Two sporting icons were born today.
Michael Phelps in Maryland. The rest is one massive stat attack. Olympics first. His 14 gold medals are five more than any other competitor in any other sport. His eight golds in the 2008 Games broke the record set by another swimmer, Mark Spitz, in 1972 - by 0.01 of a second (August 16). World Championships next. Phelps's 22 golds are twice as many as anyone else, and that anyone else was Ian Thorpe. His seven golds in 2007, including five in individual events, set further records - and he would have won the 200 metres butterfly five times if he'd entered the event in 2005. We're not paid enough to count all his minor medals. Now the world records. By the end of 2009, he'd set 36, seven more than Spitz in second place. And the versatility. He set records and won golds in freestyle, butterfly, and individual medley. Finally: drugs? Well, it's natural to be sceptical - but Phelps was very good very young, setting his first world record at 15.
Mike Tyson in Brooklyn. How do you feel sorry for someone who makes untold millions from knocking other men unconscious, especially when he's a convicted rapist? Well, you do. In retirement, he should have the same aura as Jack Dempsey, enjoying his celebrity after a crowd-pleasing career as one of the most frightening punchers to step into a ring. A world heavyweight champion for the ages. Instead the downs outweigh the ups. The top of the slippery slope against Buster Douglas (February 11, 1990); beatings by men who wouldn't have lasted five rounds when Mike was still Iron: Lennox Lewis, Danny Williams, finally Kevin McBride; the meal he made of Evander Holyfield's ears (June 28, 1997); the years in jail for rape (March 25, 1995), and the marriage that failed in public. Better to try and remember him at his peak, when a boxer who wasn't very tall and didn't weigh all that much smashed his way through anything put in front of him. Those eyes and that neck. The youngest ever world heavyweight champion when he dropped some jaws on November 22, 1986; the destruction of greats like Larry Holmes (January 22, 1988) and Michael Spinks (June 27, 1988) as well as Frank Bruno (February 25, 1989). Received wisdom has it that if his trainer Cus D'Amato hadn't died before Tyson became champion, maybe we wouldn't be writing about such a car-crash of life. Instead of D'Amato, Tyson was left to the tender mercies of Don King, and you wouldn't wish that on many people.
Another great champion's run came to an end on this day. Roger Federer had suffered only one defeat in seven years at the All England Club, and that was that epic final against old foe Rafael Nadal in the 2008 final. But the defending champion failed to reach the final for the first time since 2002, when he was stunned by a man with few grass-court credentials, Tomas Berdych, who pulled off the biggest win of his career to reach his second consecutive grand slam semi-final with a 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-4 victory.
At the French Grand Prix, Ralf Schumacher broke the lap record set by big brother Michael earlier in the day (they both broke it twice). At the 74th attempt, Ralf took pole for the first time in his Formula 1 career. It was the third consecutive race, and the fourth that season, in which the brothers had finished in the first two places on the grid. So no suspicion that Michael had allowed his kid brother to take pole because it was Ralf's birthday! The day after, normal sibling service was resumed when Michael finished first and Ralf second. It was Michael's 50th race win in Formula 1. Ralf won three Grands Prix that year and finished fourth in the Championship. Michael of course retained the title.
In 1996, Britain's Damon Hill won the French Grand Prix on his way to taking the title ahead of Schumacher the Elder.
Famous amateur golfer Bobby Jones should have won the US Open before today's play-off. He began with a 69 that no-one else could match, but then had two sevens on his card in the last round, dropping four shots to Al Espinosa. Jones recovered his poise at the last hole, sinking a 12-footer to tie. And he was accustomed to US Open play-offs: this was his fourth, and he won three of them. Today all contributions from Espinosa were gratefully received. Poor Al was 12 strokes behind after only nine holes and shot 84 to Jones's 72. They could have stopped the fight on points right then, but another 18 holes had to be played, and with the pressure off Jones went round in 69 again while Espinosa made 80 to lose by a humiliating 23 shots, the biggest losing margin in any Major. He never won one, while Jones won the US Open again the following year.
Jason Robinson's first try in international rugby union was a memorable one. Mind you, most of his other ones were. This was his first game for the Lions and the first international match he started, after coming on as sub three times for England in that year's Five Nations. In the third minute of the first Test against Australia in Brisbane, Robinson was given the ball in space on the left wing. Those famously fast feet produced one of his trademark stop-start stutter runs to unbalance full-back Chris Latham before haring away to score in the corner. The Lions scored three other tries and led 29-3 before winning 29-13 despite losing two players to the sin bin. Robinson scored another try in the deciding Test on July 14.
Britain's Joe Bugner had his shot at the world heavyweight title. Big bucks aside, you have to wonder why he bothered. As in so many of his bouts, he simply didn't go in there to fight. Fair enough, you might say, given that he was facing someone called Muhammad Ali. But other fighters at least tried to take the great man on, even no-hopers like another Brit, Richard Dunn (May 24, 1976), and Chuck Wepner (March 24, 1975). Bugner spent most of the 15 rounds covering up against the ropes. He'd done much the same in non-title fights with Ali and Joe Frazier two years earlier. It was understandable at the time. Ali cut his eye in the first round, and Frazier knocked him down. But this was a world title fight, Joe. You generally have to try and win those. Instead he emerged unscathed, but such limited ambition ended in another points defeat. Twenty-three years later, Bugner won a 'world' title in farcical circumstances (July 4).
The oldest woman to win the Wimbledon singles title. Charlotte Sterry was 37 when she became champion for the fifth time by beating Agatha Morton 6-4 6-4. In 1900, Sterry was still Charlotte Cooper when she became the first woman to win an Olympic title in any sport (July 11).
With a maximum legal wind behind him, Lynn Davies long-jumped 8.27 metres, the only 27-foot leap of his career and a British record that wasn't broken until April 13, 2002. By landing only eight centimetres short of the world record on a cinder track, Davies re-established himself as a favourite to retain his Olympic title later that year. Who was this Bob Beamon anyway? (October 18).
Shirley Fry was born in Ohio. More of a quiz question than a famous tennis player by now, she was one of the few players to win the singles in all four Grand Slam tournaments, and unique in winning them all just once each, including Wimbledon in 1955, when she bridged the gap between the postwar wave of other top Americans (Brough, Osborne duPont, Hart, then Connolly) and the arrival of Althea Gibson - and her famous speed beat Gibson in US and Australian finals. Back at Wimbledon, Fry lost the 1951 final to Hart 6-1 6-0 but beat her in the French final that year. Together they were a top doubles pair, winners of 11 Grand Slam titles, including three Wimbledons in a row. In the 1953 final, they won both the semi-final and final 6-0 6-0. Fry also won the Australian title with Gibson to complete the doubles Grand Slam.