Machgielis “Max” Euwe, who was born on 20th May 1901, died on this day in 1981 at the age of 80, A Durch chess Grandmaster, chess administrator, mathematician and author he played his first tournament when he was just 10, winning every game. He won every Dutch chess championship that he contested from 1921 until 1952, and in 1955 – his 12 titles are still a record. The only other winners during this period were Salo Landau in 1936, when Euwe, then world champion, did not compete, and Jan Hein Donner in 1954. He became the world amateur chess champion in 1928, at The Hague. In 1933, Alekhine challenged Max Euwe to a championship match. Euwe, at that time, was regarded as just one of three credible challengers and accepted the challenge. On December 15, 1935, after 30 games played in 13 different cities around the Netherlands over a period of 80 days, Euwe defeated Alekhine by 15½–14½, becoming the fifth World Chess Champion.He played for the Netherlands in a total of seven Chess Olympiads, from 1927 to 1962, a 35-year-span, always on first board. In 1957, he played a short match against 14-year-old future world champion Bobby Fischer, winning one game and drawing the other. His lifetime score against Fischer was one win, one loss, and one draw. He became a Professor in computer science at Tilburg University in 1964. From 1970 until 1978, he was president of the FIDE. As president, Euwe usually did what he considered morally right rather than what was politically expedient. On several occasions this brought him into conflict with the USSR Chess Federation, which thought it had the right to dominate matters because it contributed a very large share of FIDE’s budget and Soviet players dominated the world rankings – in effect they treated chess as an extension of the Cold War. He died of a heart attack, revered around the chess world for his many contributions, he had travelled extensively while FIDE President, bringing many new members into the organization.
Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler died on this day in 1884 in Vienna. Born on 23 June 1810, from her earliest years she was trained for the ballet, and made her appearance at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna before she was 7. She almost invariably danced with her sister Therese, who was 2 years her senior; the sisters studied dancing with Jean-Pierre Aumer and Friedrich Horschelt beginning when Fanny was 9 years old, also traveling to Naples to study with Gaetano Gioja. After some years’ experience together in Vienna, the sisters went in 1827 to Naples. While there, she had an affair with Leopold, Prince of Salerno, the son of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, which resulted in the birth of a son, Franz. The sister’s success in Naples, to which Fanny contributed more than her sister, led to an engagement in Berlin in 1830. This was the beginning of a series of triumphs for Fanny’s personal beauty and skill in dancing. In September 1834 Elssler appeared with the Ballet du Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique (today known as the Paris Opera Ballet), a step to which she looked forward with much misgiving on account of Marie Taglioni’s supremacy on that stage. However, Elssler and Taglioni were exceptionally different dancers, and the Opera’s management saw this as an opportunity to incite some controversy by hiring Elssler. Taglioni was known as a danseur ballonné, represented by the lightness of her leaps and jumps. Elssler, on the other hand, distinguished her dancing with the precision in which she performed small, quick steps. Elssler’s type of dancing was known as danse tacquetée. The results of her performances, however, were another triumph for Elssler, and the temporary eclipse of Taglioni. Taglioni, although the finer artist of the two, could not for the moment compete with the newcomer’s personal fascination. In 1840 she sailed with her sister for New York for a tour arranged by Henry Wikoff, and after two years of unmixed success they returned to Europe, During the following five years Fanny appeared in Germany, Austria, France, England, and Russia. In 1845, she was invited to perform along with her rivals Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi and Fanny Cerrito in Jules Perrot’s Pas de Quatre in London, but she declined. In the same year, having amassed a fortune, she retired from the stage and settled near Hamburg.
Joe Kelly, racing driver, born in Dublin on 13 March 1913, died on this day in 1993. By profession Kelly was a motor dealer and he used the profits from this business to indulge his interest in motorsport. He raced a Maserati 6CM on 20th August 1949, during the BRDC International Trophy meeting at Silverstone. It was the first race meeting to use the former airfield’s perimeter roadways, rather than the main runways. The event was held that day over two heats of 20 laps and one final of 30 laps of the Grand Prix circuit. The final was won by Italian Alberto Ascari, but the meeting was marred by the death of St. John Horsfall in an accident during the final race. In 1950, Kelly – using his own Alta GP car, the last built – participated in the 1950 and 1951 British rounds of the Formula One World Championship. He was not classified in the results of either race, scoring no championship points, and his best grid position was 18th place, but his persistence with the Alta GP car paid off in 1952 with third place in the Ulster Trophy at Dundrod. He also owned and raced a Jaguar C-Type sports car which he raced in Ireland at “The Curragh”, known throughout the world as the home of Irish horse racing. His full-time driving career came to an end in 1955, following a serious accident at the Oulton Park circuit. However, he did compete in some hill climbs in later life driving Porsche and Ferrari sports cars, at Wicklow in Ireland. His Jaguar C-Type is still raced in historic meetings around the world, as is his Ferrari Monza. After 1955 and the crash at Oulton Park, Kelly worked on building up car showrooms in England, then in 1969 sold them all and decided to move back to Athy, Ireland. This is where he started his property portfolio which resulted in Kelly owning some of the most impressive estates in the country, including Old Conna Hill near Dublin. In the late 1970s and 80s Kelly started a collection of rare and expensive cars which included Lamborghini, Ferrari and Rolls Royce.
Canadian Olympic sprinter and world record holder Percy Alfred Williams, born on 19th May 1908, died today in 1982. He was always an underdog to have any sort of athletic career, much less to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. A slight boy as a child, he was afflicted with rheumatic fever at the age of fifteen and instructed by his doctors to avoid demanding physical activities. Nevertheless, he took up running in 1924, as athletic competition was compulsory in his high school, and, by 1927, he was becoming well-known in his native Vancouver for participating in and winning local running events. He worked as a waiter and dishwasher in a dining car to earn his passage to Hamilton, Ontario where the trials for the 1928 Summer Olympics were being held. Despite having never taken part in a competitive 100m race, he won it in a time of 10.6 seconds, equalling the then Olympic record. With a subsequent victory in the 200m he was guaranteed a spot on the Canadian team. And he did not disappoint, twice equalling the Olympic record during the 100m, easily capturing the gold in the final. His victory came as such a surprise to the international community that the medal presentation was delayed while Olympic administrators scrambled to find a recording of the Canadian anthem. Offered the chance by Canadian officials to drop out of the 200m because of his success, he declined and went on to take that title as well. He again had the opportunity to be replaced, this time in the 4×100 relay, but decided to press on. His luck did not hold out, however, and the Canadian team was disqualified after his teammate Buck Hester dropped the baton while attempting to pass it to him. There was still more gold in his future as he won the 100yds at the inaugural British Empire Games in 1930. Several days prior he had set a world in the 100m by becoming the first person to run the distance in 10.3 seconds, a feat that would not be equalled for nearly two years nor beaten for almost six. It was to be the end of his athletic career, however, as he pulled a muscle during the British Empire Games and was never able to regain his former glory. He competed in the 100m and the sprint relay at the 1932 Summer Olympics, but he failed to medal in either category and retired soon thereafter. He then led a low-key life as an insurance salesman, never marrying, and committed suicide in 1982 after suffering from depression and chronic arthritic pain. In 1950 a Canadian Press poll named him the greatest national track and field performer of the last fifty years and upgraded him to “Canada’s All-Time Olympic athlete” in 1972. In 1978 he was bestowed the Vancouver Civic Recognition Award and in 1980 he was made a member of the Order of Canada. He is enshrined in both the British Columbia and Canadian Sports Halls of Fame.
Hélène Boucher was a well-known French pilot in the early 1930s, when she set several women’s world speed records, including one which was also a world record for either sex. She was killed in an accident on this day in 1934. Hélène the daughter of a Parisian architect, became the first pupil at the flying school run by Henri Fabos at Mont-de-Marsan. She rapidly obtained her brevet (flying qualification) aged 23, bought a de Havilland Gypsy Moth and learned to navigate and perform aerobatics. Her great ability was recognised by Michel Detroyat who advised her to focus on aerobatics. They performed together and drew in huge crowds to flight shows, where her skills gained her public transport brevet in June 1932. After attending a few aviation meetings, she sold the Moth and bought an Avro Avian, planning a flight to the Far East; in the event she got as far as Damascus and returned via North Africa, limited by financial difficulties. In 1933 she flew with Miss Jacob in the Angers 12-hour race in one of the lowest-powered machines there, a 45 kW (60 hp) Salmson-engined Mauboussin-Zodiac 17; completing 1,645 km (1,022 mi) at an average speed of 137 km/h (85 mph) and came 14th. They were the only female team competing and received the prize of 3,000 francs set aside for an all-women team as well as 3,000 francs for finishing position. The following year, on a contract with the Caudron company and in a faster Caudron Rafale she competed again, coming second. During 1933 and 1934 she set several world records for women, and she held the international (male or female) record for speed over 1,000 km (621 mi) in 1934. Most of these records were flown in Renault-powered Caudron aircraft, and in June 1934 the Renault company also took her temporarily under contract in order to promote their new Viva Grand Sport.On 30th November 1934 she died aged 26 flying a Caudron C.430 Rafale, near Versailles when the machine crashed into the woods of Guyancourt, where there is a stone to mark the spot. Posthumously, she was immediately made a knight of the Légion d’honneur and was the first woman to lie in state at Les Invalides, where her funeral obsequies were held. She is buried in Yermenonville cemetery.
William Howard Vincent “Hopper” Levett, Kent cricketer who was born on 25th January 1908, died on this day in 1995. In the days when all first-class cricketers were either Gentlemen or Players a natural path to rapid advancement was to become an amateur wicket- keeper. If the major prize, an England cap, was rarely allowed to leave the professionals’ grasp, there were one or two amateurs good enough to slip through when the stars were injured, and the selectors blinked. Howard “Hopper” Levett was just one of these men, he spent most of his career in the shadow of Leslie Ames, with Kent, and in competition with George Duckworth of Lancashire. He would have been six when the Great War began, snatching just a glimpse of cricket’s Golden Age, and was fortunate to attend Brighton College, a school with a reputation for producing cricketers and footballers, even double internationals; Sammy Woods had preceded him and even in such formative years Levett was described as “a genuine character in the true sense of that much abused word”. He made his debut for Kent when 22 and continued playing until 1947 as very much the specialist wicket-keeper, averaging only 12 with the bat but recording 467 dismissals, of which 195 were stumped. He made the first of his four appearances for the Gentlemen at Lord’s in 1931 and toured India with MCC in 1933-4 at a time when trips to the subcontinent were much more amateur than professional. In his one Test, in Calcutta, he took three catches but scored only 5 and 2 not out. However, in 1937 he was “considered to be well in the running for a trip to Australia” but, once again, Ames recovered from injury. Sir Pelham Warner still ranked him among England’s top four wicket- keepers as late as 1945. It was said of Levett, a man of great nervous energy, a non-stop chatterer behind the stumps or in the pavilion, that on one of his brilliant days he was the best in the country. A hop-farmer’s son, hence the nick-name, he remained an honoured and admired character in Kent, that most convivial of county clubs, and was the club’s president in 1974. He will be best remembered, with affection, for one of the game’s classic stories. After a night of heavy entertaining, Hopper took his place behind the stumps and never even flickered as the first ball whistled by outside the off-stump for four byes. The batsman tickled the second down the legside, Hopper took off to dive and take a spectacular catch, rising to say, beaming: “Not bad, eh, for the first ball of the morning?”
English ballerina, choreographer, director and teacher of classical ballet, Dame Alicia Markova, died on this day in 2004. Born on 1st December 1910, she was most noted for her career with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and touring internationally, she was widely considered to be one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of the twentieth century. She was the first British dancer to become the principal dancer of a ballet company and, with Dame Margot Fonteyn, is one of only two English dancers to be recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta. Markova was a founder dancer of the Rambert Dance Company, The Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and was co-founder and director of the English National Ballet. Markova began to dance on medical advice to strengthen her weak limbs. She made her stage debut at age ten, performing the role of Salome in the pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat, for which she was billed as Little Alicia, the child Pavlova. At the age of 13, Markova was observed in class by Diaghilev, who was visiting London in search of new talent for his ballet company. He invited her to join the Ballets Russes in Monte Carlo, which she did in 1925, one month after her 14th birthday. Due to her age, she performed a number of roles which were specially choreographed for her, also performing in a varied repertoire of new and established ballets. Following the death of Diaghilev in 1929, Markova returned to England, where she became the founder Principal Ballerina of The Ballet Club, a company founded by Dame Marie Rambert. During this period, she was particularly noted for performing works by Frederick Ashton, who was unknown at the time, but would go on to become one of Britain’s most celebrated choreographers. The Ballet Club was to be the first professional ballet company in the United Kingdom, later becoming known as the Ballet Rambert. Now known as the Rambert Dance Company, it remains the oldest established dance company in the UK. In 1931, Ninette de Valois founded the Vic-Wells Ballet in premises at Sadler’s Wells theatre in London. A former colleague from Diaghilev’s company, she invited Markova to join the company as one of its founder dancers, which she did, forming a famous partnership with Anton Dolin. In 1935, Markova and Dolin left the Vic-Wells ballet to form their own touring company known as the Markova-Dolin Company. In 1950, Markova and Dolin became the co-founders of the Festival Ballet, a company formed to celebrate the imminent Festival of Britain and backed by the Polish businessman Julian Brunsweg. Dolin was to be the company’s first Artistic Director, with Markova as Prima Ballerina. The company was formed to tour ballets to audiences that would otherwise be unable to experience ballet and went on to tour extensively to less conventional venues both in the United Kingdom and internationally. It also established a number of educational programmes designed to make ballet accessible to new audiences. She remained the Prima ballerina until 1952, after which she continued to appear regularly as a guest dancer until her retirement from professional dancing.