Rant: Firsts

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

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

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