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The Holy Grails

From the America's Cup to Olympic Medals, Sports Trophies Have Been Kissed, Caressed, Stolen, Smashed, Buried, But Above All, Coveted
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

(continued from page 2)

In 1903 and 1904, Thomas C. Clyde won it with the colt Shorthose and decided to keep it indefinitely by not offering it to challengers. Instead, Clyde presented it in 1917 to the Maryland Jockey Club, of which he was a director, where it became the permanent trophy of the Preakness.

The Woodlawn now is housed at the Maryland Historical Society and escorted under guard on the third Saturday in May for the Preakness at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course. There it glitters on the officials' stand in the winner's circle. Half-size, sterling silver reproductions valued at $25,000 and requiring at least eight weeks to make are presented to the owner of the Preakness's winning thoroughbred.

The top trophies in tennis--Wimbledon's Gentlemen's Singles and Ladies' Singles trophies--have avoided the harrowing experiences of other trophies by never having left their original home--the All England Lawn Tennis Club, southwest of London.

The All England Club held its first Gentlemen's Singles competition at Wimbledon in 1877, and the first Ladies' Singles matches were begun in 1884. The redoubtable William Renshaw won the singles title in 1881, 1882 and 1883, allowing him to "retire" the original Gentlemen's trophy. He then claimed three successive championships, from 1884 to 1886, to retire the second trophy. Apparently inspired by Renshaw's growing collection, the All England Club decided to spend 100 guineas to buy a new challenge cup (one actually dated 1883) and decreed that it should "never become the property of the winner." It was not until 1946 that the club even deigned to present its trophies officially to the winners, and another three years before the winners received miniature replicas for themselves. The 18 1/2-inch-high, silver gilt trophy we saw last July 4th being smooched for the sixth time by Pete Sampras is the original 100-guinea cup.

In 1886 the club spent 50 guineas to purchase a silver salver as a trophy for the ladies. (There is a persistent myth that Queen Victoria donated the ladies' trophy to Wimbledon.) Elkington and Co. of Birmingham, England, made the 18 3/4-inch-diameter plate in 1864. It is a copy of an older pewter plate in Paris's Louvre museum--and evidently not the only copy that Elkington made. The All England Club has received many inquiries from people who have identical-looking salvers. Nevertheless, the salver that Lindsay Davenport hoisted this past July 4th is the only one that the club has used as the ladies' trophy, with each winner's name engraved on the plate.

While yachting, horse racing and tennis have elite European origins, hockey is a North American creation--and a true sport of the common man. An English lord, however, created its greatest trophy. At the suggestion of his sons, who were hockey buffs, Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada, in 1892 had an aide in London buy a silver punch bowl, made in Sheffield some two years earlier, for some 10 guineas (about $50 at the time). When suitably engraved with his name, it became the Stanley Cup.

In a twist unique to hockey's everyman spirit, each player on the championship team is entitled to take the cup home for a day. This privilege has led to many curious episodes in the cup's long history. It purportedly has been drop-kicked into a frozen canal, abandoned on a curb, defaced by a coach's kids, used as a peanut dish in a bowling alley, and converted into a flowerpot in a private home.

Today there are three Stanley Cups. The original, battered silver punch bowl, which is 7 1/2 inches high and 11 inches across, was retired permanently to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969. Then there is an exact replica made by a Danish silversmith for ceremonial purposes, copied precisely down to the last scratch and dent. The third is a nickel-based alloy copy affixed atop multiple tiers that add 18 1/4 inches to its height and bear the engraved names of the championship teams and more than 2,000 players and coaches who have had a hand in winning it over the past 106 years. This is the trophy presented on the ice every year to the champions of the National Hockey League. (The NHL took sole control of the cup in 1946.) Each player, as well as team owners and other officials, receives small replicas of the cup--and some of these miniatures have been sold at auction.

"The mini Stanley Cups have become very popular because at $3,000 to $4,000--what they were selling for--they are a bargain," says Joshua Leland Evans, founder and chairman of Leland's, the prominent New York-based sports auction house.

As passionately followed as hockey--but by about two billion more fans--is soccer. Promoters of the sport's top trophy, the World Cup, can reasonably boast that it is "the most sought after of all sporting prizes."

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