• A baseball player named Cletus Elwood (Boots) Poffenberger was once interviewed on a program sponsored by a cereal company. The interviewer tried to make Mr. Poffenberger give a free endorsement of the cereal by asking, “Now tell us, Boots, what is your favorite breakfast, taken with cream, sugar, and some sort of fruit?” But Boots, who would not allow himself to be manipulated, responded with, “Ham, eggs, and two bottles of beer.”
• In the old USSR, Soviet coaches had a problem. They wanted their athletes to eat caviar because of its high protein content; however, many athletes preferred to use the tins of caviar to barter for Western goods such as blue jeans. Russian ice skater Ekaterina Gordeeva writes that at the Calvary Olympics, the Soviet coaches solved the problem by opening each tin of caviar before giving it to the athletes.
• When Czech tennis player Martina Navratilova first began touring in the United States, she fell in love with American fast food and gained 25 pounds in eight weeks. Other tennis players called her the “pancake champ,” and when she returned home to Czechoslovakia, her father stopped calling his formerly skinny daughter by the nickname Prut (“Stick”).
• At the Nazi Olympics, held in Germany in 1936, Adolf Hitler hoped to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race. However, African-American track star Jesse Owens, representing the United States, demolished that myth by winning four gold medals. A German athlete named Luz Long helped him to win one of the gold medals. To qualify for the long jump finals, Mr. Owens needed to make one of three attempts to jump a certain distance. Unfortunately, Mr. Owens committed faults on his two attempts. At this time, Mr. Long introduced himself to Mr. Owens and said, “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed.” Because Mr. Owens had faulted due to stepping on the take-off line instead of jumping before he reached it, Mr. Long put a towel on the ground a few inches before the take-off line, and Mr. Owens used that as the mark for his takeoff. On his third and final attempt, Mr. Owens qualified easily. The following day, Mr. Owens won the gold medal in the long jump, and Mr. Long won the silver medal. The two athletes, one black and one white, walked off arm in arm. Hitler was not pleased.
• Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova fought fiercely but with affection on the tennis court. In one game, Chris hit a ball that struck Martina on the head. It knocked Martina down, but she quickly got up again and smiled. Chris even rubbed Martina’s head when the two met again at the net. After Martina had defeated her, Chris said, “I can’t believe it. I hit you in the head and you started playing better.”
• Pittsburgh Phil Smith made millions of dollars from betting on the horses, partly because he bet on the great jockey Tod Sloan, who was ahead of his time. It was Mr. Sloan who learned that riding on the horse’s neck made its gait freer and faster and who learned to let the other horses serve as wind breakers until the sprint at the end of the race. Mr. Sloan told Mr. Smith that he was bound to lose money betting on him no matter what horse he rode, but Mr. Smith replied, “Never mind that — look at the fun I have. If I lose on you today, I’ll bet like hell on you tomorrow.”
• In 1961, before becoming a famous golfer, Lee Trevino worked at Hardy’s Pitch-N-Putt, where he entertained people by hitting golf balls with a quart-sized soda bottle that he wrapped with tape. One day, a man offered to bet him that he couldn’t use the bottle to hit a golf ball that would strike a 100-yard sign. Mr. Trevino asked, “What zero do you want me to hit?” The man decided not to bet.
• Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson used to play golf with professional golfer Sam Snead. To even up the competition, Mr. Snead would spot Mr. Robinson one stroke per hole. Mr. Robinson once offered to return the favor if Mr. Snead ever wanted to box him — he would spot Mr. Snead the first five rounds of a six-round fight. Mr. Snead replied, “That’s fine — as long as I can use my wedge.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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