David Bruce: The Funniest People in Sports: 250 Anecdotes — Competitiveness

Competitiveness

• In 1996, the United States “Magnificent Seven” women’s gymnastics team won the gold medal at the Olympics Games held in Atlanta. The team had a big lead heading into their final event, the vault, but Dominique Moceanu sat down on both of her vaults and Kerry Strug injured herself on her first vault, which scored poorly. Although the U.S. had already clinched the gold medal, no one knew that for sure, so Ms. Strug had to decide whether to attempt another vault despite being injured. She went for it, completed a high-scoring vault, then collapsed in pain. Later, when the decision to attempt the vault was criticized, she said, “I’m 18 years old — it was my decision.” Her coach, Bela Karolyi, was impressed by her courage, saying, “I had not seen this previously in her.”

• Joe Kirkwood and Walter Hagen performed a lot of golf exhibitions together. Good friends, they roomed together, and they played games together. One game they played while rooming in a hotel by Central Park was to each hit a golf ball out of the hotel window into the park, go out to the balls, and play them back into the hotel, through the lobby, up the stairs, into their room, into the bathroom, and for a big finish, into the toilet. According to Mr. Kirkwood, “Walter and I were pretty evenly matched until we got into the bathroom. Walter could never get the ball into the can. It drove him crazy.”

• Before the 1997 United States National Figure Skating Championships, coach Richard Callaghan suggested to skater Tara Lipinski that she try to perform a difficult triple loop-triple loop jump. This combination had been performed in competition by only one man — it had never been performed in competition by a woman. Its difficulty lies in the fact that the skater must take off and land using the same foot in succession and the first triple loop must be performed perfectly in order to set up the second. Tara agreed to try the difficult combination, and on her first attempt, she landed it.

• As a young gymnast, Svetlana Boginskaya was intensely competitive, even engaging in mind games such as staring at competing gymnasts and never smiling in an attempt to psych out her opponents. As a little girl, she sometimes kicked and bit other gymnasts who she thought were more capable than her. In fact, she was such a terror that the mothers of the other gymnasts used to bring her candy in an attempt to bribe her to be nice to their children. Young Svetlana used to eat the candy but continue to be mean to their children. (Today, she is a well-mannered young woman.)

• In a memorable moment, after Brandi Chastain scored on a penalty kick with her off-foot (she is right-handed, but kicked the penalty goal with her left foot) to give the United States victory in the 1999 World Cup final, she stripped off her shirt, revealing her sports bra. However, because she had missed a penalty shot in an exhibition game a few months previously, she almost was not given the opportunity to make the shot. Fortunately, her World Cup coach, Tony DiCicco, asked her, “Do you think you can make it?” Ms. Chastain answered, “Yeah, I do.” The rest is history.

• The best gymnasts know not to quit, no matter what. Larissa Latynina competed during a storm at the 1968 European Championships. The storm knocked out all the electricity, causing the lights to go out, but Ms. Latynina continued her floor exercise even though the judges and audience could see her only when lightning flashed. (Back then, floor routines were not dangerous like they are today, so it was safe for her to continue performing.)

• After Janet Lynn fell twice in the compulsory skating at the 1973 World Championships, failing to win the gold and winning the silver instead, she went to the women’s dressing room and cried and cried. She was such a popular figure skater that the other skaters in the dressing room felt her sadness and they also cried — including Karen Magnussen, who won the gold medal.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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