The United States table tennis team heralded the era of ‘ping pong diplomacy’ by becoming the first official American delegation to visit China in 20 years.
Relations between America and China had soured in the aftermath of the Communist Revolution, and grew worse as a result of the Korean War in which the countries fought on opposing sides. Relations were so poor that, by the time the two countries travelled to Nagoya in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championships in 1971, they had no diplomatic or economic relationship.
Richard Nixon intended to bring China in from the cold when he took up the presidency in 1969. Meanwhile, increasing tensions between China and the USSR had similarly led Chairman Mao to consider rebuilding relations with the United States. Both table tennis teams being in Nagoya offered the perfect opportunity.
Having missed the US bus after practice one evening, American player Glenn Cowan travelled back to his room with the Chinese team. Although the Chinese claim that Cowan “stumbled up the steps” of their bus, he claimed in an interview that he was invited to travel with them. Whatever the reality, during the short bus journey Cowan was given a silk-screen picture of the Huangshan mountains by the Chinese player Zhuang Zedong.
Favourable press coverage, which led Mao to comment on Zhuang Zedong’s positive actions as a diplomat, resulted in the entire American team being invited to China after the tournament ended. Having arrived in the country on 10 April, they spent ten days touring Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. Their visit heralded a new period in Sino-American relations that culminated in President Nixon himself travelling to China the following year.
On the 6th April 1896, the first modern Olympic Games opened in Athens. Known as the father of the modern Olympics, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin had organised a congress two years earlier in which the host city was chosen and the International Olympic Committee founded.
American James Connolly won the first final for his 13.71m triple jump, leading the USA’s 14 competitors to win a total of 11 events between them. The most successful individual competitor was the German Carl Schuhmann who won the team events in the horizontal bar and parallel bars events, the horse vault event and – despite being considerably smaller than his opponents – the wrestling competition. He didn’t receive any gold medals, however. Winners at the 1896 Olympics were instead presented with a silver medal, an olive branch, and a diploma. It wasn’t until 1904 that the tradition of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals to first, second and third place began.
The 1896 Summer Olympics did, however, lay down many traditions – not least of which was the first competitive marathon race. A Greek water carrier called Spyridon Louis won the race in a time of 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds. The same route, finishing at the stadium used in the 1896 games, was used when the Olympics returned to Greece in 2004. The winner finished almost 45 minutes faster than in the 1896 competition.
By the time of the 2004 games, however, the rope climbing competition that saw competitors climbing a 14m rope in 1896 had been removed.
Andrew Watson’s father, Peter Miller Watson, was the manager of a sugar plantation in British Guiana while his mother was a local woman called Anna (or Hannah) Rose. Having been born illegitimately, accurate details of Watson’s early life are virtually non-existent. It was only after his father moved the young Andrew and his sister Annetta to Scotland in the early 1860s that any reliable evidence began to appear.
Peter Watson died in 1869 while his son was enrolled at a boarding school in Halifax in West Yorkshire. He and his sister inherited a significant amount of money that secured their financial futures and, after attending King’s College School in Wimbledon, Watson took up a place to study mathematics, engineering and natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. With his existing interest in football flourishing and, having left university after just one year to take up an engineering apprenticeship, Watson’s talents as a full back saw him join a succession of increasingly bigger clubs.
By 1880 Andrew Watson was playing for Queen’s Park – Britain’s leading team – and the next year he was called up to captain the Scottish national side in a match against England on 12 March 1881. Played at the Oval in London, which currently serves as an international cricket venue, the Scots defeated England by an incredible 6 goals to 1 in a match that is still the heaviest defeat ever suffered by England on home soil. He later moved to London where he became the first black player in the English FA Cup when he joined Swifts in 1882.
On the 8th September 1888, the very first Football League games were played in England. Consisting of twelve teams, the first day’s table – if one had been printed – would have featured West Bromwich Albion at the top based on the calculation of ‘goal average’ that acted as the tie-break criteria. However, under the modern rules of ‘goal difference’ that was introduced in 1976, Derby County would have been top of the table on the first day.
The Football League was the brainchild of William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa, who hoped to provide a system whereby all the member clubs would play a guaranteed number of games each season rather than rely on ad-hoc arrangements. The idea was simple: each member of the League would play a home game and an away game against every other League team. Two points would be awarded for a win and one point for a draw and, at the end of the season, the team with the highest number of points would be declared the Champions of England.
Twelve teams made up the very first Football League, and Preston North End finished the season without suffering a single defeat. They became the first ever League champions, and also won the 1889 FA Cup which made them the first ever team to win the League and Cup double.
Based on post-match reports that reveal the delayed kick-off times of each of the matches, it’s now generally accepted that the first ever Football League goal was scored by Kenny Davenport against Derby County just 2 minutes after the match began.
Shortly after midnight on the morning of the 6th September 1972, nine Israeli Olympic athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists from the Black September group in the Munich massacre. The terrorists were seeking the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails along with the two leading members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang held in Germany. However, the hostages and five of the eight terrorists were killed in a shootout at an airfield a short distance outside Munich during a failed rescue attempt by German police.
Security at the 1972 Munich Olympics was kept purposefully low-key in an attempt to shed the military image of Germany portrayed in Nazi propaganda from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. However, the lack of heavy security allowed the eight Black September members to gain access to the Olympic Village by climbing over a fence in the early hours of the 5th September and enter apartments where members of the Israeli team were sleeping.
A total of nine Israeli hostages were held in the apartment block at 31 Connollystraße for over twelve hours before the German authorities agreed to the captors’ demands to arrange transport to Cairo where negotiations would continue. However, a gun-battle broke out after the helicopters that shuttled the hostages and their captors from the Olympic Village landed. The status quo held, but it became clear to the terrorists that their mission was probably going to fail when German armoured personnel carriers arrived at the airport around midnight. At that point the captors turned on the hostages and killed them with machine guns and a grenade.
The first ever women’s cricket match was played on Gosden Common near Guildford in Surrey.
The match was reported in The Reading Mercury and featured teams from the villages of Bramley and Hambledon. The newspaper made the point that all the players were dressed in all white, but those from Bramley wore blue ribbons while the Hambledon ‘maids’ wore red.
Although the identities of the players are unknown the final result, which saw the team from Hambledon beat Bramley with a score of 127 to 119, was recorded. Furthermore the article highlighted that, ‘the girls bowled, batted, ran and catched as well as most men could do in that game.’
The majority of early women’s cricket matches were local fixtures played in the communities around Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey. Often associated with heavy betting, the sport quickly spread and gained a level of respectability in 1777 when Elizabeth Smith-Stanley, the Countess of Derby, organised a match in which upper-class women made up the two teams.
Despite the growing popularity of women’s cricket, the first women’s cricket club wasn’t formed until 1887. The White Heather Club was established in North Yorkshire, and was followed three years later by the chronologically-confusingly named Original English Lady Cricketers. However, a national organisation for women’s cricket wasn’t established until 1926 when the Women’s Cricket Association was founded. Under its guidance the England team played its first series of test matches in Australia in 1934-5. The Women’s Cricket Association was eventually absorbed by the England and Wales Cricket Board in 1998.
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci scored the first ever perfect 10 in Olympic history on the uneven bars at the Summer Games in Montreal.
The International Federation of Gymnastics introduced a code of points to regulate scores in 1949. This allowed judges to determine a competitor’s overall score by taking into account such factors as the difficulty of the routine alongside deductions for poor form, execution, steps or other technical mistakes such as falls.
It had long been believed that a ‘perfect 10’ – a top score with no deductions – was impossible to achieve. Despite this, Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská scored perfect 10s at the 1967 European Championships. It still seemed such an unlikely outcome, however, that the International Olympic Committee ordered a scoreboard for the Montreal Games that could only show up to 9.99.
This was a massive oversight. On 18 July, Nadia Comăneci achieved a score of 10.00 on the uneven bars. Unable to show this on the scoreboard, confusion resulted after a score of 1.00 was displayed. The announcer was consequently forced to inform the crowd and competitors that the 14 year-old Romanian gymnast had in fact achieved a perfect 10.
Comăneci achieved a further three 10s on the uneven bars and another three 10s on the balance beam in the 1976 Games. She won the gold medal for both the individual all-around competition and the balance beam, in addition to a silver and bronze for the team all-around and floor exercise. She still holds the record for being the youngest Olympic gymnastics all-around gold medallist, because current rules now require competitors to turn 16 in the same calendar year as the competition.
The 9th July 1877 saw the world’s first official lawn tennis tournament begin at Wimbledon in London. The Wimbledon Championship was hosted by the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, which had only begun to set aside an area for lawn tennis two years earlier due to the declining interest in croquet.
The first championship was staged in order to raise money to repair the roller that was used to maintain the lawns at the club, and only featured a Gentlemen’s Singles competition. 22 amateur competitors paid 1 guinea each to take part, and ten days later 27-year-old Spencer Gore won the final in front of a crowd of 200 spectators. This was after rain had stopped play for three entire days beforehand.
As a prize, Gore received 12 guineas in cash and a sterling silver cup, valued at 25 guineas, which had been donated by the sports magazine The Field. Under the rules of Wimbledon’s Challenge Round, the defending champion could return the next year to defend his title in the final without playing through the knock-out stages of the competition. Gore returned to defend his title in 1878, but was defeated in straight sets by his opponent. Gore never played at Wimbledon again, declaring in 1890 that tennis would “never rank among our great games” because it was “monotonous”.
Despite Gore’s damning verdict of the game, both Wimbledon and tennis have continued to grow. The Championship’s total prize fund now totals over £26.5m.
The first tournament generated a profit of £10, and the club’s roller was repaired.
On the 1st July 1903 the first Tour de France cycling race took place over 19 days and six stages. Each stage was more than double the length of today’s equivalents, although the majority of the 2,428km course was flat. Whereas today’s competition involves a series of aggressive mountain climbs throughout the race the 1903 course featured a significant ascent in just one of the six stages, although there were a number of smaller climbs.
The first Tour de France was organised as a promotional tool to boost circulation of the French newspaper L’Auto. An initially disappointing number of entrants led to the race being delayed for a month from its original start date of 1st June, the entrance fee reduced, prize money increased, and the promise of a daily payment made to every rider who completed the six stages at an average speed of 20km/h or more.
60 competitors began the race at Montgeron, south of Paris, of whom 39 were private entrants. A further 24 cyclists joined individual stages of the race, although this meant that they were not eligible for the full prize money. When the race finished at the Paris Velodrome on the 19th July, 21 competitors had successfully completed every stage and their times were totaled to give an overall result, known as the general classification. The winner, with the fastest total time over all six stages, was Frenchman Maurice Garin who finished almost three hours ahead of his nearest rival. He won the title again in 1904, but was later disqualified for unspecified reasons.