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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Fifty Most Heartbreaking Moments in Sport

This month's Observer Sports Monthly, out today, features the top fifty Most Heartbreaking Moments in Sport.
Here are my two contributions: Crisp's gallant defeat by Red Rum in the 1973 Grand National (number 6) and the defeat of Hungary in the the 1954 World Cup final (number 25).
What's your most heartbreaking sporting memory?,,1981870,00.html

OSM 50 heartbreaking moments: Number 6.

Long-time leader Crisp is caught by Red Rum in the dying strides
31 March 1973, Grand National, Aintree.

Awful yet glorious: that's how Aintree historian Reg Green described the 1973 Grand National in his book A Race Apart. Even now, it's hard to think of a better description for one of the most stirring horse races of all time. Thirty-eight horses lined up at the start, but the race was a tale of just two of them, both class performers, but so different in their backgrounds. Crisp, the great Australian chaser, under champion trainer Fred Winter, shared favouritism with Red Rum, trained locally by a former taxi driver called Ginger McCain at the back of a used car lot in Southport. But although both horses started equal in the betting, they did not start on level terms in the race. Crisp, by virtue of his higher rating, had to carry top weight of 12st, a terrible burden.

Crisp showed up prominently from the start, taking a position on the inside. Jumping superbly, he took the lead at the Canal Turn and, when his nearest challenger fell at the Chair (the 15th fence), he was 25 lengths clear. 'I can't remember a horse so far ahead in the Grand National at this stage,' declared commentator Julian Wilson. By the 23rd, Crisp was a fence ahead of most of the chasing pack. But between the last two fences, jockey Richard Pitman felt his mount tiring. After jumping the last he reached for his whip. The horse did not respond. Instead, he veered left, losing around three lengths in the process. 'It was the biggest schoolboy error a jockey could make,' Pitman says now of using his whip. In fact, he had given Crisp one of the great Aintree rides.

As the horses entered the finishing straight, Red Rum, with 23lb fewer on his back, was gaining with every stride. Crisp was exhausted but tried to rally, and held on until the final few strides of the race when Red Rum passed him to record a dramatic victory, in a then record time. 'I watch it occasionally on video and one day Crisp is going to beat him,' says Ginger McCain. 'It was only bang on the line that he got there.'

I, too, watch the race occasionally and never fail to be moved by the extraordinary courage shown by both horses and their respective jockeys. It took a special horse to overhaul Crisp in 1973, a very special horse indeed, as we discovered when, 12 months later, Red Rum carried 12st to victory in the National, the knowledge of which, for those close to Crisp, probably makes his anguished and unforgettable defeat a little easier to bear.,,1981893,00.html
OSM 50 heartbreaking moments: Number 25

Destiny slips away from the Mighty Magyars
4 July 1954, World Cup Final, Berne.

Between June 1950 and November 1955 Hungary won 43 of the 51 matches they played, including emphatic home and away victories over England, and averaged more than four goals a game. The 'Mighty Magyars' lost only one match in their incredible run. But it was the one game that mattered most: the 1954 World Cup final against West Germany.

The Hungarians had sauntered through the group stage in Switzerland with emphatic victories against South Korea (8-0) and West Germany (8-3). In the quarter-finals they beat Brazil 4-2 and dispatched reigning champions Uruguay by the same score in the semis. All looked set for Hungary's coronation in the final, especially when goals by Ferenc Puskas and Zoltan Czibor put them 2-0 up after only eight minutes, against a side they had already defeated comprehensively.

The West Germans pulled two goals back before half-time, however, and punished Hungary's profligacy in front of goal by taking the lead with six minutes to go. Puskas scored what appeared a perfectly good equaliser two minutes from time, but a Welsh linesman had other ideas and the goal was ruled out for offside.

For years afterwards, rumours persisted in Budapest of a high-level conspiracy to prevent a communist nation from winning football's greatest prize. Whatever the reason, Hungary's historic opportunity had passed and one of football's greatest teams had been deprived of the honour they deserved.

1 comment:

TheRedLeopard said...

I'm sure Aston Villa fans would nominate this afternoon's extra-time Cup defeat against Man U. That really was a cruel one, and I'm not even a Villa fan.