match 34-15.

The two athletics world records that lasted only seconds each. The last event of the redesigned pentathlon was the 800 metres, same as in the heptathlon that replaced it. Here at the Olympic Games, the three Soviet athletes finished one two and three in the race and the whole event. Olga Kuragina ran 2 minutes 03.6 for a total of 4,875 points which broke her own world record. Olga Rukavishnikova finished 1.2 seconds behind her to score 4,937, then Nadyeshda Tkachenko arrived 0.4 seconds after that to break the 5,000-point barrier. Two years earlier, Tkachenko had been stripped of the European title and banned for only 18 months after testing positive for steroids.

Another Eastern Bloc athlete returned from a drugs suspension to win gold today. With her startling white hair and great strength, Ilona Slupianek was a distinctive figure in shot putting. She was caught taking steroids during the 1977 European Cup Final but came back stronger than ever. Here in the Moscow Olympics, her shortest putt matched the longest by any other thrower, and she won by 99 centimetres. Her winning distance of 22.41 metres set a Games record that still stands.