LIAM NOLAN recalls the life and career of ‘Babe’ Didrikson Zaharias one of the most talented female athletes of all time in America, with a swagger to match. An Olympic athlete in 1932 in track and field, she went on to dominate in the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which she co-founded.

It was two elderly gentlemen sitting, chatting on a low wall facing the sea, that brought her back to me. They had walking sticks and hearing aids. I was out of their sight on a rock on the beach below them. The area was deserted. We had the place to ourselves.

I couldn’t help overhearing them. They talked loudly. A breeze carried their words clearly to me.

“I was in Montreal that year, and I actually saw Comaneci scoring that perfect 10 on the uneven bars,” one of the men said.
“I envy yeh,” the other one said. “Nadia, from Romania, and she only 14 years old. I watched it on the telly. Fantastic.”
“She’d have to be up there as one of our top five greatest-ever, don’t you agree?”
“Oh, certainly. But remember, we’re talking about the greatest ever all-round athlete… So, what have we? Jesse Owens, Karl Lewis, Lottie Dod, Jim Thorpe, Fanny Blankers-Koen, and Babe Didrikson-Zaharias…Who’s it to be, hah?”
Longish pause. Then, “Jim, Babe, without a doubt.”

“I agree a hundred-and-ten per cent. Come on, I’ll stand you a scampi and chips and a cuppa.”
I heard the metal end tips on their walking sticks scraping dryly as they struggled off the wall. They went tap-tap-tapping towards the bar/restaurant a couple of hundred yards away.

Nearly all my life I’ve had a female sports hero (all right, a heroine, but to me she was a hero), and the two elderly gents had just voted her their greatest ever all round athlete – Babe Didrikson-Zaharias.

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