- September 22 down the years
The Battle of the Long Count
Seconds out. Several seconds out. This was the Battle of the Long Count. The night Jack Dempsey forgot what he needed to get his title back. World heavyweight champion since 1919 ( July 4), he lost it to Gene Tunney after three years out of the ring ( September 23, 1926). The rematch today in Chicago attracted a crowd of 104,943 but went exactly the same way. By the second round, Dempsey was already leaning on the ropes, by the fourth cut and bleeding, at the end unable to see out of one eye. For the first six and last three rounds, he was completely outboxed. But the seventh, now - that was different. That was Dempsey, that was. In every way. Tunney began the round with a right to the head and the usual flurry of jabs. A desperate Dempsey threw a right, then a left hook, then two more punches that didn't matter: the left had done its work. Tunney, on his back near the corner, clinging to the middle rope, was seconds away from losing the title. Unfortunately for Jack, there were more seconds than there should have been, and they were his own fault. Before the bout, both boxers had been warned that if they knocked the other man down they had to retire to a neutral corner. Dempsey, brought up under the old prizefighting rules, was accustomed to standing over an opponent until he got up. 'I was the jungle fighter so completely set in my ways I couldn't accept new conditions.' When the referee reached the count of five, he stopped and sent Dempsey to the corner, then started counting from scratch. When he reached nine, Tunney got up. Those extra seconds allowed Tunney to clear his head, knock Dempsey down in the next round, and retire as undefeated champion the following year. Jack retired right then, more popular in defeat than when he was champion, to open a world-famous restaurant in New York. If the service took a few seconds longer, it was probably worth the wait.
Malcolm Cooper retained his Olympic title. The best small-bore rifle marksman of his generation, he won the three-positions event in 1984, with Scotland's Alister Allan taking the bronze. Today, Allan won silver after leading the field going into the eight-man shoot-off. Each competitor was allowed 75 seconds per shot, and Cooper used them to the full, waiting for the wind to die. But Allan fired almost immediately, and his third shot was worth only 8.2 points, which allowed Cooper to take the lead. He was 40 by now, Allan 44. They were the first British competitors to finish first and second in the same event at any Olympics since the Second World War, after Ovett & Coe in 1980 ( July 26) and Coe & Cram in 1984 ( August 11).
At the World Rowing Championships which ended today, Matthew Pinsent won his 10th gold medal, breaking the record he shared with Steve Redgrave and an Italian lightweight sculler. After three world titles in the coxless fours, Pinsent reverted to the coxless pairs with James Cracknell and won his sixth gold in the event. They'd also won the coxed pairs the year before. Here in Seville, they were faced by two members of Australia's Oarsome Foursome, Drew Ginn and the great James Tomkins - and rowed them into the water. Pinsent and Cracknell accelerated after 500 metres and went on to complete the 2,000 in 6 minutes 14.27 seconds, more than four seconds faster than the world best set by Redgrave and Pinsent eight years earlier. Even at that speed, they had company, South Africa finishing only 1.33 seconds behind, with the Skelin brothers from Croatia third and the Australians fourth.
The rugby match that put England back on the World Cup track. After an unimpressive opening win against the USA, the world champions had been humiliated 36-0 by South Africa. Today in Nantes, they needed to beat Samoa to avoid the real possibility of not reaching the quarter-finals. They made the start they needed with a try by captain Martin Corry in the second minute. Jonny Wilkinson kicked his goals and kicked through for Paul Sackey to score a second try, and England led 23-6 after half an hour. Loki Crichton's boot brought Samoa back to 23-12 at half-time, and when scrum-half Junior Poluleuligaga scored a try they trailed only 26-22. If England were going to crack, this was the time. Instead they hung on. Wilkinson landed a drop goal with ten minutes left, and Corry and Sackey both scored their second tries. The final score of 44-22 was flattering, and England still needed to win their last group match to go through. Wilkinson's 24 points took him past 1,000 in international rugby, and Brian Lima won his last cap for Samoa. One of the top wings in rugby union, he won his first almost 16 years earlier and was the only player to appear in five World Cups.
The only golfer to win the US Open three years in a row. They played 36 holes a day at the time, and Scottish-born Willie Anderson went round in 76 and 77 today, while Alex Smith shot his third consecutive 80 to finish on 316, two shots behind. Anderson won the event for the first time in 1901. He was the first to win the US Open four times, a record equalled by all-time giants Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus but never beaten.
These were dark years for Britain & Ireland in the Ryder Cup, which the USA held from 1957 to 1985 ( September 15), when Europe won at Muirfield. That was also the venue today - and for a while it looked as if the hosts might regain the trophy now instead of later: they were level after the first two days. But the singles separated sheep from strutting goats. There was only one Major winner in the home team: Tony Jacklin, and even he lost one of his two matches today. In contrast, only one of the eight American singles players hadn't won a Major; they included Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Sam Snead, and reigning British Open champion Tom Weiskopf. They lost only two of the singles and won the match 19-13.
The same day in 1996 was an even more humbling singles experience for Europe, this time in the Solheim Cup. They were at home, too. Chepstow in Wales. And they led the USA 9-7 after the second day. But just about everybody collapsed today. The USA were stacked with top players: Beth Daniel, Dottie Pepper, Brandie Burton, Betsy King, Patty Sheehan, Pat Bradley, Meg Mallon. But so were the Europeans: Annika Sörenstam, Laura Davies, Liselotte Neumann, Trish Johnson, Alison Nicholas, Catrin Nilsmark, Helen Alfredsson. And yet only one of them won a singles match: Sörenstam against Bradley. The USA took the singles 10-2 and the match 17-11 to retain the Cup. Europe didn't get it back until 2000.
The only boxer to win two gold medals at the same Olympic Games, let alone on the same day. Oliver Kirk won the bantamweight title by stopping George Finnegan in the third round and at featherweight with a points decision over Frank Haller. They were Kirk's only two fights at the Games!