All posts by Hilary Evans

The Olympic Champions Who Never Existed

http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/ lists ever Olympic gold medal winner that has ever lived so you might be surprised to know that this post concerns Olympic champions that have never graced the pages of that website. These are the champions who have only existed within the covers of a book, the frames of a cartoon or whilst projected on the silver screen or into your homes via television. For decades writers have used the Olympic Games as a backdrop to stories of sporting triumph or, in some cases, used a supposed Olympic background to emphasize the heroic and villainous traits of a character.
Let’s start with the movies. I have deliberated avoided films which are based on real Olympic history, even those whose grasp on history is at best fairly tenuous.

If you consider the headlines of the last few weeks it’s with a certain sense of irony we begin with the character of Ivan Drago from the 4th instalment of the Rocky series of movies. The chemically assisted Soviet boxer, probably designed as a champion from the Moscow Olympics, may be a caricature of Communist era Russia but has remained a popular villain in the thirty years since the film was released. The script also makes it clear that Drago’s wife, Ludmilla, is herself an Olympic champion in the swimming pool. Incidentally the actor, who played Drago, Dolph Lundgren, had a genuine Olympic link – he was the section manager for the US modern pentathlon team in Atlanta in 1996.
Ivan Drago-Rocky-villain
Ivan Drago

The Rocky series may be nearly forty years old now but that’s nothing compared to the longevity of James Bond. In the 2002 film “Die Another Day” we are introduced to MI6 agent Miranda Frost, an Olympic champion from the Sydney Olympics, who is eventually revealed to be in the debt of the North Korean villain of the piece after he arranged that her opponent for gold “overdosed on steroids”. An earlier film in the series, “For Your Eyes Only”, featured an East German Olympic biathlete turned assassin.
Shooting seems a popular Olympic sport in cinematic terms with the Oscar nominated 2014 film “American Sniper” featuring, as a main antagonist, a Syrian Olympic champion marksman called Mustafa and, as strange as it seems, another fictional champion shooter threatened to cause a diplomatic incident for a time in 2005. The Bollywood film “Sarkar” features an Olympic medallist from Dubai who is hired as a contract killer. Unfortunately for the filmmakers the UAE’s only Olympic medal at the time had come from Sheikh Ahmed al-Maktoum, a member of Dubai’s ruling family, in trap shooting. An apology was sent to Sheikh Ahmed and the controversial scenes were edited.

1937 saw the release of “Charlie Chan at the Olympics”, which blended real footage from the Berlin Games into a murder mystery. After the eponymous hero solves the crime he finds time to watch his son win an Olympic swimming title.

Even the ancient Olympic Games has been referenced on celluloid in cartoon form through the shape of “Asterix at the Olympic Games” where the eponymous Gaulish hero wins an Olympic title when every one of his opponents succumb to the temptation of magic potion and is disqualified.
MPW-55434

One of the best movies to be based around the subject was “Downhill Racer”, a 1969 vehicle for the then box-office sensation Robert Redford, which centred on a brash American making his way on the European skiing circuit and towards an Olympic title. The acclaimed critic Roger Ebert said at the time it was “the best movie ever made about sports—without really being about sports at all.”
The following year film producer and self-confessed Olympic fan Richard F. Zanuck produced “The Games”, a movie based on four runners of vastly differing backgrounds who competed for glory in the marathon at a fictional Rome Olympics. Filmmakers have long seen athletics as a rich seam to mine for Olympic movies as was seen in the 1955 film Geordie, about a Scottish Hammer thrower and Golden Girl from 1979 which centred on the premise of a neo-Nazi scientist adopting an American orphan with the single purpose of turning her into an Olympic pentathlon champion.

Other sports that have flourished on the silver screen include figure skating in the guise of romantic comedy “The Cutting Edge”. The story of a spoilt American skater teaming up with a former ice hockey player on and off the ice was successful enough to spawn three sequels. The dubious acting talents of Dolph Lundgren once again feature in “Pentathlon”, probably the only thriller based around the Olympic modern pentathlon. Lundgen plays an East German champion whose comeback for the 1988 Olympic Games is threatened by his former coach turned neo-Nazi terrorist. It was badly received at the time and is generally considered the worst movie on this list. 1997’s “Murder at 1600”, with Diane Lane as a US Secret Service agent who was also an Olympic shooting champion, was another that was panned by the critics.

Moving our attention towards television, and also to the distant future, we can point out that 1960s kids TV puppet show Thunderbirds. The show, which was hugely popular in the UK and Australia, featured a character called Gordon Tracy who was / will be an Olympic swimming champion at the butterfly stroke around the year 2060. Much later US animated comedy series “Futurama” introduced the limbo into the 30th century incarnation of the Olympics and set one of the main characters, Jamaican bureaucrat Hermes Conrad, on a quest for the championship against his arch rival Barbados Slim.

In literature the classic children’s book “Matilda” by Roald Dahl featured the fearsome Miss Trunchbull who was described as an Olympic javelin, discus and hammer thrower from the 1972 Olympics. It is unknown if she was successful in her efforts in Munich. The introduction of a “throwing the girl by her pigtails” event might have ensured victory.
Another favourite of children was the runner Alf Tupper, the “Tough of the Track”, whose appearances in British comics lasted from 1949 to 1992. His longevity as a middle distance runner is marked by his wins at both the Helsinki and Barcelona Olympics.

The theatre has not provided much to add to this list with the exception of “Amigos”, a play by the award winning Australian playwright David Williamson. It concerns the relationships inside a medal winning rowing quartet thirty four years after they reach the podium at the 1968 Games.

Of course there may be more that we have missed, please feel free to remind us of any omissions.
Thanks to David Clark for suggesting this subject.

“Only the dead have seen the end of War”

Some of you may recognize the quote that headlines this posting as being from the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that one of the reasons that the Olympic Games existed in ancient times was for the training of both body and soul that would be required in times of military conflict. Whether he is right or wrong is a matter for personal conscience but one thing that cannot be denied is that, since the advent of the modern Games, many Olympians have fought and died as soldiers or have been killed as part of a myriad of conflicts across the globe.

On the day which Americans call Veterans Day and which other countries call Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, we can indeed remember them.
http://www.sports-reference.com currently lists 752 casualties of war on our website.

The full list is, sadly, too long to list here but is available at http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/friv/lists.cgi?id=65

However we can list a dozen representative examples.

Ron Zinn (USA)
Athletics
Although assumed deceased, technically still listed as MIA (missing in action) in Vietnam.

Janusz Zalewski (Poland)
Sailing
Member of the Polish resistance. Injured during the 1944 Warsaw Rising, he was murdered along with fellow hospital patients and medical staff during Nazi reprisals.

Teófilo Yldefonso (Phillipines)
Swimming
Killed in concentration camp Capas, following the Bataan Death March.

Tony Wilding (New Zealand)
Tennis
Joined the British army and was leading an armoured car unit when he was killed at Aubers Ridge during the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle.

Silvano Abbà (Italy)
Modern Pentathlon
Abbà was a military man, who led the Italian Savoy Cavalry squadron in August 1942 at the Battle of Izbushensky near Volgograd. Abbà was killed, along with 700 other riders who were slaughtered by the Soviets. It is considered the last cavalry charge in military history.

Werner Seelenbinder (Germany)
Wrestling
Killed by beheading in Brandenburg Prison after years in concentration camps for leading resistance movements against the Nazis.

Birger Wasenius (Finland)
Speed Skating
Killed during the Winter War early in 1940 while fighting for the Finnish army on the islands of Lake Ladoga.

Freddie Tomlins (Great Britain)
Figure Skating
Killed as a RAF crew-member in fight against a German submarine in/over the British Channel.

Henryk Szlązak (Poland)
Wrestling
Killed by an artillery shell during the Warsaw Uprising.

Percival Molson (Canada)
Athletics
Killed in action when hit by mortar fire while attempting to rescue a fallen friend on the outskirts of Avignon, France.

Stella Agsteribbe (Netherlands)
Gymnastics
Killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Five of the members of this team perished in the Holocaust
Five of the members of this team perished in the Holocaust

André Corvington (Haiti)
Fencing
Killed in action in World War I near Reims whilst serving as a medic in the French army.

Jacques Forestier

Born into a medical family, his father Henri Forestier was a director at the therapeutic spas in Aix-les-Bains. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and made a commander of the Légion d’honneur for his bravery in the First World War as a field doctor. Whilst completing his medical studies he excelled for the university rugby team and was called up to play for the hastily put together French team for the 1920 Antwerp Games. Forestier was also an excellent swimmer and skier.

Jacques Forestier
Jacques Forestier

It was in the field of medicine however that Forestier was to excel. Working with the neurologist Jean-Athanase Sicard, he pioneered radiodiagnosis in neurology with the discovery of the use of Lipidol and is also remembered for his introduction of gold salts as a remedy for rheumatoid arthritis. Forestier has the unusual distinction for an Olympian of having a disease name after him – Forestier’s disease is a degenerative spinal arthritis found predominately in elderly men.

Ron Clarke (1937-2015)

As the Australian junior mile champion Ron Clarke was selected to carry the Olympic Torch and light the flame at the 1956 Melbourne Opening Ceremony. He later became one of the great distance runners of all-time, especially measured against the clock, but one who struggled to win on the biggest stages. Between 1963-68 Clarke set 17 world records, over distances ranging from 2 miles to the one-hour race. In 1965, he was at his best, setting 11 world records that year alone. His most famous record occurred on 14 July 1965 at Bislett Stadium in Oslo, when Clarke recorded 27:39.4 (27:39.89) for 10,000 metres, breaking his own listed record of 28:15.6, shattering the previous best by over 36 seconds.

ron clarke 1970
Clarke leading the 1970 Commonwealth Games 10000m

At the Commonwealth Games Clarke won four silver medals, in the 1962 3-miles, the 1966 3- and 6-mile races, and the 1970 10,000 metres. Favored for golds at the 1964 Olympics in the distances, he came away only with a bronze in the 1964 10,000 metres. At Mexico City in 1968, Clarke ran himself to exhaustion in the thin air of the Mexican capital, and lay prostrate on the track at the end of the 10,000, after finishing sixth. After the 1968 Olympics, Clarke visited Czechoslovakia to meet his predecessor as the world’s greatest distance runner, Emil Zátopek. When he left for Australia, Zatopek gave him a present to be opened only on the plane, and it was one of his gold medals, with a note saying, “Because you deserve it.”

Ron Clarke on 50th anniversary of Melbourne Olympics

Clarke later became mayor of Gold Coast, Queensland in 2004, serving until 2012, when he resigned to run in the Queensland state elections, but he was badly beaten in that election. Clarke was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1966. In 2013 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) on the Queens Birthday Honours List. Clarke was elected to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.

Personal Bests\: 5000 – 13:16.6 (1966); 10000 – 27:39.89 (1965); Mar – 2-20:26 (1964).

Max Emmerich, Olympic Champion and Bank Robber

Full Name Max Phillip Emmerich
Born 1 June 1879 in Indianapolis (USA)
Died 29 June 1956 in Indianapolis (USA)
Affiliations Socialer Turnverein Indianapolis (USA)
Country United States

Year-Sport Event Place
1904 Athletics All-Around DNF
1904 Gymnastics Individual All-Around Men 67th
1904 Gymnastics Individual All-Around Field Sports Men Gold
1904 Gymnastics Individual All-Around Apparatus Work 100th

poster1904
From Indianapolis, Max Emmerich competed in two sports at the 1904 Olympics. Besides the gymnastics events he entered the all-around competition in track & field. At that sport, however, his participation lasted only a few seconds; as in the first event – the 100 yard dash – he pulled up lame after only a few yards. Emmerich won the triathlon in the gymnastics program, but it was really a track & field competition. It consisted of the 100 yard dash, long jump, and shot put, and was a part of the 12 event all-around competition.

In 1909 Emmerich, a bank clerk at the Capitol National Bank in Indianapolis, suddenly disappeared. Suspicious bank officials examined his accounts and brought in the Pinkerton Detective Agency when it became apparent that fraudulent transactions had taken place. Emmerich was tracked by a Pinkerton detective to a motel in Jacksonville, Florida, from where he was about to leave for South America, arrested and returned to Indiana. Emmerich, fellow Olympian Harry Prinzler and another conspirator were each sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $40,000. When released in 1913 he returned to accountancy.

Olympians and the Gallipoli Campaigns

A hundred years ago this month British Empire and French forces embarked on what became known as the Gallipoli or Dardanelles campaign against the Ottoman Empire with the aim of capturing the capital city of Constantinople (now Istanbul). One of the bloodiest campaigns of World War One, the failure of the Allied Forces brought down the British government and left a lasting legacy particularly in Australia and New Zealand where the date on which the campaign began is now remembered as ANZAC day. Although the exact figures are disputed it’s believed that over 100,000 soldiers were killed during the campaign including approximately 60,000 Turks, 34,000 British and Irish, 10,000 French, 8000 Australians and 2500 New Zealanders as well smaller numbers from Newfoundland and India.
war_cemeteries
War cemeteries

Amongst the dead where two men who competed at the Olympic Games;
Oswald Carver was the private school educated son of a wealthy Manchester merchant. He studied at Charterhouse School and at Cambridge University where he rowed in 1908 Varsity Boat race. Later that summer Carver was a crew member of the University boat that won the bronze medal at the first London Olympics. A captain in the Royal Engineers he was wounded in the back on the 4th of June 1915 and died three days later. He left a widow and two children.

Paul Kenna was a career soldier who earned the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honour, for bravery during the Anglo-Sudan War.
“On 2 September 1898, at the Battle of Omdurman, Sudan, when a major of the 21st Lancers was in danger, as his horse had been shot in the charge, Captain Kenna took the major up on his own horse, to a place of safety. After the charge Captain Kenna returned to help Lieutenant De Montmorency who was trying to recover the body of an officer who had been killed”
He also fought in Somalia and in the Boer War before making his Olympic appearance in 1912 in his fiftieth year. In October 1915 Brigadier-General Kenna was touring the front line when he was shot and killed by a sniper.
Kenna
Paul Kenna

Chris Porter was not technically an Olympian since he was only a non-playing member of the Great Britain football team at the 1908 Olympics but it would be an oversight not to mention him here. The son of a Manchester publican played league football, as an amateur, for Stockport County and Glossop North End and was a free scoring member of the England national amateur team.
Porter served as a private with the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment but was sadly killed in action during the Gallipoli Campaign in June 1915.

The events of the Gallipoli Campaign particularly resound in Australia as this was the first time Australian troops had ever suffered large losses. Although a number of prominent Australian sportsmen lost their lives during the campaign, no Australian Olympian perished in the conflict.
Claude Ross, who competed at 400m in the Stockholm Olympics, survived only to be killed later in the war whilst serving in France. Rower Keith Heritage was amongst the first to land and last to leave the peninsular but he too met his fate whilst serving on the Western Front.

Wilfred Kent-Hughes was wounded at Gallipoli but recovered to claim a place in the Australian team in the 400m hurdles. Although a Member of Parliament at time, he served as an officer in the Australian Army in WW2 and was a prisoner of war in Singapore. He was to become the chairman of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Committee.

Olympic rugby champions Sydney Middleton and Tom Richards, swimmer Frank Schryver and athlete turned actor Joseph Lynch also served in the Dardanelles.

Lights, Camera, Olympic Games

This week the film “Foxcatcher” will be released in the United States and already the word is that it may figure prominently in the nominations for the 2015 Academy Awards. The story surrounding the death of US Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz at the hands of paranoid-schizophrenic millionaire coach John du Pont has already gained critical plaudits especially for the performance of Steve Carrell as Du Pont.

There is a long history based on films based on the Olympic Games, or featuring Olympians, that goes way back into the mists of time. A few are regarded as classics of the silver screen; others are barely remembered at all. Let’s take a look at a selection of some of the more memorable movies based around the Olympic Games. These don’t include appearances by Olympians in acting roles in films without the Games as a central subject or documentaries. Those will be subjects of further posts in the near future.

The Ancient Olympics
Asterix at the Olympics (2008)
Live action version of the famous French cartoon book starring Gérard Depardieu which was released to coincide with the Beijing Olympics. Partly a sly parody of real life, much of the plot revolves around the use of a magic potion that is banned for the Olympic competitions.
It was badly received by critics and public alike.

1896 Athens
It Happened in Athens (1962)
Athens
Based extremely loosely around the events of the inaugural Olympic marathon, Jayne Mansfield plays an actress who announces that she will marry the winner of the race whilst safe in the knowledge that her lover, an army officer, is the clear favourite. The natural running talent of a young shepherd called Spyridon Louis complicates the matter. The film was a flop when it came out and did irreparable damage to the careers of the lead actors. It featured a cameo from two time decathlon champion Bob Mathias.

1912 Stockholm
Jim Thorpe All-American (1951)
Burt Lancaster stars in the title role as the Native American who, apart from being the greatest all-round athlete on the planet, played professional American football and baseball. Thorpe himself appears in a cameo role as a coach. The film covers his exploits in Stockholm but also the triumphs and tragedies in his life and sporting career from high school to the year of the movie’s release.
It was a box office success at the time of its release.

1924 Paris
Chariots of Fire (1981)

Probably the benchmark in Olympic movies, the movie tells the tale of British sprinters Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. Liddell was the 400 metre champion in Paris before becoming a Christian missionary in China whilst the story of Abrahams, the 100 metre champion at the same Games, is set across a background of anti-Semitism and the British class system. A winner of 3 Oscars including best picture, it is also memorable for the score by Greek composer Vangelis.

1936 Berlin
Race (2016)
This is the one film in this list that has yet to be released. Filming began on this telling of the Jesse Owens story earlier this year. Starring Canadian actor Stephan James as Owens with Jeremy Irons as future IOC President Avery Brundage, the film is due for release in April 2016.

Berlin 1936 (2009)
“Berlin 1936” takes the story of Gretel Bergman and Dora Ratjen at the Berlin Olympics as a starting point even if most of the story bares little relation to the true events of 1936. In the film Marie Ketteler, a fictionalized version of Ratjen, is a man used by the Nazis to challenge Bergman, the Jewish athlete, for a place on the German team in the high jump. In real life, whether the authorities knew that Ratjen had an intersex condition is still a matter for conjecture.
The film was a modest success in financial terms.

1952 Oslo
Schwere Jungs 2006 (Heavyweights)
bob2
A low budget film based, if very loosely, on the story of the heavyweight German bobsleigh crew that won two gold medals at the Oslo Olympics.

1956 Melbourne
Geordie (1955)
A gentle British romantic comedy about a skinny young Scots boy who, with a help of a Charles Atlas type bodybuilding course, turns himself into a champion hammer thrower. He’s unable to perform well until he wears his father’s kilt in competition. This trick turns him from an also ran into the Olympic champion.

Szabadság, Szerelem (Children of Glory) (2006)
Using fictional lead characters and including a romantic subplot, the film weaves in the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956 with the Hungarian water polo’s Olympic campaign and, in particular, “The Blood in the Water Match” between Hungary and the USSR in Melbourne.

1964 Tokyo
Walk Don’t Run (1966)

You can just imagine the conversation that led to the making of this film.
“O.K. Whatcha got?”
“Well, it’s a romantic comedy based on the accommodation shortage at the Tokyo Olympics”
“Yeah…”
“And the romantic lead is a race walker”
“This isn’t promising”
“But we got Cary Grant”
“Better”
“And there’s a cameo from the guy who plays Sulu in Star Trek”
“What’s Star Trek?”
“Ah well, it hasn’t been made yet but, trust me, it’s going to be big”
“That settles it, go ahead and make the film”
The story concerns a secretary at the British Embassy who lets out half her apartment to a British businessman, played by Grant, who sublets to the American walker. The rest of the film revolves around Grant’s attempt to get the pair together romantically.

1968 Grenoble
Downhill Racer 1969
Robert Redford stars as an egotistic American skier who clashes with team mates and official alike.
Of course he gets things together to win the Olympic title.

1972 Munich
Prefontaine (1997)
Without Limits (1998)
Two biopics of American distance runner Steve Prefontaine were released within a year of each other. Both portray Prefontaine as a maverick, headstrong but naturally gifted runner though they are told from different viewpoints. “Prefontaine” was told through the eyes of assistant coach Bill Dellinger whilst “Without Limits” has legendary coach Bill Bowerman as the focus of the film.
“Without Limits” was generally the better reviewed of the pair though both were major box office flops.

Munich (2005)
Stephen Spielberg directed and produced this film which dealt with the aftermath of the murder of members of the Israeli team in 1972. It traces the attempts of a group of Israeli agents to track down and assassinate members of the Black September terrorist group responsible for the massacre.
Although nominated for five Academy Awards, it failed to win in any category.

1980 Lake Placid
Miracle (2004)

This is a retelling of the story of the unlikely victory of the US ice hockey team at the Lake Placid Olympics with Kurt Russell in the lead role of coach Herb Brooks. It’s basically another mismatched band of individuals fashioned into a team by an inspirational coach story but, in this case, done with more than usual style and attention to detail. It made $64,000,000 at the box office which was more than twice the production costs.

1988 Calgary
Cool Runnings (1993)

A heavily fictionalized version of the story of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team starring Canadian comedian John Candy as a coach very loosely based on US champion Howard Siler. Played heavily for comedy, it became a smash hit and the most successful in box office terms of any film on this list.
The profits from the film now approach $200,000,000.

1988 Seoul
Jappeloup (2013)
This is a French film which traces the story of Pierre Durand, the lawyer who gave up his career to aim for Olympic glory, and his partnership with the horse Jappeloup which took him to the Olympic Games of 1984 and 1988.
It traces his disappointments in Los Angeles and gold medal success in Seoul.
Amongst the cast are the well-known French actor Daniel Auteuil and Canada’s Donald Sutherland.
The film was a critical and commercial success in France.

1992 Albertville
The Cutting Edge 1992
A romantic comedy about a rich and spoilt female skater forced to team up with an ice hockey player in their quest for Olympic glory. A moderate success in cinemas, it gained a new round of popularity when shown on TV and spawned 3 sequels.

1998 Nagano
Take Off (2009)
Yet another film to be based on a true story but which includes plot lines which are completely fictitious.
The story of the founding of a South Korean ski jumping team to compete at the Nagano Olympics soared to success in Korea although it made little progress outside its own country.

2004 Athens
Forever the Moment (2008)
Probably the only major film to centre on women’s handball, the film traces the Korean team on the way to the final of the 2004 Athens Olympics. A relatively formulaic adaptation of a familiar theme of a team of individuals bonding together under an inspirational coach, it was a big success in Korea

When Olympic boxing champions meet for the World Heavyweight Championships

On the 30th of October 1974 George Foreman, the reigning professional heavyweight boxing champion of the world, stepped into a ring in Kinshasa, Zaire to defend his title against former champion Muhammad Ali. What happened next has entered sporting folklore as arguably the most famous fight of all time, the Rumble in the Jungle.

Ali-Foreman

But of course as this is a blog concerning the Olympic Games we’ll choose to dwell on another aspect of the match – that of it being one of the rare instances where two Olympic champions have fought each other for the World Heavyweight title. Boxing became an Olympic sport in 1904 and, with the exception of 1912, has remained in the Games ever since but in that span of 110 years only ten times have two Olympic champions met for what is regularly described as “the greatest prize in professional sport”.

So when exactly has this happened? The answer is below. The list is restricted to generally accepted versions of the titles. Of the 10 instances documented, 6 involve Muhammad Ali.

#1 22/8/1957 Floyd Patterson KO 6 Pete Rademacher
Floyd Patterson, the champion at middleweight in Helsinki in 1952 at just 17, became the youngest ever heavyweight champion whilst still only 21. As many of the leading contenders for the title were under the control of the International Boxing Club of New York (which had links to organised crime) Patterson’s handlers shied from fighting them and were inventive in choosing opponents.
Pete Rademacher had won the heavyweight gold medal at the Melbourne Games nine months before he faced Patterson for the title and, amazingly, this was to be his professional debut. Rademacher started well, winning the first round then putting Patterson on the canvas in the second but Patterson recovered and battered his way to an emphatic six round victory.

#2 22/11/1965 Muhammad Ali TKO 12 Floyd Patterson
Patterson, having lost his world title via a crushing defeat to Sonny Liston had rebounded well enough to earn a shot at Muhammad Ali, who as Cassius Clay, had won the Olympic light-heavyweight title in 1960. Patterson injured his back in training but refused to pull out of the fight. Accepted history records that Ali “mocked, humiliated and punished Patterson throughout before knocking him out in the 12th round” but an interview with Ali conducted post-fight revealed that Ali, knowing Floyd was in serious pain through his injury, backed off and waited for the fight to be stopped or for Patterson to retire.

#3 8/3/1971 Joe Frazier Pts 15 Muhammad Ali
“The Fight of the Century”, as it was called, pitted Ali, who was back in the ring after being stripped of his belt and suspended after refusing the draft, with the 1964 Olympic heavyweight champion, “Smokin’” Joe Frazier. It was a fight that lived up to the hype as the two men traded blow for blow before a celebrity studded Madison Square Garden crowd. Frazier scored a knockdown in the final round to seal victory.

Ali-Frazier I

#4 22/1/1973 George Foreman TKO 2 Joe Frazier
Kingston, Jamaica saw the “Immovable Object”, reigning heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, go head to head with the “Irresistible Force” in the shape of 1968 Olympic heavyweight champion George Foreman. Unfortunately for him, Frazier proved all too movable and mostly in the downwards direction. The champion was sent to the canvas six times before the referee proclaimed Foreman the winner. In American television this fight was famous for Howard Cosell, announcing it, who kept proclaiming, after each knockdown, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”. This was the 1st time two Olympic heavyweight champions had met for the professional heavyweight title.

#5 30/10/1974 Muhammad Ali KO 8 George Foreman
This is where we came in. In the unlikely setting of a football stadium in downtown Kinshasa, Zaire, one of the famous events not just in boxing but in all sports, took place. Foreman, considered a monster of the ring, was the clear favourite against the older Ali but after dominating the early exchanges he ran out of steam and Ali took advantage to record a stunning knockout victory. 40 years later it remains a landmark in sporting history.

#6 1/10/1975 Muhammad Ali TKO 14 Joe Frazier
Ali and Frazier had fought a rematch in 1974 with Ali gaining revenge via a unanimous points decision. After Ali regained the heavyweight title later that year it became inevitable that a third match between the two would take place. The fight would take place in Manila in October 1975 and is widely considered to be one of the best, and certainly most brutal, bouts in history. In the 14th round, with both men nearing the point of total exhaustion, Ali unleashed a devastating series of punches which led to Frazier retiring in his corner between rounds. Neither man was ever the same again. The two men had been mutually antagonistic throughout their careers but after the fight Ali commented – “Fighting Joe Frazier is the closest to death I can ever imagine. If I’m ever called to a Holy War I want Joe Frazier fighting besides me.”


#7 15/2/1978 Leon Spinks Pts 15 Muhammad Ali
#8 15/9/1978 Muhammad Ali Pts 15 Leon Spinks

Now in the twilight of his career, Ali arranged what seemed like a routine defence against the 1976 Olympic light-heavyweight champion Leon Spinks. In the first meeting Spinks turned up fit and hungry and in only his 8th professional fight used his youth and fitness to finish strongly and win a split decision victory over a subdued and listless Ali. Seven months later and the tide had turned in the favour of the old champion. Spinks, by then in the early stages of drink and drug dependency, was easily outpointed by a better prepared Ali.

Ali-Spinks II

#9 16/3/2002 Wladimir Klitscho TKO 6 Ray Mercer
After a gap of 23 years two Olympic champions stepped into the ring to battle for the heavyweight title once again in 2002. The occasion was a defence of the WBO title by Ukrainian Wladimir Klitscho, the 1996 Olympic super-heavyweight gold medal winner, against Ray Mercer, winner of the Olympic title at heavyweight back in 1988. The 41 year old Mercer was expected to be little more than a sacrificial victim for the younger man and that’s exactly how it turned out. The referee stepped in to protect Mercer from further punishment in round 6.

#10 5/10/2013 Wladimir Klitscho Pts 12 Aleksandr Povetkin
The bout matched Wladimir Klitscho, who held the IBF and WBO world titles as well as the WBA “Super-World” title with Alexander Povetkin of Russia who merely held the WBA “regular” World Heavyweight title (confusing, but that’s modern professional boxing…). Anyone who’s ever read a comic book will tell you that Superman always beat Regularman and that is exactly what happened in their bout in Moscow. Klitschko won every round and knocked his opponent down four times on his way to a totally one sided victory. He continues to be the best heavyweight in the world to this day.

Klitschko-Povetkin

Did an eight year old compete and win a medal at the Olympics?

When it comes to tracking down missing biographical details for Olympians who competed over a hundred years ago you might expect the trail to be pretty cold by now – and you’d be right. Without divulging too much of our methods, I’ll just say that it can be done if you’re willing to put in the hard yardage cross referencing known information with newspaper reports, censuses, birth records and even ships’ manifests. The best person I know at this is my Estonian colleague Taavi Kalju and it was while researching some French and Belgian Olympians from the early part of the last century that he found a surprising piece of information. The star of this story is about as obscure an Olympian as you could possibly find, a Belgian coxswain who steered the Royal Club Nautique de Gand (Dutch Koninklijke Roeivereniging Club Gent) rowing eight in the Olympic Games of 1900 and 1908 by the name of Alfred Van Landeghem.

Taavi searched the birth registers of Ghent for a possible match and found only one. Now this is where things get interesting because this Alfred Van Landeghem was born on the 26th October 1891 which would make him 8 years and 316 days old when he competed at the Paris Olympic Games of 1900. Not surprisingly that would make him the youngest known Olympian ever and, since his team placed second in the final, the youngest known Olympic medallist ever as well. The 1900 Olympic rowing events were notable for the use of very young coxswain. Some, like the mysterious young French boy picked out of the crowd as a replacement cox for the Dutch pair, have vanished into history without their name or age being recorded for posterity. (There is a name we have seen but we don’t trust it, and won’t even publish it here.) A picture of the late substitute exists which suggests he may be in his early teens or possible as young as 10.

So what of Van Landeghem? Was he really an 8-year-old Olympic medallist? No pictures seem to exist of his Olympic exploits but a postcard was published of the Belgian crew at the 1909 Henley Regatta.

Offical result of the final 1909
Van Landeghem is sitting directly in front of the trophy.

The Van Landeghem born in 1891 would be 17 in 1909 and this appears to tally with the appearance of the man in the picture. Van Landeghem was a cox of Royal Club Nautique de Gand from 1900-1903 winning multiple European titles in coxed pairs, fours and eights.
In the following years Royal Club Nautique de Gand used other coxes (Raphael Van der Waerden & Rodolphe Colpaert), but in 1908 and1909 again Van Landeghem was against used as cox for his club, including at the 1909 Henley Regatta. Ghent crews were very prominent in European rowing circles in early 1900s, winning multiple European titles and the Henley Regatta Grand Challenge Cup in 1906, 1907 and 1909.

Sadly there is a tragic postscript to this story as he died on 19 October 1914, a week shy of his 23rd birthday. It may well be that he was killed in action, as 19 October was the first day of the Battle of Ypres although his name does not appear on the lists of Belgian war dead that we have so far found.

We have been in touch with his club who are helping us with our enquiries but, at the moment, all we can say it that seems likely that we have the right man though we don’t have that final piece of conclusive evidence.
If anyone can help on this matter feel free to contact us via this blog or by contacting http://www.sports-reference.com/feedback/

Golden Slams in Tennis

In some sports an Olympic title can be part of a greater achievement. In this blog we’ve already featured ice hockey’s Triple Gold Club and basketball’s Triple Crown winners but tennis also has its’ ultimate challenge – the Golden Slam.
The Golden slam consists of winning the 4 major championships, the Australian, French and US Opens as well as Wimbledon and an Olympic gold medal. It was never achieved during tennis’s original tenure as an Olympic sport (because of the French tournament being restricted to members of French clubs before 1925) but, since the sport returned to the Olympic fold in 1988, a dozen men and women have performed the feat in a mixture of singles and doubles.

Men’s singles

Athlete Nation(s) Olympics Australia French Wimbledon USA
Andre Agassi USA 1996 4 wins 1 win 1 win 2 wins
Rafael Nadal ESP 2008 1 win 9 wins 2 wins 2 wins

Men’s doubles

Athlete Nation(s) Olympics Australia French Wimbledon USA
Bob Bryan USA 2012 6 wins 2 wins 3 wins 4 wins
Mike Bryan USA 2012 6 wins 2 wins 3 wins 4 wins
Daniel Nestor CAN 2000 1 win 4 wins 2 wins 1 win
Todd Woodbridge AUS 1996 3 wins 1 win 9 wins 3 wins
Mark Woodforde AUS 1996 2 wins 1 win 6 wins 3 wins

Women’s singles

Athlete Nation(s) Olympics Australia French Wimbledon USA
Steffi Graf FRG/GER 1988 4 wins 6 wins 7 wins 5 wins
Serena Williams USA 2012 5 wins 2 wins 5 wins 5 wins

Steffi Graf (right of picture)

Women’s doubles

Athlete Nation(s) Olympics Australia French Wimbledon USA
Gigi Fernandez PUR/USA 1992/1996 2 wins 6 wins 4 wins 5 wins
Pam Shriver USA 1988 7 wins 3 wins 5 wins 5 wins
Serena Williams USA 2000/2008/2012 4 wins 2 wins 5 wins 2 wins
Venus Williams USA 2000/2008/2012 4 wins 2 wins 5 wins 2 wins

Williams sisters

Mixed doubles
Closest approach which includes an Olympic title is that of Vika Azarenko and Max Mirnyi of Belarus with Olympic, Wimbledon and US Open titles and an appearance in the final at the Australian Open.
Daniela Hantuchová has won all 4 major titles but did not compete in the event at the 2012 Olympics.

Serena Williams is unique in achieving this feat as both a singles and doubles player and has a record 34 wins across all five championships and both disciplines. Steffi Graf is the only player to win all 5 tournaments in the same calendar year whilst the Bryan brothers have also held all 5 titles at the same time although, in their case, it was spread over 2012 and 2013. Two of the premiere players of recent years, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, still need an Olympic singles gold to complete their set.