David Bruce: The Funniest People in Sports, Volume 2: 250 Anecdotes — Clothing, Coaches

Clothing

• In 1980, ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won the World Championships for their first time. As a reward for their hard work and success, the Queen of England awarded them both M.B.E.s (short for “Member of the Order of the British Empire”). This, of course, is a major honor for anyone, and Ms. Torvill had to invest in an expensive outfit, including an expensive hat, for the ceremony. Mr. Dean was luckier. He was able to rent his fancy suit and top hat. Actually, he was luckier even than that—when the rental place discovered who Mr. Dean was and why he was renting the fancy suit and top hat, they let him borrow them for free. Of course, hard work got them the M.B.E.s, and they continued to work hard after getting them. The same day they got the M.B.E.s, they were on the ice rink practicing at 11 p.m. The hard work continued to pay off. In 1984, they won gold at the Olympics, earning a string of perfect 6.0s for artistic merit for their dance to Bolero. (When a British reporter asked Mr. Dean later how the performance had gone, he modestly replied, “All right.”)

• Pat Tillman died fighting in Afghanistan. He was an original who gave up a lucrative career in the NFL to become a U.S. soldier. His funeral was unusual; for example, his youngest brother, Rich, told the mourners, “Pat isn’t with God. He’s f**king dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s f**king dead.” How much of an original was the late Mr. Tillman? He was godfather to the son of Alex Garwood, his friend and brother-in-law, who told this story: Since the son had two godfathers and no godmothers, at one ceremony Mr. Tillman came dressed in women’s clothing just to provide balance.

• During the 1992 Olympic Games, Hassiba Boulmerka of Jordan won the gold medal in the 1,500-meter race. As an athlete, Ms. Boulmerka received death threats because fundamentalist Muslims felt that she should keep her body covered in public instead of running in shorts and a sleeveless top. Ms. Boulmerka, who is herself Muslim, answered her critics by saying that she is an athlete and she dresses the way middle-distance runners must dress for competitions.

• During the 1981 Stanley Cup play-offs, Richard Sevigny, the goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, predicted that Montreal star Guy Lafleur would put Edmonton Oilers star Wayne Gretzky “in his back pocket.” In game one of the play-offs, Mr. Gretzky made five assists as the Oilers defeated the Canadiens, 6-3. Mr. Gretzky then skated over to Mr. Sevigny and patted the place where his back pocket would be if hockey uniforms had back pockets.

• Players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were supposed to be feminine and wear skirts or dresses when getting off the bus and walking into a hotel. Some veterans found a way to get around the rule. Left fielder Jo Lenard used to wear a raincoat, underneath which she had rolled up the legs of her slacks.

• Many tall women are uncomfortable with their height—but not all. Former WNBA star Rebecca Lobo is over six feet tall, yet she wears high heels. She explains, “I figure six-foot-four, six-foot-six—what does it matter? I might as well have style.”

• Bud Collins, a TV commentator on tennis, is known for his lack of fashion sense. Once, he asked Chris Evert a silly question after a loss at Wimbledon. She replied, “Nice pants, Bud,” then walked away.

• The great jockey Tod Sloan wore shoes that were size one and a half—he used to offer a pair to any woman who was able to wear them.

Coaches

• Many coaches talk about mental toughness. Magnar Solberg, a Norwegian athlete competing in the biathlon, an event that combines cross-country skiing and shooting, had it. Martin Stokken, Mr. Solberg’s coach, figured out a way to make Mr. Solberg mentally tough for those times when he needed to aim at and hit a target although his arms were exhausted from skiing cross-country. During the summer, Mr. Stokken set up a target 50 feet from an anthill. Mr. Solberg then lay down on top of the anthill and shot at the target as the ants swarmed over him. He said later, “The ants would crawl up my legs, all over my face, everywhere. It was awful. I did not believe it at the time, but my ability to concentrate under those hot, painful conditions made the actual competition easy for me in the cold.” At the 1968 and the 1972 Olympic Games, Mr. Solberg was the only biathlete to have perfect “no miss” shooting scores. He also walked away from the Olympic Games with gold medals in his event.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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