On This Day

  • September 23 down the years

Redgrave makes it five

Steve Redgrave was weighed down by gold by his Olympic haul © Getty Images
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2000
That monumental gong: Steve Redgrave's fifth Olympic gold medal. Four years earlier, he and Matthew Pinsent had won Britain's only gold of the Games ( July 27), after which he gave TV viewers permission to shoot him if they saw him in a boat again. Naturally he was back for another go in Sydney. Redgrave was 38 by now, a diabetic who'd recently suffered colitis and a broken arm. So he needed more help. After three gold medals in the coxless pair, he moved into a four - and a real supercrew. Matthew Pinsent was one of the almighty oarsmen, with the biggest lung capacity in Britain; James Cracknell another powerhouse at the back of the boat; while Tim Foster had lost two vertebrae and wasn't as big as the others but moved a boat like nobody else. As usual, they took the lead at the start, then Foster found the right cruising speed up to 750 metres. But the British boat wasn't as far ahead as they wanted to be. At halfway, they increased the stroke rate - only to find the Italians matching them and more. With only 500 to go, Britain were at 39 or 40 but Italy at 43 and looking smooth. In the last 100, the respective rates were 42 and 45. But the finish line arrived just in time for Redgrave & Co: they won gold by just 0.38 of a second, too close for Foster's comfort: 'If Matthew and James had another gear, I think they should have used it.' Instead Pinsent had enough energy left to clamber over Foster and embrace Redgrave before falling into the water. Sir Steve retired after such a scene, but Pinsent and Cracknell were back four years later, when they had to endure an even closer race ( August 21).

1868
The youngest winner of any major golf tournament succeeded the oldest. Young Tom Morris of Scotland was only 17 when he replaced his dad Old Tom as Open champion at Prestwick. Morris Jnr also made history by recording the first hole-in-one in any major, at the short eighth hole. The whole event took place in one day, with three rounds of 12 holes each and only 12 competitors. Young Tom scored 50-55-52 to finish two shots clear of the field. His dad came sixth.

2000
It was all happening at the Olympics in Sydney. Including a couple of silver medals for Britain.

In track and field. the favourites for the 200 metres were Michael Johnson, who'd shattered the world record at the previous Games ( August 1), and Maurice Greene. But both of them pulled up injured at the US Olympic trials and didn't make the team. So Greene won the 100 metres instead and Johnson the 400. But the 200 metres was wide open. In today's final, Kostas Kenteris was a yard behind coming into the straight but powered through to take gold in a modest 20.09 seconds. Britain's Darren Campbell took silver in 20.14 with team-mate Christian Malcolm fifth. Kenteris was the first male Greek athlete to win an Olympic title since 1912.

If Campbell's silver medal was a pleasant surprise, Steve Backley's was a millstone round his neck. In the opening round of the javelin, Jan Železný threw 89.41. Backley responded really well, hitting 89.85 in the second. It was his longest throw in years, a new Olympic record, and good enough for gold - against anyone else. In the next round, Železný found 90.17, and the medal places didn't change for the rest of the competition. It was Železný's third Olympic gold medal in a row. Poor Backley had won bronze behind him in 1992 and another silver in 1996.

There was almost another three-time winner at these Sydney Games, this time in the swimming pool. Kieren Perkins of Australia had set a world record in winning the 1500 metres freestyle in 1992, then won comfortably again in 1996. But Perkins' era was coming to an end. Today he faced fellow Australian Grant Hackett, who'd beaten him four times in a row. Make that five. Perkins kept in contact for the first half of the race, but Hackett pulled away to win without bother - though his time was nearly five seconds slower than Perkins' Olympic record from 1992. Hackett emulated Perkins by retaining the title four years later ( August 21) and finishing second in 2008.

Rocky Marciano © Getty Images
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1952
The night - the single punch - which made Rocky Marciano world heavyweight champion. He went into tonight's fight in Philadelphia as favourite. Winner of all his 42 pro fights, 37 by knockout, he was nine years younger than the champion, whose record included 15 defeats in 64 bouts. At the age of 38, Jersey Joe Walcott wasn't expected to last the distance. Marciano almost didn't last the opening round. In the first minute, he walked onto a left hook and went down for the first time in his career. By the end of the round, his lip was bleeding and he could barely see out of his left eye. For the next 11th, Walcott jabbed and hooked him at will. Marciano was cut on the bridge of his nose, under one eye, and just above what was left of his hairline; he needed 14 stitches after the fight. As if that wasn't enough, Marciano was being blinded by his own corner men. Instead of using towels and pads, they were sponging the blood off his face and getting liniment in his eyes. The Rock could hardly see the punches Walcott was hitting him with. The champ may have been old, but he was ten pounds heavier, had a seven-inch advantage in reach, and there was no sign of his legs growing heavy with age. It was a slaughter. In the 13th round, comfortably ahead on points, Jersey Joe backed away when Marciano threw a left to the body, then stabbed the bleeding bull with jabs. When he threw a left hand, some blood got into his eye from a small cut - and he didn't see Marciano's right hand come in. So he moved into it instead of away. Photos of the impact never get any prettier. Walcott's face was contorted by the punch he moved into, he fell on one knee with an arm hooked over the middle rope and his head on the floor. The referee could have counted all night. Jersey Joe lost the return fight in less than a round ( May 15), then retired, while Marciano stayed unbeaten to the end ( September 21, 1955).

On the same day in 1926, Gene Tunney also won the world heavyweight title - by beating the boxing icon of the decade. Jack Dempsey had held the title since 1919, making almost every fight into a big event. He won the title with seven knockdowns in the first round ( July 4), fought the first million-dollar fight ( July 2, 1921), another which bankrupted a whole town ( July 4, 1923), and one of the all-time short slugfests ( September 14). But that last bout was in 1923, and Dempsey didn't fight for another three years, which left him ring-rusty and sluggish when he met Gene Tunney in Philadelphia tonight. At first, some thought a fight held over only ten rounds would suit Tunney's stick-and-move style - but it was soon clear that ten were more than enough for a champion who was past his best. Tunney was a good boxer-puncher and above all as hard as a Marine, which he was. For once, an opponent Dempsey couldn't bully. A crowd of 120,000 turned up in the rain to watch as Tunney 'was piling up points with every blow, but there seemed to be nothing I could do...Tunney was so scientific a boxer that all I seemed to be able to do was to take his punishment.' But Dempsey took his lumps and never stopped trying, and defeat made him popular for just about the first time since he won the title. So did the return fight a year later, which ended in one of the most famous boxing controversies ( September 22).

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