Eddie The Eagle

 Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, otherwise known as ‘Eddie The Eagle’, was the subject of 2016 sports comedy-drama film of the same name, starring Taron Egerton in the title role. Although largely fictitious, the film was loosely based on Edwards’ life story.

Born into a working-class family in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Edwards was initially a downhill skier but, having narrowly missed selection for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in that capacity, he later turned to ski jumping as a less expensive and less competitive – at least, as far as Britain was concerned – option.

In the summer of 1986, at the age of twenty-two, Edwards took time off from his career as a plasterer to visit the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex in New York, where he concluded that ski jumping looked ‘alright’. He jumped in his first European Cup event at St. Moritz, Switzerland on Boxing Day, 1986 and, the following year, jumped in the Four Hills Tournament at Oberstdorf, West Germany.

Following his return from torn knee ligaments, sustained in the latter event, the British Ski Federation decreed that if he could jump 70 metres in a World Cup event he would be allowed to represent Great Britain in the Winter Olympics in Calgary the following year. In December, 1987, Edwards jumped 69.5 metres and was famously in the mental hospital in Finland – for purely economic reasons – when he was informed that he had been picked for the British Olympic team.

Indeed, Edwards, who was entirely self-funded, became the first British Olympic ski jumper for six decades. He finished stone cold last, by some margin, in both the 70-metre and 90-metre events, but his fearless acts of derring-do earned him the nickname ‘Eddie The Eagle’ and endeared him to a global audience. Indeed, in his closing address, Frank King, CEO of the Olympic Organising Committee, said to competitors, ‘Some of you have even soared like an eagle.’

Quinten Hann

 Australian former professional snooker Quinten Hann had what is politely described as a ‘chequered’ career, which finally came to an igmonimious end, at the age of 28, in February, 2006. The previous year, Hann had agreed, with undercover journalists from ‘The Sun’ newspaper, to lose a match at the forthcoming China Open for £50,000. The agreement, alone, was sufficient for Hann to be charged with match-fixing, but three days before a disciplinary hearing he effectively resigned as a professional. At the hearing, which he did not attend, he was found guilty, banned for eight years by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs.

Hann played in the World Snooker Championships at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield on six occasions, but never progressed beyond round two and is probably best remembered for his first round match against Andy Hicks in 2004, which ended acrimoniously. The unseeded Hicks won 10-4 but, having been goaded by Hann in the middle of the match, retorted with ‘That’s you out of the top 16’ as the pair shook hands. Hann responded by telling Hicks, ‘You’re short and bald and you always will be’, and offered to fight him outside. Ultimately, referee Lawrie Annadale stood between the two players to prevent them coming to blows.

The following June, taking advantage of the ‘white collar’ boxing phenomenon, Hann satisfied his desire to fight a fellow snooker professional when facing off against Mark King in a six-minute charity boxing match at York Hall. Both men obtained amateur boxing licences and trained seriously, but the bout, dubbed ‘Pot Whack’, soon descended into an all-out brawl, with Hann winning on points.

1904 Olympic Marathon

 The Games of the III Olympiad were an oddity to start with. Originally awarded to Chicago, Illinois by the International Olympic Committee, they were transferred to St. Louis, Missouri, where they became part of the World’s Fair, known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, celebrating the centenary of the United States’ acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from France.

The marathon, though, was one of the most bizarre events of its kind in Olympic history. In the days before the marathon distance was standardised at 26 miles and 385 yards, the race was run over just shy of 25 miles, on a hilly, dusty, perilously-maintained course, deliberately devoid of access to fresh water after 12 miles and subject to temperatures of 90ºF or more. Unsurprisingly, more than half of the 32 starters failed to complete the course.

Furthermore, the original ‘winner’, American Fred Lorz was in the process of receiving the gold medal from Alice Roosevelt, daughter of US President when it was discovered that he had not run the full distance and, in fact, far from it. After nine miles, suffering from cramps, he had hitched a lift in a passing vehicle, from which he did not alight until beyond the twenty-mile mark. Once his subtefuge was revealed, Lorz claimed he had finished the race as a ‘joke’ and was summarily disqualified in favour of compatriot Thomas Hicks.

However, Hicks was hardly the epitome of athletic excellence, relying om strychnine, egg whites and brandy, administered by a pair of accomplices, to bolster his performace over the closing miles. Pale, exhausted and hallucinatory, he got his second wind on learning that Lorz had been disqualified but, even so, could barely put one foot in front of the other at the finish and had to be all but carried over the line by his collaborators.

Monica Seles

 Friday, April 30, 1993 has been described as ‘tennis’ darkest day’ and the tragic events at Tennisstadion am Rothenbaum, Hamburg on that fateful afternoon changed the course of tennis history. In her quarter-final match at the second-level Citizen Cup, world number one Monica Seles, 19, led Magdalena Maleeva 6-4, 4-3 and looked well on her way to her twenty-third singles title in a row as she sat down at the changeover between games.

However, as she did so, she was approached from behind by a stocky, balding man – later identified as Gunter Parche, an unemployed German machinist – wielding a ten-inch boning knife. After a brief hesitation, Parche raised the knife, with both hands, and plunged it into Seles’ back. Seles yelled in pain, but managed to take a few steps away from he assailant, as he attempted to strike again, before being helped to the ground by tournament officials. Parche, meanwhile, was subdued by other spectators and security staff.

Thankfully, the blade only penetrated an inch or so and, despite requiring surgery, the wound healed in a matter of weeks. Even so, scarred emotionally as well as physically, Seles did not return to competitive tennis until 1995. When she did, she won just one Grand Slam singles title – compared with the eight she won before the stabbing – at the Australian Open in 1996, before officially retiring in 2008.

Parche, 38, later said that his attack was motivated by his desire to see former world number one Steffi Graf return to the top of the rankings. Obviously deeply disturbed, he was sentenced to only two years’ probation, plus psychological treatment, having been charged, not with attempted murder, but with the lesser offence of grievous bodily harm.