British boxer Chris Finnegan won Olympic gold. In the final of the middleweight division, he faced the USSR's Aleksei Kiselyev, who'd won silver at light-heavyweight four years earlier. Before this fight against a boxer from a communist country, Finnegan said his prayers: "I like to think the man upstairs is on the side of the believers." There wasn't much outside help in the first round, when Finnegan was "probably a bit too negative at first" and got caught a few times. But in the second, he could hear Kiselyev breathing hard. Finnegan dominated the third and last, and if he hadn't started so slowly he would have won more easily. But he was pleased enough with a split decision. Split and extremely close: three judges gave him the fight 59-58, the other two went for Kiselyev by the same score. Finnegan's main problem lasted a lot longer than the fight: he found it impossible to give a urine sample for the drugs test. "If there's one thing I've never been able to do, it's have a p**s while someone's watching...I couldn't produce a drop." Even after several glasses of water and three or four pints of beer, nothing doing. Eventually two of the drug testers had to accompany him to the celebration dinner, where another two hours passed before our Chris was able to produce. "They collected their sample and went off quite happy with our hospitality." Finnegan went on to a successful professional career, winning the European title (February 11972), banging heads with John Conteh (May 211974), and giving Bob Foster a run for his world light-heavyweight title.
While Finnegan was winning Olympic gold, Poland's Jerzy Kulej was winning his second, retaining the light-welterweight title with a split decision against the big-punching young Cuban Enrique Regueiferos.
The same date in 1970 was a momentous day in boxing history. Three and a half years after his last defence of the world heavyweight title, time spent in the wilderness for refusing to fight in Vietnam, Muhammad Ali had his first comeback fight. And left every question unanswered. Would he be ring-rusty after that time away? Would his body hold out? Well, he'd been running an hour and a half a day - and he'd cherry-picked his opponent. Jerry Quarry was a stocky white heavyweight with a decent punch. But he was over a stone lighter than Ali, who came in at fifteen-three. And Quarry's short arms meant he had to take punches to give them. After two rounds in which he kept getting caught by Ali's left jab, he was hit by a couple of right hands - and suddenly he had a cut eye which needed 11 stitches. Ali tested himself with a tougher fight against the strong Argentinian Oscar Bonavena, knocking him down three times in the last round. Then he felt he was ready to try and take his title back from Joe Frazier (March 8 1971).
The nearest Scotland ever came to reaching the final of the rugby union World Cup. The worst missed kick in their history. What made it harder to bear was the location. At home in Murrayfield. And especially the opposition. The English, no less. Both countries had won their quarter-finals by facing up to big challenges (October 19). Now they fought a war of attrition. England's forwards were stronger in the scrums and cleaner in the lineout, and Rob Andrew kicked very well at fly-half. In a match without tries, the score was level at 6-6 with 20 minutes to go. Then Scotland were awarded a penalty inside the England 22. The kick was to the right of the posts, the wrong side for Gavin Hastings's right-foot - but only just, and anyway it was so close it didn't matter. Hastings had kicked goals throughout the tournament, including two first-half penalties today. But now he pushed the easiest one wide of the right post, an almost impossible miss - then stood with his hands on top of his head. Andrew's drop goal put England in the final against Australia (November 2), so lightning struck twice for Hastings: in 1988, Scotland had lost by the same score to the same opponents at the same stadium with the same score and scorers: two penalties apiece by Hastings and England's Jon Webb, and an Andrew drop goal. But this was worse. Scotland's big chance gone for ever.
At the World Cup in 2003, England won a match which cost them ten grand. They looked set to cruise into the quarter-finals. They'd thumped Georgia (October 12), won the crucial match against South Africa (October 18), and weren't expecting too many problems from Samoa, who'd lost so many players to other countries. But talk about rude awakenings. Alright, let's do that. Samoa led 10-0 after only six minutes. A penalty by Earl Va'a was followed by a movement which began in the Samoan 22 and went through 11 phases before their captain Semo Sititi touched down. It took England another 20 minutes to score their first points. Without Richard Hill, their back row struggled, but one of them scored their opening try from a lineout: Neil Back's 16th and last for England. Va'a's boot kept Samoa 16-13 ahead at half-time, but they were already tiring, and England's full-time professionals got a helping hand from the South African referee. Early in the second half, Samoa collapsed a scrum, and Jonathan Kaplan awarded England a penalty try without issuing a warning. Samoa still led 22-20 after an hour, but Iain Balshaw scored a try from Jonny Wilkinson's smart cross-kick, and prop Phil Vickery made the final score an unfair 35-22 with only six minutes left. There was a bizarre and dangerous postscript when England muddled one of their replacements at the end. For 30 seconds, they had 16 players on the pitch. Unintentional and hardly matchwinning - but they were hauled before IRB officials. This was where coach Clive Woodward's unusual backup team (an eye coach, etc) earned their corn. There was a genuine threat of England being docked points, which would have sent them into a quarter-final against New Zealand (November 9). But Woodward had taken a lawyer to Australia - and Richard Smith's arguments commuted the punishment to a £10,000 fine. Relief all round, and an easy run-through against Uruguay next (November 2).
While England were winning shamefacedly in Melbourne, Ireland were holding their heads high in Adelaide. Four years earlier, they'd been knocked out of the World Cup by Argentina (October 20), who included nine of that team today. And Ireland started this match by spilling the ball and giving away possession. Only their discipline restricted Argentina to a single early penalty by Gonzalo Quesada, Ireland's scourge in 1999. Then hooker Keith Wood ran from almost halfway and sold a dummy to set up the only try of the match for Alan Quinlan, who was injured in the act and missed the rest of the tournament. David Humphreys converted from the touchline and added a penalty, but a Quesada penalty and drop goal kept the Irish lead to 10-9 at half-time. In the second half, Quesada landed another penalty and Ignacio Corleto added a drop goal, but Ronan O'Gara replaced Humphreys and kicked two penalties. The 16-15 win guaranteed Ireland a place in the quarter-finals and set up a group decider with Australia (November 1). This was Quesada's 39th and last cap. His impressive total of 492 points included 135 in eight World Cup finals matches.
The disaster that made Nigel Mansell wait six years for a world title. The Australian Grand Prix was the last race of the season, and Britain's No.1 led the drivers' table by six points from reigning champion Alain Prost and seven from Nélson Piquet. So Mansell needed a maximum of third place to take the title, which looked the least he was going to achieve when he qualified on pole. A bad start dropped him to fourth by the end of the first lap - but with 20 laps left, he was running second behind his Williams team mate Piquet. Then, one lap later, every driver's nightmare. You're strolling to the world title - when your tyre explodes and leaves you with nothing. There was a delayed reaction in the TV commentary box before Murray Walker began shrieking in dismay. With Mansell out of the race, Piquet needed only to maintain his position to regain the title. But after what happened to Mansell, Williams called Piquet in for a precautionary tyre change - and he emerged from the pits 15 seconds behind Prost. He closed to within five seconds by the end, but Prost retained the title, two points ahead of Mansell. Piquet won it for the third time in 1987, while our Nigel finally got there in 1992 (August 16).
On the same day in 1997, Jacques Villeneuve won the world title which had eluded his faster dad (died May 81982). The final race of the season was the European Grand Prix at Jérez in Spain, and Villeneuve trailed Michael Schumacher by a single point. The Canadian started on pole but couldn't get clean away. On the first corner of the 48th lap, Schumacher's Ferrari turned into the left side of Villeneuve's Williams. The same manoeuvre had won Schumacher his first world title, when he smacked into Damon Hill in Adelaide (November 13 1994). This time it backfired big time. The Ferrari skidded into the gravel trap and stayed there, leaving Villeneuve in the lead and needing just one point to take the title. With his car damaged by the assault, Villeneuve allowed Mika Häkkinen to win a world championship race for the first time. Penny for Hill's thoughts when the governing body stripped Schumacher of all his points for the season.
Grete Waitz won the New York Marathon again. This was the third time she'd run the distance, and her third world record, breaking the one she set the previous year (October 21). Her time of 2 hours 25 minutes 42 seconds lasted three years - until she broke it herself in London (April 17).
Three days after Waitz won the New York Marathon for the fifth time, Monika Frisch became champion of Austria in the same event. She finished in 3 hours 10 minutes 3 seconds. A slow time for a national champion? Not for a 12-year-old!
The baseball gods relented at last. The Chicago White Sox beat the Houston Astros 4-0 to win the World Series for the first time since 1917 - after selling it in 1919 (October 9).
Not a bad bonus for the touring Australians: an Olympic gold medal. Reigning champions France dropped out of the rugby union competition, and the four British countries refused to allow their national teams to take part. So Australia were asked to make up the numbers - the numbers being two. In the only match of the tournament, they faced England's champion county Cornwall - whom they'd already beaten in Camborne earlier that month. Johnny Jackett was already an England international, and 'Barney' Solomon was capped two years later, but Cornwall were short of quality elsewhere. Today at London's White City stadium, Solomon scored their only points, but by then his try was just a late consolation: Australia were 24-0 up on their way to winning 32-3 (worth 46-5 today). On a heavy slippery ground, their backs destroyed Cornwall with their direct running, scoring six of their seven tries, the first after only five minutes. Uncapped scrum-half Arthur McCabe scored two, as did Dan Carroll, who outsprinted Jackett for his first. Phil Carmichael kicked four conversions and a superb penalty goal from 40 yards. Carroll was playing for a different country when he won another gold medal 12 years later (September 5).
French superstar cyclist Jeannie Longo set a world record that still stands. Sort of. When she covered 48,159 metres in an hour, she did it in the helpfully thin air of Mexico City, shattering the world record of 47,411 of set at sea level by Britain's Yvonne McGregor. When new regulations came in, banning the use of special helmets and wheels, aerodynamic bars and monocoque frames, Longo's record became the "best human performance", while the official world record dropped to 46,065, set by Leontien Zijlaard of Holland, also in Mexico City (October 1 2003).
Talking of Mexico City, Aleksei Barkalov must have wondered what he had to do to win an Olympic gold medal. He scored seven goals in the water polo final, but the USSR lost 13-11 to Yugoslavia.
Still in the water at these Olympic Games, all-time great backstroke swimmer Roland Matthes broke his own world record in the 100 meters backstroke - but won only a silver medal. He recorded his 58.0 seconds on the opening leg of the 4x100 metres medley relay, and the rest of the East German team couldn't hold off the Americans, who broke the Germans' world record. Matthes won both backstroke events here in Mexico and again in Munich four years later, when he had the same galling experience: a word record on the first leg, a silver medal after the last (September 4).
In rugby league's first World Cup since Great Britain won it three years earlier (November 11), Australia needed to beat France to regain the trophy with a game to spare. They had to play England (not GB) in their last match, but that was never likely to be the decider: France simply weren't good enough. Even at home in Perpignan, they were no match for the Kangaroos, who won 41-2. It took them 17 minutes to open the scoring, but they ran in four tries before half-time. Then they scored two in the first six minutes and two in the last six minutes of the second half. Graham Eadie scored one of the nine as well as kicking seven goals, and two others went to Steve Rogers, whose son Mat kicked goals in the 2000 final (November 25). All France could manage was a goal by Bernard Guilhem.