• January 8 down the years

A giant of the ring dies in a car crash

The sporting events of January 8 down the years
Carlos Monzon: A titan in the ring © Getty Images

Carlos Monzon died in a car crash on his way back to jail. "You can't be better than Sugar Ray Robinson," they said. Sugar Ray won the title five times. "Only because he lost it three times," Monzon said. "I never have." And he never did. He was 28 before he got his shot at the world middleweight champion. Apart from a few excursions to Brazil, he'd never fought outside Argentina. He was thought to be durable but not much else, a punchbag for golden boy Nino Benvenuti (born April 26, 1938) in Rome. Monzon's left-right combination in the 12th jellified an increasingly desperate champion, and the world was wondering what it had here. It had one of the all-time giants. This was a robot made of stone. Concrete pole of a jab, jaw like granite, an economic style that let him smoke an alleged fifty fags a day while training. You simply never saw him take a deep breath. He defended the title 14 times in the next seven years, didn't lose any of his last 80 pro fights, and was knocked down only once in his pomp, during his last defence, when he bounced straight back up and battered the dangerous Rodrigo Valdez for the second time. When Monzon retired, the violence spread outside the ring. He beat up both his wives and killed the second one. He was returning from a visit to his children when he crashed his car. Suicide? No evidence. Greatest middleweight of all time? No shortage of evidence. You can keep your Haglers and your Sugar Rays. Leonard included.

The day Keith Deller became world darts champion. At the end of the final, the great Eric Bristow had a shot at the bull to make it 2-2 in legs. Instead he played safe and left Deller a 138 checkout for the title. Reckless, you'd think. This kid, this unknown qualifier, had got here by beating other former champions John Lowe and Jocky Wilson. But maybe Bristow was thinking back to the ninth set, when Deller missed seven darts to win the match. Obviously couldn't cope with the pressure. Well obviously he'd learned to. The kid hit treble 20, treble 18, double 12, and jumped in the air. He was knocked out in the first round the following year and essentially disappeared, but he'd had his moment. Bristow won the title for the next three years.

At the British Championships, their first competition as reinstated 'amateurs' in ten years, Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean achieved a complete row of maximums in the free dance. Like they'd never been away. The path to a comeback Olympic gold on February 18 looked strewn with sixes...

Jacques Anquetil was born in northern France. Check the Tour de France pantheon. Winning it five times puts you right up there. Good enough in the hills, he was relentless against the clock, winning the Grand Prix de Nations (effectively the world time trial championship) a record nine times and breaking the world record for distance covered in an hour. This is the sort of activity drugs were made for, and he did everyone a favour by admitting he took them (they weren't illegal in cycling until the end of his career). You have to, he said, to cover those distances in those mountains. 'Every cyclist takes drugs. Anyone who says he doesn't is a liar.' He had a famous rivalry in the Tour de France with the people's champion Raymond Poulidor, who never won the race. When Anquetil was dying of stomach cancer, he wrote to his old foe: 'Looks like I'm going to be first again, Poupou.'

A crewcut 21-year-old called Jack Nicklaus ended his first event as a professional golfer. In the Los Angeles Open, he finished 50th and won $33.33. Before the end of June, he'd won his first event as a pro, which happened to be the US Open.

At the World Swimming Championship in Perth, Australia, two all-time greats won gold medals. One of them also won a silver. Michael Gross (born June 17, 1964) finished a close second to Olympic champion Anthony Nesty in the 100 metres butterfly but anchored Germany to victory in the 4x200 freestyle relay. It was his 11th World Championship medal, a record at the time. Meanwhile the remarkable Tamas Darnyi (June 3, 1967) broke his own world record in the 400 individual medley. He'd now won all his major championship 200 and 400 IM races since 1985.

The days when rugby teams often turned up without a full complement and had to press-gang innocent bystanders. For their first match against Scotland, Wales arrived two players short. So they dragged in William Norton and the Edinburgh University third-team captain John Griffin, who had no Welsh roots. Scotland played with 14 men for the last hour but still scored three converted tries before Wales scored one of their own. Griffin later refereed South Africa's first ever international, against the British Isles in 1891.

Charles Pillman was born. One of rugby's free spirits, 'Cherry' played, as they said, 'a game he invented himself'. Operating loosely as a flanker, he was sometimes an extra back, at other times a fearsome tackler round the fringes. The star of the British Isles tour to South Africa in 1910, he played 20 matches for England, finishing on the winning side 15 times and scoring eight tries. When he broke his leg in his last match, the win over Scotland in 1914, his brother Robert replaced him for the easy match in Paris the following month.

At the sixth attempt, Wales avoided defeat against England at rugby. When the English softies refused to play on Llanelli's frozen pitch, the match was moved to the cricket ground next door. Against an England team with eight new caps, the Reverend Charlie Newman captained Wales to a 0-0 draw in the snow. The great Arthur Gould (January 9, 1897) lived up to his nickname 'Monkey' by climbing up a post to replace the crossbar.