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10 Sports Terms Named for People

Convinced that you might not have what it takes to make a sport's Hall of Fame? That doesn't mean your name can't live on forever in the game's lore. Here are the stories behind a few sports rules and terms that bear a player or innovator's name.

1, 2 & 3. Figure Skating: The Axel, the Salchow & the Lutz

Figure skating is rife with maneuvers named after their innovators. The spinning Axel jump is named after Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen, who first pulled off the trick in 1882, while the salchow takes its name from Swedish skater Ulrich Salchow, who perfected it in 1909. Those lutzes we hear so much about during the winter Olympics are the invention of Alois Lutz, who broke out the first jump of its kind in a 1913 competition.

4. Baseball: The Mendoza Line

MendozaFor a baseball player, hitting below the Mendoza Line is one of the game's most ignominious blunders. The feat takes its name from Mario Mendoza, a slick-fielding shortstop who enjoyed a nine-season career with the Pirates, Mariners, and Rangers from 1974 to 1982. Although Mendoza was an ace with the leather, he couldn't hit a lick, and someone, possibly George Brett, started referring to having a batting average below .200 as being "below the Mendoza line."

In fairness to Mendoza, he ended his career over his own line with a still-pretty-terrible .215 career average. The Mendoza line wasn't a total misnomer, though; he had sub-.200 averages in five separate seasons. Mendoza wasn't pulling an Adam Dunn and buttressing a low batting average with lots of walks, either; his career on-base percentage was a mind-bogglingly bad .245.

5. Boxing: Marquess of Queensberry Rules

Boxing's Marquess of Queensberry Rules are named after John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry. The rules, which modernized boxing when they were published in 1867, include both reasonable concerns (no wrestling or hugging, rounds should be three minutes long) and ones that seem a bit farfetched today "“ Rule 11 states that "No shoes or boots with springs allowed."

Although the Queensberry name is associated with the rules, John Douglas didn't formulate them. The rules were actually codified by John Graham Chambers, an English athletic legend, but when the Amateur Athletic Club published the rules, they put the marquess' name and endorsement on the code to add a noble touch.
Queensberry also has a literary claim to fame. Oscar Wilde once sued him for libel after Queensberry publicly accused the author of "posing as a sodomite." Queensberry was allegedly not pleased that Wilde had taken his son, the poet Lord Alfred Douglas, as a lover.

6. Soccer: The Cruyff Turn

If you want to make a soccer defender look incredibly silly, hit them with a Cruyff turn. Dutch midfielder Johan Cruyff broke out this little pit of jock-shaking trickery during a match against Sweden during the 1974 World Cup, and it still bears his name. The move is too tricky for words, so have a look for yourself:

7. Basketball: The Trent Tucker Rule

trent-tuckerEver need for your favorite NBA team to hit a last-second desperation heave to win a basketball game? Pray the Trent Tucker Rule doesn't come into effect. According to the rule, catching an inbounds pass and attempting a field goal takes at least 0.3 seconds off of the game clock, and if less than 0.3 seconds remain on the clock, it's impossible to attempt a shot, although a team can score on a tip-in or deflection. The rule is named after a 1990 Bulls-Knicks game in which Knicks point guard Mark Jackson inbounded the ball with 0.1 second left in a tie game, at which point sharpshooter Tucker caught it and nailed a wild turnaround three to win the game.

The Bulls ended up losing a protest over the outcome of the game, but after the season the NBA added the "Trent Tucker Rule" to the books.

8. College Football: The Deion Sanders Rule

Deion-Pro-Set
Deion Sanders craved attention for being unique, so it's only fitting he has two separate rules named after him. When Neon Deion was a college star at Florida State, he came up with a big interception to seal FSU's win over Auburn in the 1989 Sugar Bowl, but he also opened up a firestorm. It later came to light that Sanders, who was obviously bound for NFL greatness, simply hadn't attended classes or taken finals the fall semester before the game. When state education officials learned about Sanders' slacking off, they made a Deion Sanders Rule that required football players at Florida schools to successfully complete their fall classes if they wanted to play in bowl games.

9. Pro Football: The Deion Sanders Rule

deion-si
The professional version of Primetime became the center of another controversy when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995. The Cowboys signed Sanders to a contract with tiny yearly base salaries and a nearly $13 million signing bonus in an attempt to circumvent the NFL's salary cap. The league didn't think the maneuver was so great, though, and quickly instituted its own Deion Sanders Rule so that a prorated portion of a player's signing bonus counted against the salary cap as well.

10. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Hat Trick

The Gordie Howe hat trick is a true testament to the hockey legend's versatility. Instead of a standard hat trick where a player scores three goals, he gets credit for a Gordie Howe hat trick by recording a goal and an assist in a game in which he also gets into a fight, a tribute to Howe's deft passing, prodigious scoring, and zest for fisticuffs.

Oddly, although Mr. Hockey's career stretched across five different decades, he only racked up the hat trick that now bears his name twice, both times in the 1953-54 season. Howe wasn't the first to pull off the trick; that honor apparently goes to Harry Cameron, who scored, assisted, and fought in a 1917 game. Modern players have taken the hat trick to a new level; Brendan Shanahan alone has at least nine of them to his credit.

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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olympics
The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
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Big Questions
How Do You Steer a Bobsled?
 Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Now that the Olympics are well underway, you might have developed a few questions about the games' equipment. For example: How does one steer a bobsled? Let's take a crack at answering this pressing query.

How do you steer a bobsled?

Bobsled teams careen down an icy, curving track at up to 90 miles per hour, so steering is no small concern. Drivers steer their sleds just like you steered your childhood sleds—by manipulating a pair of ropes connected to the sled's steel runners. The driver also gets help from the rest of the crew members, who shift their weight to aid with the steering.

Why do speed skaters wear glasses?

speed-skating

Speed skaters can fly around the ice at upwards of 40 mph, so those sunglasses-type specs they wear aren't merely ornamental. At such high speeds, it's not very pleasant to have wind blowing in your eyes; it's particularly nightmarish if the breeze is drying out your contact lenses. On top of that, there's all sorts of ice and debris flying around on a speed skating track that could send you on a fast trip to the ophthalmologist.

Some skaters also say the glasses help them see the track. American skater Ryan Bedford recently told the Saginaw News that his tinted shades help him focus on the track and filter out distracting lights and camera flashes from the crowd.

What kind of heat are the biathletes packing?

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As you might guess, there are fairly strict rules governing what sort of rifles biathletes carry on the course. They are equipped with guns chambered for .22 LR ammunition. The gun must weigh at least 3.5 kilograms without its magazines and ammunition, and the rifle has to have a bolt action or a straight-pull bolt rather than firing automatically or semi-automatically.

Is a curling stone really made of stone?

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You bet it is, and it's not just any old stone, either. Curling enthusiasts swear by a very specific type of granite called ailsite that is only found on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Ailsite supposedly absorbs less water than other types of stone, so they last longer than their competitors.

Ailsa Craig is now a wildlife sanctuary, so no new ailsite has been quarried since 2002. As a result, curling stones are incredibly expensive. Kays of Scotland, which has made the stones for every Olympics in which curling has been an official event, gets prices upwards of $1,500 per stone.

What about the brooms?

The earliest curling brooms were actual brooms made of wood with straw heads. Modern brooms, though, are a bit more technologically advanced. The handles are usually made of carbon fiber, and the heads can be made of synthetic materials or natural hair from horses or hogs. Synthetic materials tend to be more common now because they pull all of the debris off of the ice and don't drop the occasional stray bristle like a natural hair broom might.

What are the ski jumpers wearing?

Getty Images

It may look like a ski jumper can pull on any old form-fitting bodysuit and hit the mountain, but things are a bit more complicated than that. Their suits have to be made of a spongy material and can't be thicker than five millimeters. Additionally, the suits must allow a certain amount of air to pass through them; jumpers wearing suits without sufficient air permeability are disqualified. (This rule keeps jumpers from wearing suits that could unfairly act as airfoils.) These rules are seriously enforced, too; Norwegian skier Sigurd Petterson found himself DQed at the 2006 Torino Games due to improper air permeability.

Those aren't the only concerns, though. In 2010, judges disqualified Italian jumper Roberto Dellasega because his suit was too baggy.

What's up with the short track speed skaters' gloves?

Gloves
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If you watch a bit of short track speed skating, the need for gloves quickly becomes apparent. When the skaters go to make passes or careen around a turn, they need the gloves to keep from cutting their hands due to incidental contact with other skaters' blades.

There's more to the gloves than just safety, though. Since the skaters' hands often touch the ice during turns, they need hard fingertip coverings that won't add friction and slow them down. The tips can be made of any material as long as it's hard and smooth, but you've got to give American skater Apolo Ohno some style points for the gold-tipped left glove he broke out in 2010.

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