Amazing Sports Stories

Amazing Sports Stories 18: Incredible Audrey

A great example of keeping fit and active

By Roger Childs

Audrey 4Audrey Childs is 85 and lives in Lyall Bay, Wellington.  She exercises six days out of seven. This includes five Zumba classes, some run by her daughter Alison. A few of her Zumba sessions are with the “Over 50s”, but Audrey finds them a bit slow! Doing weights is another part of her exercise regime.

She also has at least two long walks a week. One of these is on a Sunday morning with the Wellington Marathon Clinic (WMC) which Audrey and her husband Bill joined when the popular sports club began in 1979. Audrey and Bill are life members.

Bill ran for many years in the WMC colours and has written extensively on the history of the group. Now in his 90s, Bill lives in a rest home.

Island Bay is where Audrey was brought up, so many of her walks are around Wellington’s rugged south coast. However, she doesn’t just keep on the flat, and frequently ventures into the hills above. Most of her perambulations are over 10km.

Marathoning on Oahu, Hawaii

Audrey Childs: definitely not retiring!
Audrey Childs: definitely not retiring!

Back in 1980, at the age of 80, Audrey walked the Marathon in Hawaii along with Alison. Unfortunately she had a virus when she left New Zealand and was unwell during the event. After taking a break and sitting down she contemplated pulling out. However there were people still going past and I thought, I’ve come all this way.

Encouraged by Alison who met her coming back, she got up, soldiered on and finished in 12 hours. Alison meanwhile had gone back to the hotel to have a shower and missed her mother coming in!

Was it time to retire and hang up her walking shoes? No way! Audrey is planning to do the Hawaii Marathon ‘properly’ next year and has found a training partner.

So in December 2016, at the age of 86, she’ll be on the roads with thousands of others, in and around Honolulu!

Amazing Sports Stories 17: Olivia

 …it is her drive, fierce determination and total commitment that we all greatly admire. Lennox Sharp, East Otago High School Principal

A profile in courage

By Roger Childs. Photos by Steven Jaquery and supplied

Olivia OllerenshawDuathlete, Olivia Ollerenshaw, is not a household name in the world of sport, however her story of determination and recovery from a near death road accident is extraordinary. The 17 year old East Otago head girl won the South Island Secondary Schools’ Duathlon early in 2014. Not long after, while on a training ride, she was run over by a truck and trailer. She sustained multiple injuries and faced the possibility of having her right arm amputated. A promising sporting career was seemingly at an end.

Appalling injuries and complicated operations

People look at my arm now and think it looks awful, but I think it looks awesome… Olivia

The accident on State Highway 85, which runs inland from Palmerston, put Olivia in hospital for months. The damage to her body was severe:

  • two broken bones in her left leg
  • right shoulder blade broken
  • a broken rib
  • three breaks in her lower right arm
  • lower right arm ‘degloved’ of skin and muscle.

Olivia Ollerenshaw 3Metal pins were put in her leg and arm and several skin grafts were used to repair the right arm. Muscle from taken from her quadriceps to help rebuild the same arm. In all, she went through 13 operations.

While all this was happening, she also had an emotional battle. Her father was dying of cancer and she despaired whether she would get home before he passed away. I pleaded with the nurses to let me go home because I wanted to be with my family.

In the early stages in hospital she needed the help of four people to get her into a wheelchair, but after several weeks she could support herself with crutches.

She was eventually allowed to go home, where she could be with her father for his final 11 days.

Olivia: a winner

I needed to do it for Dad.

Olivia wins gold

At home her recovery began in earnest. First she taught herself to walk again, but she wasn’t stopping there. She graduated to slow running and then on to cycling. Soon she was training again and was determined to at least compete in the 2015 Duathlon Championships in Oamaru.

In a fantastic performance in which she beat her last year’s time by four minutes, Olivia won gold. She completed the  2km run, 20km cycle 5km run in 1.7.21. The second place getter was over 3 minutes back. This in itself is a remarkable achievement, but it is the circumstances behind it that make Olivia’s story truly astonishing. Lennox Sharp

Olivia’s only regret was that her Dad wasn’t there to cheer her on and witness another victory.

Aiming even higher

Now it’s on to Christchurch in early April for another duathlon, which is a qualifer for the World Championships. If Olivia makes the team she will be off to Adelaide in October.

Maybe one day Olivia Ollerenshaw will be a household name.


(Sources: John Lewis of the Otago Daily Times, the East Otago High School website and the Tri NZ website.)

  Amazing Sports Stories 16: Snell

2014 December 7
by Kapiti Independent Reporters

This is not a runner, this is a god!” German spectator at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

New Zealand’s greatest track runner

By Roger Childs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Outside the library in the main street of Opunake there is a statue of a runner in full stride. Peter Snell is the Taranaki town’s most famous son, but as a small boy, locals remember him as just another scrawny little kid. However, Snell went on to become the country’s most successful middle distance athlete. He broke many world records and won a number of Commonwealth and Olympic medals. But back in 1960, when he was selected to run the 800 metres in the Rome Olympics, he was unknown and unheralded.

Coming in under the radar

Who’s the big guy in black? Bing Crosby’s question to journalists

Before Rome, Peter Snell had a best time of 1.49.2 for the 800m, ranking him 26th in the world. For some unknown reason, there were to be three rounds before the final. In the first round there were four runners in Snell’s race with three to qualify. The opposition was strong: Ernie Cunliffe was ranked third in the world on time, Christian Waegli fifth and the other runner, Istvan Rozsavoelgyi, was one on the world’s best 1500m runners.

Snell Rome 800m second heatOne commentator remarked: This is ridiculous! A four man field and you can write down the first three names before the race starts. Not on his list was the unknown Kiwi who won the race easily in 1.48.1.

In the quarter finals he was up against Roger Moens of Belgium who held the world record of 1.45.7. Snell ran cautiously and qualified for the next round with a second place. Psychologically, coach Arthur Lydiard felt that it was vital for the New Zealander to beat Moens in the semi final, which he did, in another personal best of 1.47.2. (See alongside.)

On to the final

Jamaican, George Kerr, had run 1.47.1 in his semi-final so the expectation was that Kerr, Snell and Moens would share the medals. The pundits felt that the Belgian was biding his time for the final and that the Kiwi might run out of steam in this fourth race in three days.

Waegli did his usual front running and led for most of the race. Snell had little experience at this level and found that he couldn’t make the planned race-winning break in the back straight. He was feeling the pace of top competition and when Moens swept past him, all seemed lost. On the final bend he was back in fifth place.

I was so inexperienced I didn’t realise that everyone would be feeling the pace, not just me. Sure enough, as we hit the Snell Rome 800mstraight runners were dying out there. They were fading and gaps were opening up. It gave me renewed life. Suddenly I could see a way through.

Snell had sensibly stayed on the inside and moved up to third place. Moens had run wider and therefore further, but was still leading with 20m to run. The Kiwi roared through and lunged forward into the tape, but was it good enough for gold?

I had no idea who had won. I ran the last half yard with my eyes shut and Roger was quite a way away. I turned to Roger a few seconds later and asked him who had won and he replied ‘You did’.

An extraordinary athlete and an inspirational coach

The 800m win in Rome was the start of a short but record breaking career on the track. Snell won gold in the 880 yards and mile in the 1962 Perth Commonwealth Games and gold in the 800m and 1500m in Tokyo in 1964. He held world records for the

  • mile
  • 800m
  • 880 yards
  • 1000m
  • 4 x 1 mile relay.

Arthur Lydiard (2) Arthur LydiardSnell was one of a group of Auckland runners coached by the incomparable Arthur Lydiard. They did much of their long distance training in the Waitakere Ranges which included regular 20 mile runs, under Arthur’s watchful eye.

Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee and Bill Baillie were all world class and they acknowledge that without Lydiard’s expertise, motivation and encouragement they would never have made the big time. Peter Snell summed up the coach’s impact.

I would never have had the vision to do what I did without Arthur. I might have been a good club runner, but I would never have done the distance work that was the foundation of my success. I organised my life to do what Arthur said and it paid off.

Amazing Sports Story 15: Fanny B-K

2014 November 21
by Kapiti Independent Reporters

One figure stands out above all those who took part in the 1948 Games: 30 year old Dutch woman Fanny Blankers-Koen. Olympic historians Nigel Blundel and Duncan Mackay

An extraordinary performance at the London Olympics

By Roger Childs

Fanny BKAs a teenager Fanny Blankers-Koen had been unplaced in the high jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Twelve years later, as a 30 year old mother of two, her chances of doing well in London were written off by some experts because of her age. Also she wasn’t competing in the two events in which she held world records: the high jump and long jump. However the Flying Dutchwoman would astound the sporting world by winning four gold medals in 1948: a feat never equalled by a woman in Olympic history.

The “austerity games” of 1948

Olympics 1948The shattering Second World War had only been over three years when London took up the challenge to run the Olympics. European nations were still recovering from the six year conflict; governments had limited funds available, so travelling beyond the continent for sport was out of the question.

Britain was short of food, fuel and building materials, and rationing was a fact of life for the general public. Nevertheless the government decided that an eight day sporting spectacle would be great for raising morale.

The Games were run on a tiny budget of £600,000 and athletes were housed in schools, military barracks and private homes. The famous soccer stadium at Wembley was transformed into a modern cinder athletics track and this surrounded grassed space for field events.

For the first time photography was to be used in determining places in close finishes like the sprints. This would be crucial in two of Fanny’s races.

Sensational results

HurdlesI remember thinking how strange that I had made so many people happy. But times were harsh and I think people were just glad of the opportunity to celebrate anything. It made me very proud to know that I had been able to bring joy into people’s lives. Fanny Blankers-Koen

  • 100m: Fanny was a clear favourite after easily winning her heats. She won the final comfortably in 11.9 seconds
  • 200m: Another easy victory by .7 of a second on a very wet track.
  • 80m hurdles: Of the six finalists Fanny got a poor start and was behind at the first hurdle. However she clawed her way back and won in a photo finish despite hitting the last hurdle. Second place getter, Britain’s Maureen Gardiner, was given the same world record time: 11.2. The Guardian recently put this race as number 10 in its Top Stunning Olympic Moments. (See photo above.)

Fanny statueCould Fanny pick up a fourth gold in the relay? Just before the final they couldn’t find her; she had gone shopping for a raincoat! Fortunately she arrived back in time to run the anchor lap. She needed her three team mates to give her a good chance of bringing the Dutch home.

They were third at the last changeover, but the Flying Dutchwoman overtook the Canadian runner and pipped Joyce King from Australia on the line.

Fanny Blankers-Koen had won four gold medals, a record for a female athlete that still stands in 2014. She had also put women’s track running on the map. As Norman Giller, a sports writer at the time, observed: She, more than anybody, made women athletes worthy of respect and attention, with a series of stunning performances in the London Olympics.

Recognition for a star

In an athletics career spanning nearly 20 years Fanny set 16 world records at eight different events: 100 yards, 100m, 200m, high hurdles, high jump, long jump, pentathlon and 4×110 yard relay.

~ In 1948, she was chosen as the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

~ There are two statues of her in the Netherlands. One is outside the Fanny Fanny with Carl LewisBlankers-Koen Stadium, where the annual Fanny Blankers-Koen games are held.

~ In 1980, she was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

~ In 1998, she was invited to New York to receive the Jesse Owens Award. (See alongside, Fanny with Carl Lewis)

~ The International Association of Athletics Federations named her the Female Athlete of the 20th Century

Fanny was always humble and modest about her success and kept her fitness into old age. In her eighties she was still playing tennis regularly. She died in 2004.

She is one of the greatest athletes of all time, especially because at the age of 30, running in baggy shorts and a T shirt with a collar, she won four gold medals at the austerity games.

When people said in 1948 that she was too old, Fanny responded:

That was just the thing to rouse me, to make me go out there and prove to them that, even if I was 30 years old and the mother of two children, I could still be a champion.



Amazing Sports Stories 14: Gold On Ice

I was the oldest bloke in the field and I knew that, skating four races back to back, I wasn’t going to have any petrol left in the tank. So there was no point in getting there and mixing it up because I was going to be in last place anyway. Speed skater Steven Bradbury

Bradbury skates into history

By Roger Childs

BradburyAt Salt Lake City in 2002, Steven Bradbury won Australia’s first Winter Olympics gold medal. He was competitive in three previous games and picked up a team bronze in 1994. However after a serious neck injury in 2000, doctors told the young man that his skating days were over. But the determined Australian would have none of it, and was back in the national team for the 2002 Utah games. To cap off his amazing recovery, the unfancied Bradbury then won the 1000m skating final in bizarre fashion.

A career of highs and lows

All skating events are a lottery as the competitors roar around a 100m circuit at speeds of over 40 kph. The chances of colliding, being pushed or just falling on a tight bend are very high.

Sydney born Steven Bradbury was a world class short course ice skater and competed in four Winter Olympics. His best chance of a medal was in the short track relay at Albertville in 1992. The Australian team had been world champions in 1991 so went into these Olympics as favourites. Unfortunately they crashed in the semi-finals.

1991 and 1992 set a pattern for more ups and downs.

  • 1994 Lillehammer Olympics: individual 500m and 1000m races – collisions and being illegally pushed saw him eliminated.
  • 1994 Lillehammer Olympics: short track 5000m relay – won a bronze medal, Australia’s first Olympic podium finish.
  • 1994: Montreal World Cup: another skater’s blade gashed his thigh in a collision and Bradbury needed 111 stitches and nearly a year to recover.
  • 1998 Sapporo Olympics: he didn’t qualify for the finals because of collisions.
  • 2000 Sydney: during as training session he tried to jump over a fellow skater after a collision. He crashed into a barrier and broke his neck.
  • 2002 Salt Lake City: as probably the 8th ranked skater in the world, he was in the 1000m for the fourth time.

The Accidental Hero

Bradbury winnerBradbury at last got lucky. In the quarter finals one of the favourite was disqualified, allowing him to advance to the semi finals. In that race, two faster skaters crashed out and the Australian became the slowest of the five qualifiers for the medal race.

In the 10 lap final Bradbury trailed the field as the four favourites tussled for the medals.

We’re coming into the last lap and it’s anybody’s race, except for the Australian who trails by 20 metres. Round the second to last bend it’s neck and neck… just 50 metres to go and the Korean has fallen and taken the Li down too! And the others leaders have also collided 15 metres from the line! … Bradbury medallistBradbury has come through to take an unexpected gold! Sensational!

Steven Bradbury was literally the last man standing and claimed the first Winter Olympics gold medal for a southern hemisphere nation.

After winning his gold medal, Bradbury struggled with conflicting emotions. He finally, sensibly, came to see it as a reward for 12 long years of toil. Harry Gordon, Australian Olympic Committee Historian

The unexpected hero was the toast of Australia. He won the Order of Australia medal, featured on a stamp and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. All because he stayed out of trouble in the Salt Lake City 1000m and watched all of his faster opponents crash out of contention.

Amazing Sports Stories 13: Trudy

When I swim in the sea I talk to it. I never feel alone when I’m out there. Gertrude Ederle

The extraordinary 19-yr-old swimmer from New York

By Roger Childs

Ederle coin She died in obscurity at the age of 97 in 2003. However back in 1926 she was a sporting sensation. Aged only 19, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel (La Manche) and broke the all time record by 2 hours.

She started in calm conditions, but the notorious stretch of water became so stormy that ships stayed in port!

Her coach urged her to abandon the attempt, but the gutsy New Yorker would have none of it. After all, daddy had promised her a new sports car!

The later starter becomes a champion

Born in New York in 1906, Gertrude (Trudy) Ederle  was taught to swim by her father at the age of nine. However it wasn’t until she was 15 that she became a regular swimmer. It was soon obvious that this girl was a natural in the water, and competitive over any distance.

Ederle~ Aged 12 she broke the world record for the 880 yards freestyle.

~ She broke 8 more world records between 1921 and 1925.

~ In all Gertrude held 29 US national and world records.

~ At the 1924 Paris Olympics she won a gold medal in the 4/100 the relay and two bronzes over 100m and 400m.

~ Then in 1925 she won a 22 mile race off the coast of New York in 7 hours 11 minutes. The record stood for 81 years.

However, this New York swim was just a warm-up for her attempt to become the first woman to swim the 21 miles from France to England.

Success on the second attempt

Long distance swimming in cold water is one of the most unnatural of challenges. The essential struggle is between exhaustion and cold. The Economist 18 December 2003

Her first attempt ended in disappointment after her female trainer, ordered another swimmer to pull  Trudy out, when she was over half way across. Trudy tried to get back in the water, but was disqualified. Furious, she hired a new coach, T W Burgess, a man who had conquered the Channel a few years before.

This was a time when sexism was alive and well, and on the day of the second attempt a London paper published a front page article predicting another flop. The editor claimed that the failed 1925 effort showed that women were athletically inferior to men! If Trudy needed an added incentive, this was it!

Ederle stars the swimGertrude entered the water at Cape Gris-Nez, on the French coast, early in the morning on August 6 1926. She wore

~ a two piece swim suit

~ a bathing cap

~ watertight leather and rubber goggles she had designed herself.

She was also covered in a thick coat of lanolin to protect her from jellyfish bites and the cold water.

Conditions at the start were calm and the New York teenager took off at her usual fast clip. Unfortunately squalls blew up part way across and twice Burgess suggested she abandon. No way! But conditions became worse and storm force winds whipped up heavy swells which kept fishing boats at their moorings in the English ports.

In the accompanying boat with the coach, were her father Henry and sister Margaret. To while away the time they sang 1902s hits to Gertrude, like Sweet Rosie O’Grady and After the Ball is Over. Her father also reminded her, that if she failed to make it, there would be no new roadster (a 1920s two-seater sports car) as a present!

In the end Trudy swam 35 miles (the distance as the  crow flies is 21 miles), in a time of 14 hours 34 minutes. This beat the previous time by over 2 hours and established a record which would stand until 1950.

An instant celebrity

Ederle ticker tapeI knew it could be done, it had to be done and I did it!

The world media acknowledged her swim as a great sporting achievement and Gertrude Ederle was a celebrity everywhere she went. Back in New York she was given one of the biggest ticker tape parades the city had seen before or since.

She was invited to the White House and President Calvin Coolidge called her “our American girl”.

Ederle came to symbolize the strength and independence of the modern woman — The Smithsonian

Sadly Gertrude had suffered hearing loss from a bout of measles in childhood and by 1945 was stone deaf. However, this encouraged her to devote time in her later years to teaching deaf children to swim.

 Amazing Sports Stories 12: Tie!

For many Australians, not to have a beer in their hands at six o’clock in the evening was almost as historic as the tie itself!  Cricket writer, Jack Fingleton

The greatest test of all time. Don Bradman

By Roger Childs

WI v A brisbaneIt was December 1960, and there were only about 4000 people at the Brisbane Cricket Ground to witness the climax of the first test between Australia and the West Indies. However, hundreds of thousand listened to the last hour of play on their radios. History was about to be made, as West Indian speedster Wes Hall took the ball to bowl the last over. Australia needed six runs to win with three wickets in hand.

Quality teams

The match was the first in what would become a great five match series between two of the best teams of the last sixty years. There were several players in each side who would still rank amongst the best to represent their country.

The Australian eleven included

Benaud~ Richie Benaud (pictured alongside): an inspiring captain, superb off spin bowler and useful batsman

~ Bobbie Simpson: an outstanding opening batsman and a later captain

~ Alan Davidson: one of the great pace bowlers of the time and a handy batsman

~ Wally Grout: arguably Australia’s greatest ever wicket keeper

~ Neil Harvey: an excellent, hard hitting middle order batsman.

In the West Indies team there were

~ Garfield Sobers: one of the greatest all rounder of all time, a stylish, fast scoring batsman and a bowler who could deliver everything from zippy medium pace to slow off breaks

~ Frank Worrell: the legendary captain who was one of the great batsman of the era

~ Wes Hall: one of the fastest and most feared bowlers of the time and, as a batsman, capable of scoring quick runs at the bottom of the order

~ Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine: the spin twins who bowled slowly but with great accuracy and skill.

Not surprisingly, these two great sides would enthrall the Australian cricketing public and followers around the world, over the summer of 1960-61.

Setting up a thrilling finish

Frank WorrellThe West Indies made 453 in the first innings, with a superb 132 in 174 minutes from Sobers and fifties to Worrell ( pictured alongside), Hall, Joe Solomon and Gerry Alexander. Australia replied with 505 which included a magnificent 181 from the stylish and hard hitting Norman O’Neill and 92 from Simpson.

The visitors could only manage 284 in their second knock, with Davidson bowling brilliantly to take 6 for 87. So Australia had just 233 to score for first blood in the series, but at 92/6 were in big trouble. However Davidson joined captain Benaud, and the pair put on 134 before he was run out by a brilliant throw from Joe Solomon. However, as Wes Hall started the last over, a victory for the home team looked like a formality: just six runs needed off eight balls, no sweat.

The incredible climax: Hall’s dramatic over

First ball: Keeper Grout was hit in the groin, however Benaud raced through to take the strike as the keeper limped to the other end. Five to get or three wickets.

Second ball: Hall disobeyed his captain’s instructions and bowled a bouncer: Benaud couldn’t get his bat out of the way and Alexander took the catch. Five to get or two wickets.

Third ball: Fast bowler, Ian Meckiff, middled the ball: no run.

Fourth ball: Hall bowled wide down the leg side and Grout raced through. Alexander gathered the ball, threw to Hall who aimed at the stumps at his end to run Meckiff out, but missed. Four to get and four balls left.

Fifth ball: Grout spooned the ball in the air and Rohan Kanhai was perfectly positioned to take the catch. But Hall in his exuberance charged across and jumped above Kanhai and dropped the ball! Grout had scored an unlikely single. Australia needed three runs off three balls. The West Indies needed two wickets.

HallSixth ball: Hall bowled very fast, but Meckiff connected with a big swing on the leg side. Was this the winning boundary? The crowd, commentators and press gallery all shouted their delight that an Australian victory had been achieved. The batsmen ran two, then turned for the winning third run.

Meanwhile on the boundary Conrad Hunte gathered the ball, then threw from eighty metres away flat and hard to Alexander over the stumps. The keeper didn’t have to move except to take off the bails. Grout had dived to make his ground, but was beaten by one of the great throws in the history of the game. The scores were now level. Two balls to go, Australia needed one run to win, the West Indies needed one wicket for a tie.

Seventh ball: Australia’s last man in, Lindsay Kline, faced the charging Hall. He hit the ball to leg and took off while Meckiff raced to the batsman’s end. From ten metres away, side on, Joe Solomon swooped on the ball and threw the stumps down. Meckiff was run out.

An unbelievable finish

It had to be seen to be believed and, of a truth, those few who saw it could barely believe what they saw was true. It all seemed fantastically impossible… Jack Fingleton

What they has seen, and hundreds of thousands had listened to, was the first tie in the 83 year history of test cricket.

 Amazing Sports Stories 11: Best test?

It’s a special feeling to win here at Ellis Park. All Black skipper Ritchie McCaw

A scintillating display by the All Blacks and Springboks

By Roger Childs

Rubgy test advertRugby historians and journalists will look back on this test as being one of the greatest of all time. This was the climax of the 2013 Rugby Championship and the South Africans needed to win with four tries and deny the All Blacks a bonus point. A lot was expected of the match and the Springboks, playing in their Johannesburg fortress of Ellis Park in front of over 60,000 partisan fans, had the home advantage.

The game exceeded expectations and had a bit of everything:

~ nine tries
~ a number of near tries
~ three players yellow carded
~ several injuries
~ most players on the bench getting a run
~ an All Black player not on the team sheet getting on the field
~ the referee sustaining an injury.

The pulsating start is sustained

The first ninety seconds set the tone as both sides threw the ball around and most players got a touch as the action seesawed up and down the field. Then the individual brilliance of wings on both sides increased the tempo and excitement.

  • A wonderful offload by Kieran Read sent Ben Smith on a weaving run where he beat four players to score by the posts.
  • Then the wonderful Bryan Habana, one of the greatest wingers of all time, scored two tries in quick succession with some wonderful finishing. The Springboks were suddenly out to a 15-7 lead.

A try by Liam Messam by the posts closed the gap to one point and then, with less than a minute on the clock to half time, the Springboks dropped their guard. Messam scored again after some excellent passing and backing up, to put the All Blacks were ahead 21-15 at the break.

An amazing second half

The All Blacks had two forwards in the bin so played with just 14 men for twenty minutes of this half. A rare mistake by Dane Coles in overthrowing into the lineout near the All Black line, led to the Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers bursting over near the posts to give the Springboks the lead 27-21 and a bonus point for the fourth try.

The high altitude of Ellis Park was taking its toll on both teams and the coaches emptied the benches, and there was still plenty of drama to come.

  • Barrett replaced Cruden at first five and as he did in two tests against the French earlier in the 2013 season, scored a try. This was a beauty as he evaded four tacklers to dot down under the posts.
  • There were two near misses. Nonu in a barging run to the posts just failed to score. Then for the Boks, right wing Willie le Roux was flying for a try in the corner but was just nudged into touch by Barrett.
  • Substitute hooker, Dane Coles, was on the field but not on the team sheet! Has this ever happened before?
  • Springbok hooker, Bismarck du Plessis, didn’t want to leave the field when replaced!
  • Referee Nigel Owens, who officiated very well, suffered a calf strain with a few minute to go.

All Blacks v South AfricaIn the end the All Blacks were the fitter team and clinched the victory. A break down the left late in the second half by Savea saw the winger set up Read with a perfect pass for a try under the posts. At 38-27 this put the game beyond the reach of the tiring South Africans.

Two great teams

You can see why they are numbers one and two in the world. Commentator Grant Nisbet

Both sides contributed to the spectacle and it was a titanic struggle between the two best teams on the planet. For the South rugby actionAfricans, Habana’s tries were special and it was cruel misfortune that shortly after, he pulled a hamstring and had to be replaced. Skipper De Villiers lead from the front and scored a crucial try; Duane Vermeulen was impressive in the loose and set up one of the Habana tries and young lock Eben Etzebeth was imposing in the lineout and showed speed around the field.

The All Black forwards wore their opposites down. Messam, Whitelock, Woodcock and Hore were particularly impressive. Skipper McCaw, coming back from injury, lasted the eighty minutes well and Read stepped up after his average display against the Pumas the previous week.

The backs all played well. The three Smiths all made significant contributions and Savea showed his versatility in taking the high ball, running strongly and setting up other players with well timed passes. Nonu was everywhere, tackling ferociously, running powerfully, foraging in the rucks and even scrumming down when Messam and Franks were yellow carded.

Only one winner

So from nine tests to this point, the All Blacks had nine convincing wins.The victory at Ellis Park was probably the most satisfying, as it clinched their second unbeaten run in row in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.

The South African fans would have gone home unhappy, but in years to come will remember that they were present at one of the greatest rugby test matches ever played.

 Amazing Sports Stories 10: The Treble!

It was the first game of three cup finals: 10 days, 3 games, win them: history. Sounds simple! Ryan Giggs

An old club with a proud history

By Roger Childs

Manchester U fansManchester United is the most popular sports club on the planet. They have more than 650 million fans world-wide with half of them living in Asia. The club has a proud history going back to 1878 when the Newton Heath LYR Football Club was formed in the Lancashire city. There have been many momentous events over the years, with the worst being 1958 Munich air crash which claimed the lives of eight players. However the greatest achievement in its magnificent post-war record came over ten days in the spring of 1999.

The Class of ‘92

Class of 92This film, directed by Benjamin and Gabe Turner, came out in December 2013 and is one of the best sports documentaries ever. It focuses on the rise of six young British players from working class backgrounds, who came together in the Manchester United team in 1992.

David Beckham,  Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes were a magic combination on the pitch and close friends off it. These were the days when English football teams were dominated by British players.

The fabulous six all had great careers

  • 3268 appearances for Manchester United
  • 26 major trophies
  • 428 international caps.

However, their supreme achievement was “The Treble” in 1999.

The Premier League: 16 May 1999

BeckhamTottenham brings out the best in Becks. Phil Neville

David Beckham’s grandfather had been a Tottenham fan for over 50 years and had mixed feelings about his talented grandson playing for the Lancashire team.

By their own high standards Man U didn’t play well for much of this vital home game and were a goal down at half time. Then, in the second half, Beckham produced a vintage shot which saw the ball bend away from the Tottenham goalie into the top of the net. A second goal came soon after and so it was one down two to play.

The FA Cup Final: 22 May 1999

It was the biggest thing in my eyes as a kid: the FA Cup final. Paul Scholes

The match at Wembley Stadium saw Man U up against Newcastle United. However the expected close game did not eventuate. The Lancashire team cruised home 2-0. Scholes scored the second goal with a pile-driver from 25 metres out.

So now it was on to Munich to see if Man U could win the first treble by an English club – Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League – in a single season.

UEFA Champions League Final: 29 May 1999

This is it for us: we become legends or just win the League and FA Cup. David Beckham

Man U v B MWatching in Wellington was our football columnist, Dave Daniel. I recall the 1999 European Cup Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou in Barcelona. United were trailing 1-0 and justifiably so, as Bayern had

~ controlled the game
~ hit the woodwork twice
~ scored a vital goal.

The rest is history, as they say: United scored twice in the last three minutes of injury time, to lift the trophy. The Bayern players could hardly believe what had happened and collapsed on the turf at the final whistle.

The goals came from two superb corners from Beckham and on taking the second one he sensed something special was about to happen. He would remark later: There is no greater feeling than scoring in the last minute of a game.

It was a magic moment, the Manchester United football team had indeed become legends. Manager Alex Ferguson was delighted: They’re a great team… it’s hard for me to comprehend.

He has gone on to become a legend himself and for his management efforts in the spring of 1999 he was made a knight on the realm.

 Amazing Sports Stories 9: Bond and Murray

The only way to stop these two guys is to screw a hole in the bottom of the boat… even then I wouldn’t bet against them reaching the finish line first before they sank. Mark Reason, Sports writer

Number one rowers

By Roger Childs

Bond and MurrayNew Zealand won six gold medals at the recent World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. This was two more than the next best country. Amazingly, two of the Kiwi golds were won by pair scullers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray. They are arguably the greatest rowers of all time: a bold claim, but probably true. Over the last six years they have been unbeaten and won 19 international championships. The pair seemingly never tire of hearing our national anthem played at medal ceremonies and usually sing along.

An extraordinary record

Bond and Murray medalistsSince Bond and Murray came together as a pair in 2009, the opposition has been fighting it out for second and third. They never have a close victory and the other teams are often not even in the picture as the Kiwis finish!

The pairing have a very smooth style with perfect synchronization, and possess the strength to race away from the field whenever they wish. Sometimes they will bide their time back in the field then power through in the last 1000m.

Their consecutive winning streak of over 50 races is a record for world rowing. They have won the World Championships in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. Then in the 2012 Olympics they made history in their heat, by taking 6 seconds off the world’s best time. The final was a mere formality and once again they won by several boat lengths.

After the double in Amsterdam

“We wouldn’t be racing it if we didn’t think we were capable of winning both” Murray said

In the Amsterdam World Championships in late August, Bond and Murray set themselves the unique challenge of winning both the

  • coxless pairs
  • coxed pairs.

coxed pairIn the latter event they would be carrying 55kg coxswain Caleb Shepherd. The media wondered if this was a race too far and might endanger their amazing winning streak in the coxless pair. They needn’t have worried.

The extra weight in the boat was no problem. Helped by a favourable tail wind Bond, Murray and Shepherd, who probably couldn’t believe his luck, demolished the field to post a world’s best time by nearly 9 seconds.

Then the following day they came from last at half way to win by over 4 seconds. This was their 19th victory in the coxless pair.

Amongst the greats

Hamish Bond and Eric Murray rank with best New Zealand athletes of all time. They have been recognized at the Halberg Awards as Team of the Year in 2009 and 2012, and also won the Supreme Award in 2012.

In the world of rowing they are without peer. They have never been beaten in six years and always win easily. The next major milestone will be the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero.

Bond and Murray, along with the superb Kiwi talent in men’s and women’s single sculls, pairs and fours, are odds on to bring home a bucket full of medals.

 Amazing Sports Stories 8: Speedy Gwen

She’s like a predator, ready to pounce. Triathlon commentator

Mow them down in Edmonton?

By Roger Childs

EdmontonEdmonton is a beautiful, well designed city with huge areas of green space and was the setting for the climax of the world triathlon season in late August. American athlete Gwen Jorgensen was expected to win the ITU (International Triathlon Union) trophy for 2014 and only needed to finish in the top 15 in the Edmonton race to achieve this. She is an outstanding athlete with the ability to catch other triathletes on the final running leg. However, would she have the motivation and performance to end the season with a bang?

Relatively new to the sport

Jorgensen runningJorgensen emerged as a competitive triathlete in 2010 and was picked in the US team for the 2012 Olympics. Unfortunately she punctured in London, ending her hope of a medal. However, she had a very good ITU season in 2103 with four podium finishes and became US Female Triathlete of the Year.

Her running has always been her great strength and she has won a number of races coming from behind in the final leg. However, she needed to work on her cycling and swimming to avoid being too far behind at the final bike-run transition.

In triathlon it’s imperative to get in the lead bunch on the bike as it is difficult to bridge up from behind. Chase packs often fall further and further behind, especially if the leaders drill it at the front. Could Jorgensen make the lead biking group in Edmonton? No.

Slipping further behind

The commentators were convinced that Jorgenson could give the rest of the field about 80 seconds off the bike and run them down. So when she emerged from the swim just 16 seconds behind, they were picking her to be in the front bike pack and consequently an easy winner overall.

But Jorgensen couldn’t catch the leaders on the bike. As so often happens, her chase pack started losing ground on the 40km cycle.

  • After 7.5 km – 41 seconds
  • After 10km – 45 seconds
  • After 20 km – 58 seconds
  • After 25 km – 70 seconds
  • After 32 km – 81 seconds.

The chance of victory in the grand final was inexorably slipping away.

But then compatriot Sarah Haskins, who is a strong cyclist, came to the rescue and paced Gwen through. In the last 7 km they pulled back 14 seconds.

Afterward Jorgensen commented I owe her a lot. I am very grateful she was there.

The dream run

The rest of the women can’t control Gwen Jorgensen when she gets on the run. Barrie Shepley “The Voice of Triathlon”.

It would still be touch and go. Jorgensen started the 10km run

  • needing to pull back 67 seconds
  • chasing 18 of the best female triathletes on the planet.

Meanwhile out front the three place getters in the previous weekend’s sprint triathlon in Stockholm – American Sarah Groff and Kiwis Andrea Hewitt and Nicky Samuels – had left the rest behind. In lap 2 of four, the Kiwis dropped Groff and the prospect of a magnificent one / two for New Zealand was a real possibility.

However Gwen Jorgensen had other ideas. The gap steadily narrowed and the American systematically picked off the 18 in front of her.
~ 8km to go: 49 seconds
~ 6km to go: 35 seconds
~ 5km to go: 17 seconds.

JorgensenBy the start of the final lap she had joined Hewitt and Samuels and after a short stay said goodbye.

Jorgensen eased away and beat Hewitt by 16 seconds and Samuels by 26. This was her fifth victory in a row and cemented her position as 2014 World Champion.

It was one of the great victories in triathlon history.

Barrie Shepley summed up what it all meant: This will make her the greatest female runner ever in the sport of triathlon.


Amazing Sports Stories 7: Try!

All credit must go to the All Blacks – a lesser team would have wilted under pressure. Former Irish winger, Denis Hickie

History for the All Blacks but not the Irish

By Roger Childs

All WhitesIn an international season that began back in June 2013, the All Blacks became the first team in the professional era to win every test in a calendar year: 14 out of 14.

However, it was oh so nearly a history making performance for the Irish rugby team. Having never beaten the All Blacks in 108 years, Ireland was leading by 5 points with only seconds remaining.

But then an amazing try was crafted.

Here’s how it might have been called…

The All Blacks have a penalty well inside their own half with just 18 seconds to go. Aaron Smith to Ben Smith who takes the tackle. Smith to Cruden and on to Keiran Read and another ruck is formed. Smith to Cruden to Barrett and yet another ruck. Now in the Irish half, but not a lot of progress is being made. Time is up on the clock, so the dream of an unbeaten test run in 2013 is surely gone as the All Blacks trail by 5 points. The Irish will get their first ever test win over New Zealand…

There is no way the All Blacks will kick, so it’s a question of keeping the ball in hand and cleaning out the rucks…

Crotty scoresThis is the 9th ruck and Smith clears once again out to Cruden, and on to Savea, who passes to Messam, who takes the tackle. The Franks brothers again clean out the ruck and Smith passes to Nonu who makes ground inside the Irish 22. Smith clears quickly again out to Cruden, who puts the ball on to Coles, missing out Nonu.

The replacement hooker unloads to the flying Crotty, who touches down wide out! The All Blacks have drawn level with a miracle try and a successful conversion would give them an unlikely win.

A dramatic conversion

However, there was more drama to come. Aaron Cruden lined up the conversion to hopefully give the All Blacks an unlikely victory, when the Irish charged too early. The kick missed, but under the rules he was given a second attempt. No mistake this time and the team was out of jail and into the history books.

It took a fantastic try to win the game and get the record. It took 97 seconds and involved

~ 24 passes
~ 11 rucks
~ 13 players handling
~ 6 clean outs by the Franks brothers.

That is what champion teams are made of.

Amazing Sports Stories 6: Payne Stewart

If golf is an art, Payne Stewart was the colour.  Friend and fellow PGA golfer, Paul Azinger

A golfer and a gentleman

by Roger Childs

Payne Stewart US OpenHe died in a plane crash in South Dakota in 1999 at the height of his career. Compared with greats like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart only won three majors, yet nonetheless has become a golfing legend.  He has had roads and a golf course named after him; he was admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001; there is a statue of him at Pinehurst Resort and the Payne Stewart Award is presented annually to a PGA golfer. What makes this guy so special?

A talented golfer

Payne Stewart had a stylish and fluid golf swing: one of the best in the modern game. He regularly drove around 266 yards, usually with deadly accuracy, and when his career was tragically cut short had averaged just under 70 a round.

Payne Stewart statueHe won a total of 11 PGA tournaments including three majors: the PGA in 1989 and the US Open in 1991 and 1999. The latter victory was at Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina, where six years later New Zealand’s Michael Campbell would win the same title.

To remember Payne Stewart’s last victory, a statue of the man in characteristically triumphant pose, now stands near the first tee at Pinehurst.


Style, colour and sportsmanship

Payne Stewart was a stylish golfer and there was plenty of style about his clothes too, which harked back to a bygone era. His on-course wardrobe invariably included

  • tam-o-shanter cap
  • colourful shirt
  • patterned pants
  • plus fours: knickerbockers tucked into long socks.

PS clothesThe colour, flamboyance and skill he brought to the game made him a great favourite of golfing fans the world over. On hearing of his death, a television announcer remarked: We have lost one of the most colourful players the game has ever known.

He was a self confident, candid and sometimes emotional player, but he always respected the traditions of the game and his fellow players. He once said The game is about sportsmanship.

In 2000, a year after his death, the PGA established the Payne Stewart Award to be given annually to the player who showed most respect for the traditions of the game. The ceremony each year is always emotional and the 2012 winner Steve Stricker was in tears as he said Payne Stewart was a remarkable man, one I look up to.

The ultimate tribute

Payne Stewart was hugely popular with other players. Although many have driven further, won more PGA tournaments and averaged less per round, the Missouri born sportsman is a golfing legend, because of the flair, dedication and sportsmanship he brought to the game.

An estimated 5000 people attended his funeral in October 1999, however it was the following year that a wonderfully appropriate tribute was made to Payne Stewart.

~ The place: Pebble Beach

~ The occasion: the 100th US Golf Open

~ The date: Thursday June 15 2000

US OPENReuters described what happened:

Twenty prominent players lined up along the fairway with Stewart’s caddie Mike Hicks at the front and, on command, simultaneously struck shots over the cliff, the white golf balls soaring high above the mist rising off the water.



Amazing Sports Stories 5: Wimbledon 2008

It did not really matter who had won Wimbledon’s longest men’s singles, for both were gloriously triumphant. Paul Weaver The Guardian tennis correspondent

A meeting of champions

By Roger Childs

Wimbledon final 2008When the two best players in the world walked on to Wimbledon’s centre court for the men’s final in July 2008, no one was prepared for what was to follow.

Everyone hoped there would be a quality match, as the recent winner at Roland Garros was playing the man who was defending the title. There was some excellent tennis in the first two sets, however going into the third, with Rafael Nadal ahead 6-4, 6-4 over Roger Federer, the crowd was anticipating an early trip home. But nobody was leaving their seat.

Different styles but impeccable credentials

Nadal and Federer are arguably the two best tennis players ever. Coming into the 2008 final in London

  • they had won 12 out of the last 14 grand slams
  • they had contested the two previous Wimbledon finals
  • Federer had won the last five Wimbledon titles
  • Nadal had won the last four French Open crowns.

Federer 2008The Swiss maestro was at the peak of his powers with 12 grand slams under his belt. Roger Federer was a stylish perfectionist who had taken the game to new levels and he played shots that others wouldn’t even attempt.

He was the complete player and the undoubted number one in the world. His game was based on

~ a powerful serve which netted many aces
~ a devastating single handed backhand, especially down the line
the greatest forehand the world has ever seen (Bud Collins Boston Globe)
~ unerring overhead and volleying
~ great speed round the court and superb placement.

Nadal in 2008However the young pretender, Spaniard, Rafael Nadal had run Federer close in the previous two finals on centre court. He had also surprisingly annihilated the Swiss at the recent Roland Garros tournament 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. But could the king of clay prevail on Federer’s favoured grass surface?

Coached by his uncle, the inscrutable Toni Nadal, Rafa was a very disciplined player with a never say die attitude. He did not have the variety of Federer’s game or as fast a serve, but he had powerful ground strokes and a great placement instinct for producing winners. He also possessed breathtaking mobility which enabled him to retrieve seemingly impossible returns and often run round his backhand to hit powerful, tightly angled forehands beyond the reach of his opponent.

Strokes of genius

Although two sets down, Federer was not about to capitulate. He desperately wanted a record sixth title in a row. He took the third set in a tie break, but was in trouble at 5-2 down in the fourth.

He saved two match points in the eighth game and when Nadal uncharacteristically double faulted the Swiss was back in the set. It went to another nerve-wracking tie break which Federer eventually won 10-8.

Wimbledon final 2008The quality of the play often left the crowd gasping and the commentators speechless. Everyone present and the millions watching on television realised they were witnessing something special.

San Francisco Chronicle sports writer, Bruce Jenkins, recognised this as the best tennis match ever played, eclipsing the epic Wimbledon final of 1980 when Bjorn Borg beat John McEnroe 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6.

The case for Federer-Nadal rests on its unrelenting tension, the sustained brilliance, the fact that neither man let a troubling moment let him down.

All who watched were riveted by many incredible rallies which featured amazing retrievals, powerful crosscourt winners, unplayable down the line backhands, delicate drop shots, tightly angled volleys and ferocious smashes.

Greatness in the gloom

Federer and NadalUnfortunately the weather and light played a role. There was a rain delay in the final set and the light was fading on the centre court which was years away from having a retractable roof. But still the finalists produced tennis which Jenkins describes as setting a standard of brilliance.

The light was fading as the players went into what would be the sixteenth and final game of the fifth set.

  • I can’t see nothing, No? Nadal
  • I couldn’t see who I was playing. Federer

Reporters bemoaned the decision to play on in poor light. Bruce Jenkins: it was so dark at 9.16pm, the moment Federer netted forehand ended the match, they couldn’t have played another game. And Bud Collins commented: here’s Federer with the greatest forehand the world has ever seen and he puts a routine ball into the net.

Federer was gracious in defeat, but disappointed it’s tough on me to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light.

Simply the best

Nevertheless, the great men had played an extraordinary match, with Nadal winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. Lasting 4 hours and 48 minutes, it was the longest Wimbledon final in history and will stay long in the memory of those who watched it.

The beaten finalist in the superb 1980 encounter, John McEnroe, summed up the general feeling: …this is the greatest match I have ever seen.

Amazing Sports Stories 4: Courage

When Bartali was stopped and searched, he specifically asked that his bike not be touched since the different parts were carefully calibrated to achieve maximum speed. Citation of a posthumous award to the Italian cyclist

One of Italy’s finest sportsmen

Gino Bartali By Roger Childs

Gino Bartali is one of greatest cyclists of the twentieth century.  He had plenty of success in bike races in Europe in the late 1930’s and1940’s, including two victories in the Tour de France and three in the Giro d’Italia.

His victories in the Tour straddled World War Two and it was in fact during the war that the man and his bike created a legend. The staunchly Catholic Bartali used his machine and training rides to save Jewish people in danger.

A rapid rise to the top

Bartali was born in Florence in 1914, and took up bike riding at the age of 13. He proved to be a natural and in 1935, aged 21, he turned professional. He quickly became one of Europe’s top cyclists with a number of big race victories:

  • 1935: Italian National Road Championship
  • 1936: Giro d’Italia
  • 1937: Italian National Road Championship and the Giro d’Italia
  • 1938: Tour de France

Bartali Tour 1938He had ridden the Tour in 1937 and was in the yellow jersey when he fell off a bridge in a valley near Briancon. Despite severe cuts and difficulties with his breathing he continued on for a few stages, but was eventually forced to retire.

However, he was back the next year and thousands of Italians flocked to France to see him win the most prestigious race in the sport.  French commentator Georges Briquet observed ...these people have found a superman.

His success in the 1938 Tour was based on his superb mountain climbing skills. He never danced on the pedals, but used well timed gear changes and the power of his muscular legs to ride over the mountain passes in the seat.

His record of winning three Tour mountain stages in a row has never been equalled. In those days, unlike the Tour de France today, most hill climbs were on unsealed roads which could quickly change from dusty trails into slippery mud tracks.

The cyclist at war: dedicated to saving Jews

When war broke out in 1939, Bartali was conscripted and not surprisingly became a bike messenger. Jewish people had lost their civil rights in 1938, but it was not until the German Army moved into northern Italy in 1943 that they were rounded up and sBartali and the cardinalent to concentration camps.

The Cardinal of Florence (pictured alongside with Bartali),  was a key figure in coordinating operations to help Jewish people escape from Italy. He asked Bartali to assist and the cycling legend quickly agreed. He was a familiar figure biking on the roads of Central Italy and this provided an excellent cover for his secret activities to aid the Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants (DELASEM)

Bartali used the handle bars and frames of his bike to conceal his secret cargo. He

~ collected money from Swiss banks in Genoa

~ distributed the cash to Jews hiding in Florence
~ collected photographs and counterfeit identity papers from Jews hiding in convents
~ delivered the documents to DELASEM who made up passports
~ observed the movements of troops and police and warned the Jews in safe houses of planned raids.

He constantly risked his life and when stopped by authorities insisted that he was out training and that his bike must not be interfered with. As a national cycling superstar riding in a jersey with his name on, he was able to carry out more than 40 major rides between cities.

In addition to this secret courier work, he also helped individual Jewish people including his friend Giacomo Goldenberg and his family, hiding them in his apartment and a nearby basement. In the north, he led refugees into the Swiss Alps and even transported some in a wagon behind his bike! He told patrols that it was part of his special training!

Bartali Tour 1948After the war

Once the war ended, Bartali, now in his 30’s, wondered if he could still be competitive at the highest level. The proof came when he entered the Tour de France in 1948. Ten years after his pre-war victory, Gino Bartali won the event again, this time by more than 26 minutes, one of the largest margins in the history of the Tour. The following year he was second.

Right through until his death in 2000, he insisted that his work assisting Jews during the war remain a secret. So it was only in the twenty- first century that the courage of this remarkable sportsman became known.

  • In 2102, Aili and Andres McConnon published a book on this amazing man appropriately called  Road to Valour: Gino Bartoli – Tour de France Legend and World War Two Hero
  • In 2014, the  Oren Jacob film Don’t Talk About It: Italy’s Secret Heroes was released.

But why did Bartali want his wartime exploits to remain secret? He told his son:

If you’re good at a sport, they attach the medals to your shirt and then they shine in some museum.  That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere.

Amazing Sports Stories 3: Bradman

It has been said that Bradman was to sport what Einstein was to science and Mozart to music. Some sports fans might think that’s a bit flattering to Einstein and Mozart. Cricket writer, Roland Perry

 Simply the best!

 By Roger Childs

Bradman top picBradman stands head and shoulders above the thousands of batsmen in the history of cricket. He scored 118 in his opening first class match in 1927 and would make a century on average every three innings until his retirement in 1948.

He averaged over 95 per innings in all first class matches and finished his career with a test average of 99.94!  This is an incredible 39 better than the next highest! Amazingly, he came within 4 runs of finishing with a test average of 100.

An extraordinary start to his career

Bradman as a young manBradman was born in New South Wales and played his early first class cricket for the state. Later he moved to Adelaide and played for South Australia. He showed tremendous talent as a school boy and in club matches, and once scored a century off three 8-ball overs!

On debut for New South Wales in 1927 he scored a century, hit 79 and 112 in his second test in 1928 and later in the year made his highest score: 452 not out. In 1930, now 21, he was picked in the Australian team to tour England. His reputation had preceded him, but his performances exceeded expectations

  • 236 in the first match against Worcester
  • 2960 runs for the tour at an average of 98.66
  • 309 on the first day of the Headingly test and when dismissed the next day his 334 was a world record for a test innings
  • two more double centuries during the series
  • 974 runs over the five tests.

Bradman had created a lot of records in his first three years of first class cricket. But could he keep it up?  No question!

The master batsman

Bradman doffing his capWhen he retired in 1948, he had amassed 28,067 runs at an average of 95.14 and scored 117 centuries. His average was 50% higher than any other player in the long history of the game.

Asked about his success, Bradman replied I treat every ball as though it was the first ball. Cricket writers have long debated what made Bradman so outstanding and so much better than any other batsman. What were the secrets to his success?

~ He had supreme confidence in his ability: …I never consider the possibility that anyone can get me out.
~ His wonderful eye and superb footwork enabled Bradman to be in position when the ball arrived, giving him options on where to place it.
 ~ Whether hooking, cutting or driving he kept the ball on the ground. Geoff Armstrong
 ~ Beneath the calculated devastation lay a rich seam of creative batsmanship, vigorous in execution, astonishing in certainty. E W Swanton

“The Don” was not particularly strong or stylish, but hit the ball with tremendous timing and awesome power. In his classic book, The Art of Cricket, he said The emphasis is on power and aggression not technique.

When he was dismissed he did not argue or demur, but quickly walked back to the pavilion with his bat under arm.

An Australian legend

Bradman olderCaptain of Australia from 1936, he never lost a series and after retiring continued to serve the game for many years as a coach, selector and administrator.  He was a hugely popular man in a country that loves cricket and the song Our Don Bradman was a hit in the 1930s. At times he would receive a daily mail delivery of 600 letters. Replies would go back at the rate of about 80 per day and he would always respond to children.

Always a humble and modest man, Don Bradman was knighted for his services to cricket and in 2001, when he died, he featured on the cover of TIME as well as many other magazines.

The final test

Bradmans last testThe place was The Oval in London and the date was 14 August 1948. Bradman had announced that this would be his final test and when he walked to the wicket with Australia 117 for 1, the sell-out crowd rose to their feet and clapped him all the way. Then before he faced a ball the English players gave him three cheers.

Leg spinner Eric Hollies bowled to the great man who blocked it. The second ball was a googly (the leg spinner’s off break bowled from the back of the hand), Bradman didn’t pick it and was bowled. In his trademark style he immediately put his bat under his arm, took off his gloves and strode briskly back to the dressing room. The initially stunned crowd now cheered him all the way, knowing that this was the last occasion they would see the greatest batsman of all time.

It was an unexpected anti-climax to a sensational career; Bradman had gone to the wicket with a test average over100 and left with it a mere 99.94!

Bradman is one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and his achievements as a cricketer were at a level of excellence unmatched before or since.

As Wisden said ‘he reinvented the game’ and in so doing achieved a standard nobody else is ever likely to reach. Barry Norman, cricket writer

Amazing Sports Stories 2: Zatopek

(He) seemed on the verge of strangulation: his hatchet face was crimson; his tongue lolled about. Sportwriter, Red Smith, on Zatopek’s running style.

An extraordinary athlete

By Roger Childs

Zatopek 5000

The 5000m/10,000m double has been achieved a few times in Olympic history and most recently by Mo Farah at the 2012 London Games.

However the Czech legend Emil Zatopek, (nicknamed The Locomotive), almost did it twice. In the 1948 London Olympics, he had won the 10,000, but was trailing by 50 metres at the start of the final lap in the 5,000. In an amazing last 400m he closed to within 1.5m of the winner, but had to settle for silver.

Four years later he would make no mistake and took the two middle distance titles.  But that was not the end of it!

Four medals for the Zatopeks

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Mr and Mrs Zatopek won medals on the same day: Dana Zatopek won the women’s javelin and Emil the 5,000m. He had won the 10,000 a few days before and a well earned rest was now on the cards.

However, there was a rumour going round that The Locomotive was thinking about the marathon, even though he had never run one. When questioned by the press he spilled the beans: At present the score in the Zatopek (marital) contest is 2-1. This is too close – I must try for the marathon.

The World record holder, Britain’s Jim Peters, was the favourite and led the 66 strong field at a fast pace out of the stadium. However, at the half way mark, as they turned for home, Zatopek and the Swede, Gustav Jannson, were in the lead. Then at 25km the Czech went ahead and steadily increased his advantage. When he entered the stadium there was pandemonium.

Zatopek marathon

The knowledgeable spectators realised they were about to witness the most stupendous triple ever in Olympic middle distance running. Standing and applauding – 70,000 people cheering as one – “Zat-o-pek!”- in rhythm to his footsteps – they watched as around the stadium he went. David Martin and Roger Gynn “The Olympic Marathon”

His time of was a world record for an out-and-back course.

One of the greats

Emil Zatopek is one of the greatest middle distance runners of all time. From 1948 t o 1954 he won 38 consecutive 10,000m races. However his greatest achievement was to win the marathon on top of the middle distance double in the 1952 Olympics. This is a feat that will never be repeated.

In 1968, the Zatopeks were living in the Czech capital and they actively supported the Dubcek Prague Spring which eased many of the communist restrictions. However, after the Russian tanks rolled in to restore Cold War order, the family suffered. Emil lost his colonel’s rank in the army and eventually ended up doing manual labour.

When the Communist regime was eventually overthrown in 1989, the new government issued a public apology to the legendary athlete.

Throughout his life, Emil Zatopek remained a modest and humble man, however he retained his sense of humour and was always very quotable. On criticisms about his style, he remarked  I’m not talented enough to run and smile at the same time.


Amazing Sports Stories 1: Goal!

The Editor’s introduction…

Kapiti Independent is starting an amazing new sports feature by Roger Childs this week.

It looks at sports stories so unusual, so unlikely and so, at times, preposterous that you will be re-telling them  to your friends for months to come! Here’s the first, from the annals of the beautiful game.

Ever seen a goal like this one (below)?

Possibly without parallel in soccer annals was the goal scored by Carlsson. Willy Meisl

By Roger Childs

Olympic Soccer imageThe place was London; the year 1948; the occasion the Olympic soccer semi final between Denmark and Sweden. These were the “austerity games”, so called because Britain was still on rationing after World War Two.

Soccer had been contested at the Olympics since Paris in 1900. Apart from two victories to Uruguay in the 1920s, European teams had dominated and Scandinavian teams were always strong.

So it was no big surprise to see Denmark and Sweden contest one of the semi-finals in 1948.  Down 0-1 Sweden equalised with one of most amazing goals in the history of the beautiful game.

  • a long ball was in the air heading for the Danish penalty area
  • Swedish centre forward Gunnar Nordahl was in danger of being offside
  • so he jumped into the Danish goal to avoid being penalised
  • inside right Garvis Carlsson headed the ball over the Danish keeper into the net
  • there it was caught by Nordahl.

It was one of the most original goals I have ever seen. Soccer writer, Willy Meisl.

Fortunately in these pre-television days the goal was captured on camera by Expressen from Stockholm. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Sweden won the match 4-2 and went on to win the final against Yugoslavia 3-1.


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