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10 Tragic Athlete Deaths

[Image courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com]

Saturday's Kentucky Derby was marred by tragedy, as runner-up Eight Belles had to be euthanized on the track after breaking both front ankles. She was not the first athlete to be struck down on the playing field. Here are ten other tragic athlete deaths.

1. Bill Masterton, Hockey

masterson.jpgFour minutes into a 1968 hockey game between the Minnesota North Stars and the Oakland Seals, the North Stars' center, Bill Masterton, fell backward and hit his head on the ice. He died 30 hours later from "massive brain injury," becoming the first player to be killed during a game in the history of the NHL.

2. Vladimir Smirnov, Fencing

Vladimir Smirnov and Matthias Behr lunged simultaneously during a championship fencing match in Rome in 1982. As Behr's foil struck Smirnov's chest protector, the blade snapped at the tip, and the jagged end cut through Smirnov's wire-mesh face protector. The blade pierced Smirnov's brain and severed an artery; the 28-year-old died 10 days later.

3. Sergei Chalibashvili, Diving

Competitors at the World University Games in 1983 knew that Sergei Chalibashvili's dive could end in tragedy. The 21-year-old Soviet was attempting a 3-1/2 reverse somersault in tuck position, and he'd struggled with the dive in practice. Chalibashvili's head struck the ten-meter-high platform, resulting in multiple skull fractures; he died of heart failure. His dive became known as the Dive of Death.

4. Lane Frost, Bull Riding

lane-frost.jpgLane Frost, the 1987 world champion bull rider, was thrown from a bull at the 1989 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. The 25-year-old was fine after the fall but, as he walked away, the bull charged him from behind, breaking Frost's ribs and puncturing a major blood vessel. Frost died from the injuries. The movie 8 Seconds, directed by John G. Avildsen, depicts Frost's life and death.

5. Fabio Casartelli, Cycling

The descent from Col du Portet d'Aspet, in the Tour de France, is lined with concrete blocks that prevent cars from going over the edge of the cliff. In 1995, Fabio Casartelli, a 24-year-old Italian cyclist, fell off his bike on a turn, his head striking one of the concrete blocks. He suffered three heart attacks in a helicopter on the way to the hospital, and was pronounced dead not long after.

6. Raman Lamba, Cricket

In 1998, a 38-year-old Indian cricketer, Raman Lamba, was hit by a ball during a cricket tournament. The blow to the head caused severe brain injuries that three days later resulted in his death.

7. Owen Hart, Professional Wrestling

owen-hart-2.jpgOwen Hart, a Canadian professional wrestler, was to be lowered into the ring during a WWF match in 1999. Unfortunately, the cable was not properly hooked onto Hart. The 33-year-old fell to his death in front of more than 16,000 people. The match was being shown as part of a pay-per-view package called "Over the Edge." After Hart's death, the event continued.

8. Rosbin Yuman & Lester Marrioquin, Soccer

In 2001, a storm hit a stadium in Chiquimulilla, Guatemala, during a soccer game. While most fans left, officials made the poor decision to continue the game. Lightning struck one of the metal guard rails surrounding the field, injuring more than 25 people and killing two of the players, Rosbin Yuman, 16, and Lester Marrioquin, 24, instantly.

9. Kim Hyung-Chil, Equestrian

KimHyung-Chil.jpgAlthough there were wet conditions at the 2006 Asian Games, organizers do not believe that slippery conditions caused the accident that killed Kim Hyung-Chil. The 47-year-old South Korean rider's horse, Bundaberg Black, apparently mistimed its jump over a fence and fell, crushing Hyung-Chil.

10. Lauren Chang, Cheerleading

At the Minuteman Cheerleading Championships this year (April 2008), a 20-year-old on an elite cheer squad died from collapsed lungs. Apparently, Lauren Chang was accidentally kicked in the chest by a tumbler, though witnesses weren't sure exactly what went wrong.

Previously on mental_floss...

Jockey Frank Hayes, baseball player Ray Chapman, and race car driver J.G. Parry-Thomas are discussed in Stacy Conradt's December 2007 post on Eight (and a half) People Whose Jobs Actually Killed Them.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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History
Beyond Board Shorts: The Rich History of Hawaii's Surf Culture
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iStock

From Australia to the Arctic Circle, adrenaline junkies around the world love catching waves—but the very first people to develop surf culture were Hawaiians. Their version of the pastime shares both similarities and differences with the one that’s commonly practiced today, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Surfing wasn’t just a sport in Hawaii—there were social and religious elements to it, too. Hawaiians made offerings to the gods while choosing trees for boards and prayed for waves. And like a high school cafeteria, the ocean was divided by social status, with certain surf breaks reserved solely for elite Hawaiians.

The surfboards themselves used by early Hawaiians largely resembled the ones we use today, although they were fin-less and required manual turns. Learn more about surfing’s roots and evolution (and how surf culture was nearly destroyed by foreign colonizers) by watching the video below.

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