Firsts Why are we obsessed with them? It’s understandable that Roger Bannister and Apollo 11 generate interest. But that doesn’t mean we should switch off after them. The people and things that come second have fascinating stories to tell, too.
Take John Landy: a few weeks after Bannister’s triumph in 1954, he became the second man to run a four-minute mile. So great an athlete was he that, during the final of the 1956 Olympic 1,500 metres, he stopped to check on a fallen rival, then made up the resulting deficit and still took the gold medal.
Then there’s Pete Conrad, who walked on the Moon during the Apollo 12 mission, the second manned flight. His wisecracks were the stuff of Nasa legend. During selection, astronauts had to undergo Rorschach ‘inkblot’ tests. Shown a deliberately blank card, Conrad replied: ‘It’s upside down.’
Bill Burgess was the second man to swim the English Channel. During his journey, he drank 20 drops of champagne an hour, ‘and not a drop more’. Frank Hadow was the winner of the second Wimbledon tennis championship, in 1878. He declined to defend his title, calling tennis ‘a sissy’s game played with a soft ball’.
In 1904, Henri Cornet won the second Tour de France, and remains the youngest champion (at 19). On the penultimate stage, his