- February 10 down the years
Britain's finest jumper?
Mary Rand was born Mary Bignal in Somerset. The first British woman to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field, she is arguably the greatest long jumper of all time. In 1964, before the days of heavy training, all-weather tracks, and pharmaceutical assistance, she jumped 6.76 off a soggy cinder strip, a world record that was broken at altitude. It was further than the gold medallist in 1976 and only nine inches shorter than Heike Drechsler in 2000.
It was a real comeback after Rand's disaster four years earlier, when she led after the qualifying round but finished only ninth. Fourth place in the high hurdles was no sort of compensation. It did, though, show what a great natural talent she was, as well as Britain's blonde golden girl. Three days after her landmark gold, she would have won another in the pentathlon if it were not for one of the notorious Press sisters putting the shot 20 feet further. Both sisters disappeared from international competition when sex testing was introduced two years later. Rand completed the full set of Olympic medals with bronze in the sprint relay, then went on to win the long jump at the 1966 Commonwealth Games. After her divorce from British Olympic rower Sid Rand, she married American Olympic champion Bill Toomey (born January 10, 1939).
The final of the first World Championship in darts. Great Welsh stylist beats Derbyshire class act. Leighton Rees collected £3,000 for winning 11-7 against John Lowe, who pocketed £1,700. The final was shortened the following year, which suited Lowe. He extracted some serious revenge by beating Rees 5-0.
Mark Spitz was born in California. Two things about those seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. First, he set a world record in every event. Even Michael Phelps didn't beat that in 2008. Secondly, like Mary Rand, they were a strong response to failure last time out. Before the 1968 Games, a brash 18-year-old had been boasting like a Cassius Clay about the six gold medals he was about to win. He won two, both in relay events, and finished last in the 200m butterfly. That was his final event in Mexico and his first final in Munich. Instant redemption. His Games record in the 100m butterfly lasted 12 years, and he set 22 individual world records, including 15 in the two butterfly events.
Willie John McBride made his debut for Ireland, along with a lot of people. There were nine new caps in the team that came to Twickenham, including three who won only this one, plus the thinking man's prop Ray McLoughlin and 17-year-old scrum-half Johnny Quirke. McBride played well enough, but England's fly-half Richard Sharp lived up to his name with two conversions, a penalty from the touchline, and the last of England's three tries, when he straightened up and cut through the Irish defence. He also made both the other two tries, with a pass and a kick, as England won 16-0. The joke went around that the first to congratulate them were the Ireland reserves.
The great Ragnhild Hveger set the first of her eight consecutive world records in the 400m freestyle. No-one else set a record in the event until 1956.
Greg Norman was born in Queensland. Here was everything you need to be the best golfer of all time - except perhaps mentally. Great power in those shoulders, a short game to match anyone, and the image to be a superstar. But he simply didn't win enough Majors - and he lost too many in the last round.
In 1986, he led going into the last in all four, and won only the British Open. It is true that he had some terrible bad luck that year and the next, with Bob Tway and Larry Mize holing chips from off the green. But Norman also led by six shots going into the last round of the Masters in 1996 - and finished five behind Nick Faldo. Watching a man collapse so publicly made difficult viewing. And his strength was occasionally a weakness. He lost a play-off for the 1989 British Open after finding a bunker no-one else could have reached. It is typical of him that the two Majors he did win were won spectacularly. At the 1986 British Open, his second round of 63 equalled the lowest for any Major - and his 267 in 1993 is still the Open record.
Marrying Chris Evert in 2008 seemed to give him a new lease of life. At the British Open the following month, he led by two shots with one round to go. He finished equal third, six shots off the lead. The old problem again? If it was, it was understandable: he was 53 by then.
One British boxer had already lost to Tommy Burns on December 2. Now Jack Palmer tried to take the world heavyweight title from him. At a venue called Wonderland, in London's Whitechapel, Burns knocked him out in four rounds, then set off to meet challengers in Dublin, Paris, and Australia before facing his nemesis on Boxing Day.
Bill Tilden was born in Pennsylvania. But as a tennis player, he was made not born. Made by himself, and made into the most successful and influential that ever lived. He did not win the number of Grand Slam titles they win nowadays, but only because he would not trouble himself to regularly make the trip to the Australian - or even to Wimbledon and France. After saving two match points to retain the Wimbledon singles title in 1921, he saw no point in crossing the Atlantic every year to prove what he felt didn't need proof.
In 1923, Bill Johnston came to England instead. He lost only four games in the Wimbledon final. When Johnston went back, Tilden beat him 6-4 6-1 6-4 to win the US Championship. Tilden won the US seven times, including six in a row. He won Wimbledon three times, the last when he was 37. He would have won the French but for a lineman's appalling call at match point. He won the Davis Cup almost single-handedly seven years in a row. An absolute star of the Roaring Twenties, he was feted by Hollywood, who shunned him when he was jailed for sexual activities with underage boys. Using racquets with bare wooden handles and balls you could squash flat in your hand, he hit cannonball serves, and won Grand Slam titles after losing part of the main finger on his racquet hand.
He was the first great tennis thinker. After losing two US finals in a row, he went away and taught himself a backhand - then taught the world. His writings on the game are still a marvel of clear thinking. When the great French ganged up on him to win the Davis Cup at last, they had no illusions: "Well, there were four of us. And we had Tilden to learn from." When John Newcombe was asked in the 1960s how he learned to play tennis, he said: "from reading Tilden, of course."
No point getting old if you don't get crafty. Two-man bobsleigh was included at the Winter Olympics for the first time. The Stevens brothers, Hubert and Curtis, heated their runners with blowtorches beforehand. It's punishable by excommunication now, but legal at the time. They won the gold medal despite trailing by six seconds after the first run.
Political violence in Northern Ireland had led Scotland and Wales to cancel rugby trips to Dublin in 1972. So England got a standing ovation from the Lansdowne Road crowd for fulfilling their fixture today. They made their hosts even happier by losing 18-9. Both of Ireland's tries were made by their quick scrum-half John Moloney. At the post-match dinner, England captain John Pullin got another round of applause. "We may not be much good," he said. "But at least we turn up."