- March 24 down the years
Perfection from Torvill and Dean
After Torvill and Dean's complete row of sixes at the Olympics on February 14, it would have taken a brave judge to give them anything less at the World Championships today. Sure enough, T & D got all nine - plus another four for technical ability. The day before, they'd been awarded all nine sixes for their set dance. They didn't return to the Games until February 18 ten years later.
Thirteen-year-old British diving prodigy Tom Daley became the youngest male gold medallist at any European Championships when he won on the highboard. The previous youngest was also a British highboard diver: 14-year-old Brian Phelps in 1958. Daley moved from sixth to first with the fourth of his last six dives and held off Germany's World Cup champion Sascha Klein by less than five points.
At last, after second places in the past (March 21, 1998), Paula Radcliffe won the long race at the World Cross-Country Championships. She beat Ethiopia's former champion Gete Wami into second place. The positions were reversed in the short race. Mohammed Mourhit, a Moroccan running for Belgium, retained the men's long race, and Kenya's John Kibowen regained the short race. The junior men's event was won by an 18-year-old Kenenisa Bekele.
A year later to the day, Bekele completed the double for the first time - then repeated the feat of winning both races in each of the next four years after that. The day before, Radcliffe had retained her title. In blustery conditions, she was put under pressure by America's Deena Drossin before pulling clear into a headwind at the end.
At the Championships in 1991, another American, Lynn Jennings, retained her title. So did Khalid Skah of Morocco. Britain's Liz McColgan finished third, only four seconds behind Jennings, just four months after giving birth. The junior women's race was won by 13-year-old Kenyan Lydia Cheromei, the youngest world junior champion in any branch of athletics.
Before the World Cup was introduced in 1993, the Hong Kong Sevens was the biggest event in this branch of rugby union. The tournament was first staged in 1976. Today England won it for the first time. In the final, they faced Fiji, who'd won the event ten times, and they faced them without their dynamic hooker Phil Greening, cited for stamping in the semi. England's most influential player was a New Zealander, former rugby league great Henry Paul, who had a hand in almost every move as well as marshalling the defence. Fiji relied on Waisale Serevi as always. The most famous sevens player of all time scored his 1,000th point in the competition, then helped beat New Zealand in the semi-finals. England came through against Wales, then played superbly in the final. James Simpson-Daniel scored three of their five tries, and Simon Amor, who wasn't on the books of a senior club, scored another and kicked four conversions. Fiji didn't kick any, so although they scored four tries of their own, they lost 33-20. Having worked out how to win the event, England went on doing it. They were Hong Kong champions for the fourth time in a row on April 2, 2006.
The fight that led to the Rocky films. So blame Muhammad Ali. When he decided to give a journeyman boxer a shot at his world title, he came up with Chuck Wepner, a 36-year-old so prone to cuts he was known as the Bayonne Bleeder. Five years earlier, he'd lost consecutive fights to an ageing Sonny Liston (who was fighting his last fight) and a young Joe Bugner. Both on cuts, of course. Wepner also lost to George Foreman, Ernie Terrell - and Ali today. But it wasn't quite the easy fight everyone expected. In the ninth round, shock of shocks, Ali was knocked down by a left hand to the side of the body. He may have slipped as the punch went in, but it was legitimate one all the same, and you can imagine the crowd's reaction. Wepner reaped the whirlwind after that. By the 15th round, both his eyes were almost closed, there was blood everywhere, and it was exhaustion as much as anything that put him down. He came within 19 seconds of going the distance with The Greatest. Cue Eye of the Tiger theme. Ali later complained about punches to the back of his head ('Keep that dirty referee out of the ring with me') - but brave Chuck had his own opinion. No, he said, not his hardest fight. Liston was tougher.
Brazilian wins Brazilian Grand Prix. Ayrton Senna had already won the first race of the season. Now he won the second in his home town, after a close race with Riccardo Patrese and Gerhard Berger. Senna won the third and fourth, too. And three others. And the drivers' title at the end of the year.
The only dead heat in the University Boat Race. Or was it? Cambridge reached Hammersmith Bridge first, but the bigger Oxford crew began to reel them in, making lighter of the choppy water. By Chiswick Church, they were two-thirds of a length ahead. Then they had to veer to avoid a stray barge, and Cambridge closed the gap - but not enough. At the finish line, The Oxford No. 4, Willie Grenfell, was level with the Cambridge No. 2, and no-one in either boat was in any doubt that Oxford had won. There was one small problem. No sign of the finish judge. When they eventually found him, 'Honest John' Phelps gave his verdict: a dead heat. The wonder isn't that he made the wrong decision but that he was able to offer one at all. He'd never seen a close finish before and didn't know what to look for - and he'd positioned himself so far away he could hardly see the boats at all. Not surprisingly, given that he was over 70 and was apparently blind in one eye! Poor Phelps became the butt of music hall jokes, which portrayed him as having had one too many to keep out the cold, or calling it a 'dead heat to Oxford by five feet'! It wasn't all his own fault. No-one had thought of erecting a post to help his judgment. They put one in place the following year and ever since. Oxford made sure there were no arguments the following year by finishing ten lengths clear.
Albert Hill was born in London. A solidly built runner, he won the AAA four miles in 1910, then disappeared until 1914, when he finished second in the 880 yards. But the First World War came down and that seemed to be the end of his track career. He returned to win the 880 and the mile at the 1919 AAAs, but he was 30 by then and the powers-that-be took some persuading before picking him for the Olympics the following year. When he got to Antwerp, Hill was shocked that the organisers had put all the best 800 metre runners in the same heat, allegedly to give others a chance! Having got through that, he found himself running the final in blazing heat only half-an-hour after the semi. This suited him, strong as was, and didn't suit South Africa's Bevil Rudd, who later won the 400 metres. Here he couldn't sustain his long sprint and finished third after Hill caught him near the end. Two days later, Hill won the 1500 metres on a sodden track. The standard in those postwar Games wasn't very high: Hill's winning time in the 800 was the slowest since 1906, in the 1500 the slowest since 1908. But you have to hand it to him for sheer endurance if nothing else. And he was good enough to come within a second of the world record in winning the AAA mile the following year. He was the last British athlete to win two gold medals at the same Olympic Games until August 28, 2004 - and even Kelly Holmes never won silver in the 3,000 metres team race.
A boxing match that ended in death. The fight for the world welterweight title was between two fighters from Caribbean islands: Benny Paret of Cuba and Emile Griffith from the US Virgin Islands. Griffith had taken the title from Paret, who won it back from him. At the weigh-in before today's decider, Paret taunted Griffith for being gay, which nearly led to the fight starting there and then. In the ring, Griffith was saved by the bell when Paret knocked him down in the sixth. In the twelfth, Paret wasn't saved by the referee as Griffith beat him senseless then carried on hitting him as the ropes held him up. Paret didn't recover consciousness and died ten days later. Griffith carried on boxing for another 15 years, but never hit anyone like that again. The next fatality in a world title fight happened only a year later (March 23).
Alex Olmedo was born Alejandro Olmedo in Peru but played Davis Cup tennis for the USA. A serve-volleyer, he had his big year in 1959, beating a young Rod Laver in the final at Wimbledon, winning the Australian, and reaching the Final of the US. In 1958 he won both his singles matches in the Davis Cup final against Australia, including one against Wimbledon champion Ashley Cooper. But he was lucky to win any titles at all. The best players in the world were professionals who couldn't play in the Grand Slam tournaments: Pancho Gonzales and especially Australia's Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall.
Charles Daniels was born in Ohio. One of the great early swimmers, he won eight Olympic medals, five of them gold. Five of those, including three golds, came from the 1904 Games, although he won the 440 yards freestyle in a time almost a minute slower than the world record. At the Intercalated Games of 1906, he beat Hungary's Zoltán Halmaj to win the 100 metres freestyle, then broke Halmaj's world record in beating him into second place again in London two years later. Daniels set almost all his world records before there was an official body to recognise them, then another two in the 100 metres free.