- February 16 down the years
The most amazing gold medal
The most amazing gold medal in any sport you care to name. You just could not have scripted it. Australia's Steven Bradbury knew he was not the best speedskater at the Winter Olympics - but this was short-track, where competitors actually race each other rather than skating time trials. And the tracks really are short, with tight bends, making collisions inevitable and falls frequent. So Bradbury adopted the tactic of keeping his distance at the back and hoping people ahead of him took tumbles.
It worked in his quarter-final of the 1000 metres, when two other skaters fell over - and in his semi, when one fell over and another one was disqualified. But in the final, he was too far behind and nothing was happening. By the time the leaders turned the last corner, Bradbury was standing up in last place. Then someone grabbed someone by the arm, someone else clipped a skate, two others banged into each other and brought down a third. Amazingly, quite impossibly, all four skaters were lying on the ice when Bradbury coasted over the line with disbelief all over his face. You can watch it a hundred times and still not believe it. So watch it another hundred. You smile every time. What a way for a country to win its first gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
Up in the hills, Norway's Kjetil André Aamodt won his second Olympic gold in the super giant slalom - ten years to the day after his first. He beat Stephan Eberharter by a tenth of a second. Three days earlier, he won the combined. He went for a third title in the super G on February 18, 2006. Aamodt took advantage of Hermann Maier's absence. The Hermannator had dominated world skiing for the last few years but then smashed all the bones in his leg in a motorbike crash. They put titanium pins in, but he decided not to defend the title he had won on the same day in 1998. That year, Maier had been heavy favourite for gold in the downhill but crashed during the race. Luckily for him, the super G was postponed twice by bad weather, giving him time to recover. He also won the giant slalom.
John McEnroe was born in Wiesbaden, making him and not Boris Becker the first German-born player to win the men's singles title at Wimbledon. The cussedness of that stat probably appealed to him. Meanwhile his left-handed serve gave him an advantage, and he used it and its acolyte volleys to win three singles titles at Wimbledon and four at the US Open, including three in a row. After losing an epic Wimbledon final to Björn Borg on July 5, 1980, his domination on fast courts hastened the Swede's retirement. In his best year, 1984, McEnroe won Wimbledon by humbling Jimmy Connors 6-1 6-1 6-2, added the US Open by beating Ivan Lendl in straight sets, and should have won the French to prove he could do it on clay.
In the final, he won the first two sets against Lendl 6-3 6-2. Then he got distracted by a photographer and his game went to pieces, though it took a while. McEnroe's eruptions often disguised the fact that he was never really fit throughout his career. He admitted that if he didn't break the back of a match in the first couple of hours, he was in trouble. He was often in trouble on clay. In that French final, he lost the last three sets 6-4 7-5 7-5. He won his last Grand Slam singles title at 25, though he did take the Wimbledon doubles for the fifth time in 1992. A big patriot, he helped the USA win the Davis Cup five times. When he said the ball was out or chalk flew up, or a place was the pits, he was usually just trying to psyche himself up. But sometimes he meant it, and sometimes he was right.
Valentino Rossi was born in Urbino. There, that's the life story, now down to the stats. By the end of 2009, he had won nine world titles, including seven in the top class. His 103 race wins are second to Giacomo Agostini only because the latter won 54 at 350 cc, which was similar to 500. Rossi's the only rider apart from Britain's Phil Read to win world titles at 125, 250, and 500/MotoGP. He won 11 Grands Prix in a year four times. If the numbers do not make him the best motorcycle racer of all time, other things probably do. The ruthlessness and mind games that destroyed Sete Gibernau and get inside the minds of even young guns like Jorge Lorenzo. The nerve to let people pass him with two laps to go then re-pass them on the last. He should have won the MotoGP title for a sixth successive year in 2006: even after mechanical problems cost him races, he still only had to stay on during the last race. He fell off. More typical was his first season with Yamaha. After three titles with Honda, he switched to an underpowered machine for 2004 - and kept his Championship.
Great Britain won the ice hockey gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Yes, read that again. Of course, it was not that simple. Nine of the 12-man squad were born in Britain but moved to Canada when they were young. Irony of ironies that they beat their adopted country in the semi-finals. Canada had won all four ice hockey golds at the Olympics so far, and they won the next two. But here they lost 2-1 to a goal in the final period. Britain won the gold by drawing 0-0 with the USA in a match with three periods of overtime.
Joe Frazier became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He and Jimmy Ellis had both beaten testing opposition in Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena, but the smart money was all on Smokin' Joe. He was a former Olympic champion, Ellis was a former sparring partner for Muhammad Ali. And Frazier's left hook was infinitely more destructive than anything in the Ellis armoury. The fight lasted five rounds only because Jimmy spent most of them holding. Body punches brought his guard down, two big left hands floored him in the fifth, and Angelo Dundee would not let him come out for the sixth. Ellis never fought for the title again, while Smokin' Joe moved on to his crowning moment against Ali on March 8, 1971.
Martin Offiah became the only player to score five tries in a match for Great Britain. Games against France have often been a mismatch in rugby league; their best players have generally stayed in union. No exception in Leeds today. GB led 16-0 at half-time, scored nine tries in the second half alone, and won 60-4. France's token try came from Cyril Pons eight minutes from time. Paul Eastwood scored a try and kicked eight goals in a row but missed his last five attempts.
Cathy Freeman was born in Queensland. Her 400 metre run at the 2000 Olympics was one the big sporting moments. The first Australian Aboriginal to win an Olympic gold medal, she did it in Sydney, in front of 112,524 people, the biggest crowd to watch any Olympic event. Freeman had been working her way up to that moment. At 16, she won gold in the sprint relay at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Four years later, she won the 200 and 400 and Australia were disqualified after winning the 4x400 relay. She finished second at the 1996 Olympics, then dominated the event, winning the world title in 1997 and 1999. She claimed a fifth Commonwealth Games gold in 2002.
Little Krisztina Egerszegi was so good at backstroke that her world records lasted longer than most. Sometimes a lot longer. Today her 200 metres record was broken after nearly 17 years, by Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry.
Grit Breuer was born in East Germany - so you know what is coming next. Only 18 when she won the 400 metres at the 1990 European Championships, she missed the 1992 Olympics after she and Katrin Krabbe failed a drug test. Unlike Krabbe, Breuer came back to the track, although of course some of the power had faded. She finished last in the final at the next Olympics but regained the European title in 1998. In the 4x400 relay, she won a World Championship title and three European golds before being accused of missing a drug test years later.