Famous for five minutes

Action replay '97: A year for the unexpected as the unknowns flitted briefly across the national consciousness; Stephen Brenkley recalls the exploits of those who became heroes for a day
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The Independent Online
If Only John Huston had managed a couple more eagles by holing out from 200 yards as well as another controlled ricochet off a buggy he might, just might, have transcended Tiger Woods. As it is, the 36-year- old jobbing golfer from Mount Vernon, Illinois, had to be content with a brief flurry of attention as the limelight flickered tantalisingly in his direction and then passed on again.

Huston was the man who led after the first round of the US Masters in Augusta in April. It was only by a stroke and he needed to hole from 60 feet at the first as well as his extraordinary five-iron shot at the 18th and the intervention of a cart. But still the world's best golfers were all behind him. Unfortunately what intervened for Huston the following day was reality and he shot 77 while the Tiger snarled.

Being at the front of a field which the young maestro was shortly to destroy might have been a specially spectacular example of flirtation with sporting fame in 1997 but it was not a solitary one. Golf is one of those sports always likely to throw up a leader from the pack and by the time of The Open at Troon in July it was the turn of David Tapping. Just 22, the British golfer had been forced to qualify for the main event and he followed a solid opening 71 by entering dreamland with a second round of 66. He was fifth at the start of Saturday's play - and shot 78.

On the other hand, a score in the seventies was precisely what catapulted the batsman Decker Curry to fleeting prominence. His pinch-hitting 75 for Ireland, which included two sixes in its 93 balls, was enough to earn him the gold award as they beat Middlesex in the opening zonal match of the Benson and Hedges Cup. It was to be Ireland's only win, though Decker could hardly be blamed. He had to forsake ongoing glory as he could get no more time off from his job in an abbatoir.

Emily Drumm also fulfils a pinch-hitting role - for the New Zealand women's cricket team - but she received more publicity than before or since for a simple little catch in the outfield. Drumm pouched the England captain, Mike Atherton in a benefit game before England's series against New Zealand in February. Since Atherton was struggling for form at the time and since England had been fairly wretched on the preceding tour of Zimbabwe this was deemed to be the lowest point and Emily was elevated appropriately.

That tour of New Zealand also threw Danny Morrison into the spotlight. The seam bowler with the highest number of ducks in Test cricket saved the First Test for his country with a gritty last-day rearguard action. It embarrassed Atherton as much as Drumm had - but Morrison's reward was to be dropped. England managed to provide their own subject for a transient spell in the sun, though Mike Smith may not view it as such. The country's leading wicket-taker was called up for the Fourth Test against Australia at Headingley. Affable and approachable, he had a catch dropped early on at slip, went on to spill a chance or two himself, proceeded to go wicketless and was summarily omitted.

It was a cruel fate, perhaps too cruel, but at least Smith was in the ephemeral fame frame for playing. Karl Le Tissier, brother of the man known as Matthew or, in certain quarters of Southampton as God, made the back pages for announcing that his sibling was to be in the England side for their World Cup match with Italy - before Glenn Hoddle had named the team. So he was, but this did not avoid embarrassment all round particularly in the light of Le Tissier's (Matthew's that is) subsequent indifferent performance.

Mike Reed was also in the non-playing boat with accommodation for temporary celebs. He was the ref forced to undergo trial by media, and being found guilty in quicker time than it takes to set up a slow motion video replay, for giving Chelsea a decisive penalty that wasn't (probably) in an FA Cup tie with Leicester.

Perhaps the footballer who most personified flitting recognition was Jamie Hewitt, an unsung defender, Chesterfield born and bred who scored a 117th minute equaliser for his hometown club against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford to sustain their chances of qualifying for the FA Cup final. Sadly, they lost the replay.

One Marius Bosman, a South African rugby forward had his few days of notoriety in June. He brought a swift, stamping end to the Lions tour of the Scot Doddie Weir in the match against Mpumalanga.

Andy Gomarsall, the Wasps and England scrum- half didn't make the tour at all. Above all others, he might reflect on the difference a year makes. An England hero last autumn with a try on international debut he lost favour, was dropped by England, is now injured, out of the Wasps side and struggling.

And what of Kevin Lueshing? In February he went to America to try to deprive the accomplished Felix Trinidad of the World Boxing Council welterweight title and had him down in the second round. Trinidad responded with a barrage of punches to bring a brutal end to the fight in the next. In July poor Lueshing lost his British title.

Phil Sharpe was one of those heroes the British love. He was the stable lad who stayed in at Aintree after everybody else had been evacuated because of the bomb scare which forced the postponement of the Grand National. Sharpe fed and watered the horses, and emerged to the sort of glare which could be created only by camera flashes.

Tennis players had their moments. Paul Haarhuis had his only because he was a Dutchman in the way of Tim Henman on Wimbledon's middle Sunday. Having not been heard of before he was suddenly if briefly a hate figure for 30 million people. Meanwhile Karen Cross, an attractive Brit, won two singles matches at SW19 and was feted. A month earlier Gustavo Kuerten, a 20-year-old Brazilian, came from nowhere in a garish costume (well, Brazil and number 66 in the world actually) to win the French Open and then nothing else all year.

And then there was Jo Muggeridge, the country's best female badminton player. It was not her accuracy with a shuttlecock which elevated her into the public consciousness but her lethal aim with the can of coke she threw over the sport's technical director, Steve Baddeley, in one of those little tiffs which provoke sports people occasionally.

But the huge, wholemeal digestive for evanescent renown must go not to a person, or even an animal, but to a document. Raising The Standard was the much-heralded report which was going to change the face of English cricket. To this end it proposed splitting the counties into three American- style conferences. England would then really go places, you see. Six weeks later it was kicked out.

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