David Bruce: Competition Anecdotes

In 1934, at the Opera of Chicago, tenor Joseph Benton, aka Giuseppe Bentonelli, sang the part of Mario Cavaradossi to the leading Tosca of his time. (Unfortunately, Mr. Benton doesn’t reveal the name of the soprano playing Tosca.) During the first act, Mr. Benton was surprised by how tightly the Tosca was holding on his rib cage. With a shock, he realized that she was trying to cut short his breath so that he couldn’t hit an important high note. Having been raised a strong Oklahoma farm boy, he drew a deep breath despite her best efforts to prevent him, and he blasted the high note four inches from her right ear. She winced, but the audience applauded.

When Microsoft and Netscape engaged in a WWW “browser war,” Microsoft President Bill Gates ordered an executive staff meeting, at which he began his comments by saying, “Never in the history of the company have we ever had the challenges or the pressures or the competitors ….” Unfortunately, Microsoft Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Nathan Myhrvold snickered. Mr. Gates heard him and stopped. Then he began laughing, too. Why? As Mr. Myhrvold explains it, “Because of course at every stage in the growth of the company we always felt this is the most challenging time that’s ever been.”

When Sue Pirtle was growing up in the small town of Stonewall, Oklahoma, residents treated Everett Shaw with a great deal of respect because he was a world champion steer roper. One woman marveled, “Isn’t it nice—a small town of only 300 like ours can produce a world champion!” Mr. Pirtle gave young Sue her first Shetland pony and soon, with lots of help from Mr. Shaw and a friend named Terry Allison, Sue became the town’s second world champion. In 1974 and 1976, Ms. Pirtle earned the Girls’ Rodeo Association title of All-Around Champion Cowgirl.

In 1947, Babe Didrikson competed in the British Women’s Amateur tournament, where she was bothered by a British woman who asked her if she were worried that Americans were jinxed at the tournament—after all, such fine American players as Glenna Collett and Virginia Van Wie had played at the tournament but not won. Babe replied, “I didn’t come here to lose.” In fact, she didn’t lose. She defeated the Scottish champion, Jean Donald, thus becoming the first American woman to win the British Women’s Amateur tournament.

During the 1950s, Jamaican bar and dance-hall owners travelled throughout the United States looking for the best records to play. In these battles of the sound systems, a system owner with a good record would try to keep it secret from other system owners. Often, the system owner would either scratch off from the record label the name of the producer and the title of the song or would paste a false label with a false name and a false title over the original record label.

DeeDee Jonrowe has competed as a musher in the Iditarod, a 1,049-mile dog sled race in Alaska. During one competition, she ran out of batteries for her headlamp and had to make a deal with another musher for some batteries. She promised not to pass him, and he gave her the batteries. She kept her word during the race. Ms. Jonrowe says, “When you’re out there for 10 days, you have to depend on each other and trust each other. You have to be as good as your word.”

Triathletes compete in swimming, bicycling, and running in their sport, but it can be difficult to switch from one type of physical activity to the next. Heather Hedrick once competed in a duathlon (bicycling and running). She concentrated so hard on the bicycling that when she first began running, her legs did not even seem to be part of her body. She asked a fellow competitor, “Where are my legs?”

At the 1969 International Ballet Competition held in Moscow, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced the lead role in Vestris. Among the judges was famed ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who was so impressed by the young dancer’s ability that instead of giving him the maximum 12 points for his rating, she gave him 13 points. As you would expect, Mr. Baryshnikov won the gold medal for the competition.

Before the 1991 World Championships in Munich, Germany, figure skaters Kristi Yamaguchi and Kurt Browning trained together. Once, they were traveling together and Mr. Browning asked her, “Do you realize there could be two world champions in this car?” Mr. Browning was right. At the end of the world championships, both Mr. Browning and Ms. Yamaguchi were wearing gold medals.

Julie Krone was racing when another jockey rode his horse into her horse. Her horse’s knees buckled, and Ms. Krone fell off. Looking up, she saw another horse running straight at her. The horse kicked her in the chest. Because the pain was so bad, all she could think was, “Pass out. Please pass out.” Nine months and two operations later, she was back on the track, racing.

When author Gary Paulsen first competed in the Iditarod, a 1,049-mile dog-sled race beginning in Anchorage, Alaska, he was voted by his fellow racers the “least likely to get out of Anchorage.” He did finish the race, but he almost did not get out of Anchorage, taking a wrong turn that led him downtown instead of out in the wilderness.

Comedian Sid Caesar, star of Your Show of Shows, was good—very good. How good was he? While fellow comedian Robin Williams was watching some of the old episodes of Your Show of Shows, a woman who was also in the audience told him, “You’ll never be that good.”

Violinist Josef Gingold had a good sense of humor. Once he played with the NBC Concert Orchestra so successfully that one of his more competitive colleagues was somewhat depressed. Mr. Gingold told the colleague, “Cheer up—it wasn’t that good.”

Singers of opera can hate other singers. Mario Lanza, who sang opera in movies such as The Great Caruso, used to break the records of singers he didn’t like in music stores. (If he was caught, he paid for the records he had broken.)


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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