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What is a tennis Grand Slam?

27 Jan

If I were commentating a game of tennis, it would go something like this. “Oh look, someone hit a ball. And oh look, someone else hit a ball. And then, wait for it, someone else hit a ball.” Rivetting stuff.

But while I probably make it sound boring – and truthfully, I don’t watch it much – I can appreciate the skill and sportsmanship involved. After all, I couldn’t handle a game that went for hours on end.

At the moment, tennis is on my mind because we’re nearly at the end of the Australian Open, noted as one of the Grand Slam tournaments.

So my question for today is, what is the Grand Slam?

In a nutshell the term refers to when a player wins the Australian, French and US Opens and Wimbledon in a single season. The term was first used in 1933 by American journalist John Kieran, who compared the feat to “a countered and vulnerable grand slam in bridge”.

The reason these tournaments were chosen is simple – at the time they were the main international championships held in the only four countries that had won the Davis Cup.

The last person to claim one was Steffi Graf in 1988, while Aussie Margaret Court achieved the feat in 1970, as did Rod Laver in 1962. However, many more players have been recognised for a Career Grand Slam, which involves victory in all four events in different years.

You can read more here or here, but in the meantime, go Nadal!

Who crewed Australia II when it won the America’s Cup?

22 Jan

On September 26, 1983, Australia became the first foreign nation to win sailing’s prestigious America’s Cup.

To say this was big news was putting it very mildly.

Not only had we broken sport’s longest winning streak – 132 years – but we came back from a 3-1 deficit to do so. Which is pretty impressive considering there are only seven races in the finals series.

At the time I was very young, but I do remember waking up early on each race day to listen to the action unfold on the radio with my dad.

And so it was I actually bore witness to the historic moment when Australia II (representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club) crossed the finishing line ahead of Liberty (representing the New York Yacht Club) to claim the title.

It sparked a massive celebration right across the nation, coming from the top down. Our then prime minister, Bob Hawke, even famously declared that “any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum”.

Nearly three decades later, though, it occurred to me my knowledge of the event was sadly lacking.

I knew the boat, with its famous winged keel, was designed by Ben Lexcen. I knew our skipper was John Bertrand and that Dennis Connors did the honours for America (he did go on to reclaim the title).

But as for the rest of our crew I had no idea who they were. And so I set out to find out and give them a nod. Here are their names . . .

Colin Beashel
Peter Costello
Damien Fewster
Ken Judge
Skip Lissiman
John Longley
Brian Richardson
Phil Sidmore
Grant Simmer
Hugh Treharne
Reserves – Will Bailleau, Rob Brown, Jim Hardy and Scott McAllister

If you’d like to read more on the event itself, visit the official America’s Cup website here.

Who invented the safari suit?

21 Jan

There’s something about a gentleman in a safari suit that just makes you want to add the word “esquire” to his name.

Distinguished, timeless, classic. The safari suit is none of these things.  And yet its popularity has endured, long after hypercolour T-shirts have gone their way.

What I can’t figure out, though, is exactly what ensures its continued usage from one generation to the next.

Perhaps it’s the tribes of young men who rate the suits the perfect attire for professional sporting matches and pub crawls. Perhaps it’s the way they so lovingly cup the massive beer guts over which they often strain.

Either way it doesn’t matter – fashion crime is fashion crime. And I wanted to know who is responsible.

Turns out it was a designer from the usually stylish bastion we call France.

His name was Ted Lapidus, aka the ‘poet of French couture’, and his fans included The Beatles and Brigitte Bardot. He once worked for Dior and even designed uniforms for the Israeli women’s army. But his most famous legacy is the often sandy coloured two-piece, which swept the fashion world in the 1960s and 1970s and was a favourite of luminaries such as former South Australian premier Don Dustan (pictured).

Despite such a dubious legacy, Ted Lapidus Paris continues today, offering everything from clothing and accessories to perfume.

But the designer himself died in December 2008 and was buried inParis’s Pere-Lachaise cemetery, which is also the final resting place of luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison.

Who was the first person to go over Niagara Falls?

15 Jan

Back in 2010 I had the good fortune to spend time road tripping through America with a bunch of friends.

It wasn’t my first time in the States as I’d previously visited the west coat. But it was my first time on the eastern seaboard, and I was excited. Especially since the journey was going to end at Universal Studios Orlando, home of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (yes I bought a wand, yes it was Hermione’s).

We all met up in New York for a few days’ sightseeing and then headed north towards Niagara. And while I didn’t even realise we were going to Canada until about two hours from the border (note to self, next time read the itinerary) I was thrilled to go as it allowed for a visit to Tim Hortons, which is famous for doughnut holes called Timbits.

Anyway, I don’t know about other people, but I’m always caught by surprise when visiting iconic places. For some reason I always assume they will be in the middle of nowhere so when, for example, I stumble on Buckingham Place in the middle of London, I can’t quite believe it’s real.

And so it was with Niagara Falls.

As we checked into our hotel and inquired about their location, I was expecting to bundle back into the minivan for a drive out to the sticks. But the answer was much more simple: “They’re down the end of the street” And so they were.

Despite being based in suburbia – and within two different countries – the falls were utterly breathtaking and worth a closer look. So I boarded a Maid of the Mist boat and proceeded to get very wet, despite the ‘protection’ of a poncho.

Despite its failings, I kept it as a souvenir, and promptly forgot about it – at least until I was cleaning out my garage this morning. And it made me wonder exactly what drives people to go over the edge. Surely no sane person would attempt it? I had to know more.

I had actually heard that the first person to undertake such a daredevil act was a woman. And it is true that Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to do the stunt in a barrel and survive – on her birthday, October 24, 1901.

But the first recorded person to go over was a 22 year old called Sam Patch, who dove headfirst from a height of 85 foot on October 7, 1829. He survived and then made a successful second, higher leap on October 17 that year.

Other firsts included :
– First funambulist (tightrope walker), Jean Francois Gravelet
– First African-American, William Fitzgerald, aka Nathan Boya
– First double stunters, Peter DeBernardi and Jeffrey Petkovich 

They all had fabulous stories, which you can read about here.

But if you’re thinking about giving it a go yourself, I suggest you think twice. It’s illegal these days and carries a hefty fine. Plus, there’s that little matter of potential death to think about.   

Far better to get your thrills at a theme park I think.

Is 87 really the ‘Devil’s Number’ in cricket?

4 Jan

I was watching the cricket today (Australia versus India at the SCG) when I happened to glance at the scoreboard and realise Michael Clarke was on 87 not out. It sent shivers down my spine. And I don’t mind telling you I crossed my fingers as he faced the next ball.

Why? Because as any cricket tragic would know, 87 is our ‘Devil’s Number’; the score at which, apparently, our batsmen fall more than any other.

Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to discover today – how did this superstition arise and is there any truth to it?

Some pundits have suggested the omen lies with it being 13 runs short of a century. But digging around it seems the theory really began with late cricketing legend Keith Miller, who went to see The Don (surely I don’t need to spell out his name?) play a Sheffield Shield game for New South Wales against Victoria when he was just a boy.

When Bradman fell, the young Keith thought the score was 87 (although he later discovered it was actually 89). And from that moment on he had it in his head that the figure was unlucky.

As Keith started out on his own (ahem) marvellous cricketing career, he fielded in slips for South Melbourne with Ian Johnson (a future Australian captain), where the pair would make reference to how many players got out on 87. The focus continued as they rose through the ranks to play for Victoria and Australia and was eventually picked up by commentator Richie Benaud and then the fans.

Today, of course, the malevolence of 87 is an integral part of cricketing lore. But for the record, it is a myth. In fact the numbers around 87 are actually more fatal to batsmen.

And again today the superstition also failed, as Clarke went on to score an unbeaten 251 (play continues tomorrow). A very impressive captain’s knock.

BTW the Aussies aren’t the only ones with numerical superstitions around their cricket. The Poms, for one, aren’t terribly fond of 111, aka a ‘Nelson’. Your turn to find out why. . .