• September 1 down the years

Britain kicked ass

Britain's 4x400m relay team celebrated gold in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo in 1991 © Getty Images

The day Britain kicked ass. And kicked it thrillingly. At the World Athletics Championships in Tokyo, Roger Black was disappointed with his silver medal, only 0.05 behind Antonio Pettigrew. Today's relay gave him the chance for revenge - but not in direct competition. While the USA put Pettigrew on the anchor leg, Britain's coach Frank Dick wanted to put the Americans under pressure. They were accustomed to being way out in front before the final changeover, and Dick wanted to see them react to someone on their tail. So he sent Britain's fastest runner out first. Black was ahead of Andrew Valmon after the opening leg, and although Derek Redmond lost the lead to Quincy Watts, Olympic champion the following year, big John Regis ran a crucial race. A barrel-chested 200-metre specialist, he'd won bronze in the sprint relay only an hour earlier. Now he kept in touch with Danny Everett, so Kriss Akabusi was only two yards behind at the start of the last leg. He had the new world champion to contend with, but relays are different organisms from individual races. Late in his career, Akabusi had switched from the 400 flat to the hurdles, where his strength won him a string of medals, including bronze at these Championships at the age of 32. Akabusi used that strength to move up to Pettigrew's shoulder on the last bend and pressurise him in the last 50 metres before edging past him on the line. Britain's time of 2:57.33 seconds broke the European and Commonwealth record they'd set on the same day the year before. Akabusi's famous laugh was louder than ever, and the team wore t-shirts informing the world and the Americans that We Kicked Ass. It was the last time they did - the USA beat Britain into second and third place at the next two Olympics - but all four of these runners deserved to be world champions that day.

Bobby Fischer became world champion at last. Still arguably the greatest chess player of all time, a genius as a kid, he'd made his first attempts at the title when he was 16 and 19, when he claimed he'd been "gang-raped" by the Soviets, whereas he simply wasn't quite ready for them. Now he was - and how. After finishing top of the Interzonal round-robin, he won his first two knockout matches 6-0, i.e. all six games twice, unheard-of in chess at this level, especially as the second encounter was with the brilliant Dane, Bent Larsen. In all, Fischer won 20 matches in a row, a record at the top level. Then he hammered former world champion Tigran Petrosian 6½-2½ to earn his shot at the title. Meanwhile Boris Spassky had been a young prodigy himself, world junior champion back in 1955. He won the senior title at the second attempt by beating Petrosian in 1969. And he'd never lost a game to Fischer, a sequence he added to in the first two games of their World Championship match. Just getting the two men in the same room had been a task. Fischer being Fischer, negotiations dragged on and stalled, over the choice of venue, prize money, you name it. Eventually they settled on Reykjavik - and then Fischer's problems really started. When he lost the opening game in 56 moves, he must have thought he was never going to win one against Spassky. When he didn't turn up for the second, he lost it by default. Then he missed the third - and Spassky would have been completely within his rights to win the match by disqualification. Instead he was gracious enough to carry on. It cost him the title. Fischer won the third game and four of the next seven. Spassky forced a crushing win in Game 11, and the match was back in the balance.

But Boris had always been brilliant but slightly work-shy, something you could never say about his challenger. Fischer was the grandmonster of chess. He'd been doing nothing else since he was a child. And now exhaustion crept in on the world champion. On the 69th move of Game 13, Spassky made such a bad blunder that he could barely look at the board. Then the next seven games were drawn as Fischer strolled to the title. We had some fun shenanigans involving x-rays of Fischer's chair for 'chemical substances or electronic means', which was all very Cold War and silly. Then, with Bobby needing only two points from the last four games, he played a brilliant endgame against Spassky's two passed pawns. The following day, Boris resigned after 40 moves and the auditorium went wild. Fischer was the first American world champion and the first from outside the USSR since 1937. He forfeited the title in 1975, so although the Soviets regained it, they never beat him for it. In a rematch twenty years later, he met Spassky in Yugoslavia, for the money this time. Fischer won that too. He was still wanted in the USA for playing the match in a country undergoing sanctions when he died in 2008 - in the most appropriate resting place: Reykjavik.

In the first round of the 1960 US tennis championships, Richard Rasskind lost 6-0 6-1 6-1 to the holder and reigning Wimbledon champion Neale Fraser. After undergoing a sex operation, she changed her name, to Renée Richards. So did the tournament, to the US Open. In the first round today, now aged 43, Richards lost 6-1 6-4 to Britain's Virginia Wade. In 1979, Richards lost to the holder Chris Evert, who was 20 years younger. Richards reached the final of the doubles in 1977.

In golf, the first day of the Open was played in a biblical storm. So Willie Auchterlonie's opening round of 78 was an exceptional achievement. The last two rounds were played today, when the rain held off from an overcast sky. In the third, Auchterlonie took only 19 strokes for the last five holes. He began the final round by three-putting for a six, but made three at the second and played steadily from then on, finishing with 'an admirable four at the end hole'. He needed 322 shots on that damp course, 17 more than the previous year's champion but two clear of former British Amateur champion Johnny Laidlay. Auchterlonie's triumph earned him prize money of £1.50. He was only 24 days past his 21st birthday, younger than even Seve Ballesteros in 1979. Only Young Tom Morris won the Open when he was younger. Auchterlonie's brother Laurie won the US Open in 1902.

John Eales is congratulated by fans after Australia beat the All Blacks in a classic encounter in 2001 © Getty Images

The end of a great international career in rugby union. Lock forward John Eales was the first player to win the World Cup twice: in 1991 and as captain in 1999. One of the greatest lineout jumpers of all time, he was also the most prolific pointscoring forward in Test history. Today in Sydney, he bowed out as he would have wanted, winning his 86th cap as captain in a win over New Zealand which kept the Tri-Nations trophy in Australia. But it was a very close thing. Australia led 19-6 at half-time but were overhauled by two quick tries, and it took another one, by Toutai Kefu right at the end, to win the match 29-26.

The over-excitement which cost a British girl an Olympic medal. In the third round of the javelin, national record holder Sue Platt sent the spear out to beyond 54 metres, which would have earned silver if she hadn't stepped over the line in her eagerness to see where it landed. She finished seventh. The silver medal went to 37-year-old former champion Dana Zátopková, who'd won gold on the same day as her famous husband. Today's gold medallist also married an Olympic champion: Elvīra Ozoliņa's future husband Jānis Lūsis won the javelin in 1968.

A British girl who did win silver at these 1960 Games. Carole Quinton had no chance of gold in the 80 metres hurdles: that was earmarked for Soviet pitbull Irina Press, who set an Olympic record of 10.6 in the semi-final before winning the final easily. Another British girl finished fourth, but Mary Rand's day was still to come. Press' equally scary sister Tamara won the shot putt at these Olympics and again in 1964.

British boxer Glenn Catley was making the first defence of his WBC super-middleweight title when he lost to Dingaan Thobela in Johannesburg. In the 12th and last round, he was in the lead on points when exhaustion caught up with him. Thobela caught him with a couple of light right hands, and Catley wobbled onto the canvas before bouncing back up off the ropes. A series of uppercuts followed, but the final punch was a kind of gentle push. There were only seven seconds left in the fight. Thobela lost the title before Christmas, and Catley lost a fight for the vacant title the following year.

The great Juan Manuel Fangio became the only driver to win the Italian Grand Prix three years in a row. He'd already retained his Formula One title by the time he won the last race of the season at Monza. Starting on pole in his Mercedes, he finished just ahead of Italian team mate Piero Taruffi.

Tennis player Dick Williams won the US singles title by beating big-serving Maurice McLoughlin, making up for losing the previous year's final to the same player. Nothing too newsworthy in that - apart from the fact that Williams survived the sinking of the Titanic. He regained the US title in 1916 and won the Wimbledon doubles in 1920.

Meyer Prinstein won the Olympic long jump for the first time. After his galling silver medal four years earlier, he set a Games record of 7.34 metres. He achieved a unique double by taking the triple jump on the same day, thanks to his sixth and last jump. He won each event by 45 centimetres, with Robert Stangland picking up both bronze medals.