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10 Tragic Athlete Deaths

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[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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What's the Kennection? #159
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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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