• December 4 down the years

The Hurricane shows his class

The sporting events of December 4 down the years
Alex Higgins: Hugely talented but was never far from controversy © Getty Images

Alex Higgins won one UK Championship, and of course he couldn't do it the easy way. He lost the first session of the final 7-0 to Steve Davis, who dominated the big events at the time. What saved the Hurricane was his speedy reply: he ended the first day only 8-7 behind. Davis led 11-9 and 15-14, but Higgins levelled before taking the deciding frame 77-0. On December 2 seven years later, Davis was involved in another 16-15 scoreline in the same tournament.

Australia's dominant rugby league team finished their tour by beating France 74-0 in Béziers. The last of their 13 tries was scored by their captain Mal Meninga three minutes from the end of his outstanding international career (he lifted the World Cup in 1991). Rod Wishart kicked 11 goals.

At the inaugural world short-course swimming championships, Nick Gillingham set a European record in overtaking world record holder Phil Rogers of Australia to win the 200 metres breaststroke. Gillingham won assorted Olympic medals and European golds and equalled a world record, but this was his only global title. It was also Britain's first world title in swimming since another breaststroker, David Wilkie, did the 100 and 200 long-course double in 1975.

The oldest boxer to take part in a genuine fight, as opposed to an exhibition bout. Walter Edgerton was 63 years old when he fought a draw with fellow American John Henry Johnson, who was only 56.

Stella Walsh was shot dead. Back in 1932, running for Poland under her real name of Stefania (not Stanisława) Walasciewiczowńa, she'd won the 100 metres at the Olympics, and her 200 metre world record lasted nearly 17 years. But, as with so many female athletes of the Thirties, something wasn't quite right - and when she was hit by a stray bullet during a robbery, the autopsy showed she had both male and female chromosomes and no female sex organs.

Rick Brebant scored for Cardiff in ice hockey's national Cup final, but the Murrayfield goalkeeper saved 37 shots and Cardiff lost 6-1. In the final on the same day the following year, Brabant scored twice - this time against Cardiff, who lost even more heavily: 7-2 to Nottingham in Nottingham.

Cincinnati beat Kansas City 27-7 in the NFL's 5,000th game.

Billy Gunn was born. One of the early classical batsmen, he may have put style before content: in 20 Test innings, he made only two fifties, including the first Test century ever scored at Old Trafford, against Australia in 1893. In 1884, he'd won two caps for England at football. Well over six foot tall, he ran 'like a big stag, his stride was tremendous', and he scored in the 4-0 win in Wales - but like the other giant amateurs of his day, he hung on to the ball too long. Against Scotland in Glasgow, his pace and dribbling would have added up to something if he'd passed the ball more often. Instead England lost 1-0.

Nigel Heslop was born. A slippery little winger, he played in every match when England won the Five Nations Grand Slam in 1991, scoring a try against Scotland. He scored another in the World Cup later that year, when he featured in the bad-tempered quarter-final in Paris. After only four minutes, he challenged for a high ball with France's famous full-back Serge Blanco, who should have been sent off for knocking him out with a punch. England took the lead with the penalty and went on to win the match. Blanco didn't play for France again. Heslop was on the winning side in nine of his ten internationals; in the other, he scored a try in a narrow defeat away to Argentina.

At the Olympic Games, Italy's cyclists retained the 4,000 metre team pursuit title. No great story there, we admit. The main item of interest is Britain's sixth consecutive bronze medal in the event, going back to 1928. Their only gold came in London in 1908.

The only unseeded country to win the Davis Cup. Both Croatia and Slovakia were appearing in their only final so far, which was staged in Bratislava. Although Dominik Hrbatý won both his singles matches for the hosts, Croatia won two tie-breaks to take the doubles, and Mario Ančić beat lowly Michael Martinák in straight sets in the decider.

Mike Atherton hooks during his 185 not out at Johannesburg © Getty Images

Australia beat the defending champions to win the Davis Cup. The final was played on a grass court in Sydney, which helped the hosts and hindered Italy's clay court players. Once the veteran Tony Roche had beaten Adriano Panatta in straight sets, the rest was relatively processional. Although Italy won the doubles, big-serving John Alexander beat Panatta 11-9 in the fifth set to win the Cup.

Glynis Nunn was born in Australia. She was the reigning Commonwealth heptahlon champion when she added the Olympic title in 1984, the first time the event was held at the Games. But if Jackie Joyner had jumped anything like her best instead of a miserable 6.11 metres, she would have taken the gold: Nunn finished only five points ahead. Joyner won the gold medal in 1988 and 1992.

Pakistan beat Holland on penalties to win the hockey World Cup for the fourth time. To add salt to the Dutch wound, Pakistan's coach Hans Jorritsma had led Holland to victory against them in the final four years earlier. Pakistan had also won their semi-final on penalties and were only first among equals. The only team to beat them in the tournament, England, might have been rather more than that if they'd got their shooting consistently right...

Christa Rothenburger was born. With the aid of the notorious East German sports system, she became a champion in two different sports. As well as gold medals in speed skating at the 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics, she was a world champion cyclist on the track, taking the sprint title in 1986. In 1988 she became the only competitor to win medals at the Winter and Summer Olympics in the same year, and the only woman to win medals at both: after gold in the 1,000 metres speed skating in Calgary, she finished second in the sprint in Seoul.

Manny Pacquiao became a world champion for the first time, taking the WBC flyweight title from Chatchai Sasakul of Thailand. By the time he faced Ricky Hatton on May 2, 2009, the Pac Man was fighting at light-welterweight, nearly two stone heavier.

Two speed skating world records on the same day - by two of the biggest names. Dan Jansen in the 500 metres, Johann-Olav Koss in the 5,000.

Derek Wyatt was born. Rugby player and Labour MP. He won one cap for England as a sub and scored four tries in an unofficial match against the USA in 1977.

Mike Atherton completed his unbeaten ten-hour 185 to save a Test in South Africa.