Superstars

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Superstars
BBC Superstars Logo.jpg
Genre Sports
Entertainment
Presented by David Vine (1973–1985)
Ron Pickering (1973–1985)
Barry Davies (1979)
Brian Budd (1980–1981)
Johnny Vaughan (2003–05)
Suzi Perry (2003–05)
Jim Rosenthal (2008)
Sharron Davies (2008)
Gabby Logan (2012–)
Country of origin United States
United Kingdom
Sweden
The Netherlands
Israel
Republic of Ireland
Canada
France
Australia
Original language(s) English
No. of series United Kingdom - 17
Production
Executive producer(s) 1979–1985 Peter Hylton Cleaver
2012- Rick Thomas
Location(s) Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (1973–1974)
Ahoy, Rotterdam (1975–1979)
Aldershot (1976–1977)
Harlow (1979)
Cwmbran Stadium (1980)
Wingate Institute, Netanya (1980)
Bath (1981–1985)
Hong Kong (1981)
Christchurch (1982)
La Manga (2004–2005)
University of Bath (2012–)
Broadcast
Original channel BBC One
Picture format 16:9 (HDTV)
Original run 1973 – present

Superstars is an all-around sports competition that pits elite athletes from different sports against one another in a series of athletic events resembling a decathlon. Points are awarded for the position in which the competitor places in each event. The competitor with the most points at the end of all ten events is declared the champion.

On the original ABC version, an athlete could compete in up to seven events, but no athlete was permitted to compete in the sport(s) of his or her profession. In the World, International, European and British versions of the contest, athletes would compete in 8 out of 10 events, with no-one generally allowed to take part in their own sport, although some handicapping rules did apply.

The idea was developed by 1948 and 1952 Olympic figure skating champion Dick Button. He shopped the idea to all three U.S. television networks, and ABC bought it as a special for the winter of 1973. The first Superstars competition was held in Rotonda West, Florida in March 1973 and was won by pole vaulter Bob Seagren. The BBC covered the competition and aired their own programme, featuring British athletes on 31 December 1973, which was won by 400 metre hurdles Olympic champion David Hemery. Television broadcasts of the competitions were popular both in Europe and North America in the 1970s and 1980s. Further events featuring European athletes started from 1975, with six World Superstars championships taking place from 1977 to 1982.

Competitors participate in a range of different sporting events, including a 100 yard dash/100m sprint, 800 metres (0.50 mi) run, obstacle course or Steeplechase, weightlifting, soccer, rowing, tennis, basketball, bicycle racing, shooting and swimming. The sports have varied over time and between the various national and international competitions; in the first competition there was no obstacle course, but table tennis and baseball hitting were included, while the European versions featured a 600m Steeplechase, indoor cycling on a highly banked velodrome, and the infamous 'Gym Tests'.

Canadian soccer player Brian Budd was unbeaten in Superstars contests, winning the World Championship three times from 1978 to 1980, making him the most successful Superstar of all time.

British, European and International Superstars[edit]

1973 - Britain's Sporting Superstars[edit]

Dick Button, the creator of the US version of Superstars

Originally aired in the US by ABC in March 1973, Superstars was first broadcast in Britain on 31 December 1973 as "Britain's Sporting Superstars", closely following the American format. David Vine, who was the main presenter of the BBC programme from 1973 to 1985, said "in 1972, Ron Pickering, myself, Don Revie, Billy Bremner and TV producer Barney Colehan sat in a hotel in Leeds and formulated Superstars but the BBC dismissed the idea. Then Dick Button started it in the States and the BBC bought the rights".[1]

Recorded at Crystal Palace in August and promoted as a challenge between Britain's seven best sportsmen, the hard fought contest was won by the 1968 Olympic champion in the 400m hurdles, David Hemery, besting Jackie Stewart, Bobby Moore, Joe Bugner, Roger Taylor, Tony Jacklin and Barry John. Featuring the first ever gym test (devised by Pickering, and comprising circuit running, a medicine ball throw, parallel bar dips and squat thrusts) the event came down to the final steeplechase, where Hemery overcame a 100m handicap to pass Barry John with 60 metres left. Shown on New Year's Eve, the programme was a major success and was repeated the following year.[2]

1974 to 1977 - European Superstars[edit]

In the second event in 1974, World Light-Heavyweight boxing champion John Conteh comfortably beat an ill Hemery and Colin Bell to win the title, again at Crystal Palace.[3] Conteh credited the highly competitive nature of the competition with increasing his abilities as a boxer, the inception of this cross-sport contest quickly encouraged many top athletes to push themselves further, introducing the idea that the winner could claim to be the country's "top sportsman" and also provided an arena where recently retired champions (such as Hemery and Lynn Davies) could extend their careers.[4]

Following the success of the first two standalone UK competitions, in 1975 the British national Superstars contest was suspended, and the event was widened to include participants from continental Europe. Five preliminary heats were held, followed by a final at the Ahoy indoor arena in Rotterdam, famous for its banked, wooden cycling track. This proved to make Superstars a major hit, grabbing large audiences across the continent and paving the way for the International and World Superstars editions to follow.[5]

Memorable events in the first year of European Superstars included Malcolm Macdonald winning the 100m sprint in a Superstars record time of 10.9 seconds (after being made to run the race twice following the false start of another competitor), David Hemery being beaten by Dutch field hockey player Ties Kruize following a fall in the 600m Steeplechase, Swedish Discus thrower Ricky Bruch setting records in the weight lifting and medicine ball throw section of the gym tests and the first appearance of pole vaulter Kjell Isaksson, who dominated the final heat in Sweden, scoring a then record 69 (out of a possible 80) points.[6]

Before the final in Rotterdam, Kruize was badly injured in a car accident and was replaced by Hemery, who would eventually finish second. Dominating the event again was Kjell Isaksson, who won four of his eight events and finished second or third in three others, winning the title with an event to spare.

The rules for European Superstars allowed athletes to compete in "near specialist" events with a handicap, meaning that both Hemery and Isaksson were allowed to run in the 100m and Steeplechase, but only after giving the other finalists a head start. In the final 600m Steeplechase event Hemery had to make up a 100m handicap on his rivals in order to finish in overall second, and valiantly did so, but only after again falling badly at the water jump. Hitting the ground hard while challenging Isaksson for the lead, Hemery rose with a grimace of pain on his face then sprinted for the line, grabbing third. However, as soon as the race was over he collapsed, with the TV cameras showing huge swelling to his injured leg – he had run the last 100m with badly torn ankle ligaments.[7]

In 1976 national competitions were resumed and Hemery again became UK Superstar, beating Conteh and Formula 1 World Champion James Hunt easily. By now Hemery was a "professional Superstar", competing in Britain, Europe and the US, and devising his own training regime. His performances duly improved, and even though 1976 Olympic Judoka David Starbrook took his parallel bar dips record in the gym tests, Hemery was clearly Britain's top competitor.

Bjorn Borg won his heat in European Superstars at Vichy, but was unable to compete again because of scheduling conflicts with his tennis career. This was a common problem for several high profile European Superstars.

This was not the case in Europe however, where Isaksson again beat Hemery in the Swedish heat of the competition – this time even more comfortably. Two of the highest profile heat winners, Bjorn Borg and Kevin Keegan, would not be able to compete in the Rotterdam final due to scheduling conflicts, and would never again appear in any Superstars contest. Keegan's victory produced the most memorable moment of the year, when he crashed violently during the cycle racing in his heat. With deep cuts and abrasions to his arm, shoulder and back, the Liverpool footballer was expected to withdraw, but with a large crowd present to watch him he famously said "These people here in the stands have come here to see me make a fool of myself and they've got a right to it!", got back on his bike and won the re-ride! Keegan then easily won the steeplechase to finish the heat a hero, but like many of the highest profile performers, his schedule was too full to allow him to compete as regularly as the Superstars format demanded. Partially because of this, less renowned athletes like Isaksson came to dominate and be recognised outside of their specialisms.

In the Ahoy final the sublime Isaksson won five events and finished 20 points ahead of his nearest rival. The top eight finishers were also guaranteed a place at the inaugural World Superstars competition, to be held in the US the following year. With a new, more competitive era about to start, Isaksson was clearly Europe's top Superstar, though he would never again actually win a Superstars event.

1977 provided two new champions, with Isaksson taking part only in the World contest and David Hemery competing in American Superstars. In the UK national Superstars rower Tim Crooks beat future World's Strongest Man Geoff Capes in a tight contest, but he would fail to qualify for the European final, losing by one point to François Tracanelli in the Spanish heat. Representing Great Britain instead at the Ahoy final was Rugby League player Keith Fielding, who would go on to finish a close second, matching Hemery's best ever performance by a British Superstar.

The winner of 1977 European Superstars was the returning Ties Kruize, who was now fully recovered from his car crash. With just the indoor steeplechase left, Kruize was one point behind Jean-Paul Coche but five ahead of Fielding. With Coche having completed his events Fielding needed to win the final race, and hope that Kruize would finish no better than third, something he duly did. However, with Fielding already finished (and celebrating) Kruize passed speed skater Hans van Helden on the final straight to win by 2.5 points. An exhausted Fielding then told BBC TV that the loss was "a damn, bloody shame", but both qualified for the 1978 World Championship.

1978 to 1980 - Enter Brian Jacks[edit]

There was no UK national or European Superstars contest in 1978, but both events returned in 1979. First though came the new "Past Masters" event for competitors over 35, which was won with ease by Lynn Davies, the 1964 Olympic Long Jump champion. Next came the introduction of judoka Brian Jacks, who would become Britain's most famous Superstar. An all-round athlete, Jacks had enormous upper body strength and he quickly came to dominate the gym tests, setting records in both the dips and squat thrusts. In particular Jacks was phenomenal at parallel bar dips, breaking the existing record repeatedly. In the 1979 UK national final Jacks comprehensively beat the field, and then went on to compete in Rotterdam for the European title.

No Briton had ever won this title, but Jacks was a strong favourite. Defending his title was Ties Kruize, and though Jacks won the gym tests and set a new record time in the cycling – hurtling down the steeply banked track to the delight of the crowd in the Ahoy – Kruize would not give in. As the final event steeplechase approached Jacks had a small lead, but was out of events; though he was a talented all-round athlete and unbelievable competitor, Jacks did not enjoy the running events, and rarely participated in them. In this instance this was his downfall and Kruize was able to accumulate enough points in the steeplechase to join Jacks in a tie for first place. With no tie-breaking system in operation both men were crowned European Superstar, though Jacks did have the consolation that he had become the most successful British Superstar ever.

By now Superstars was regularly attracting over 10 million TV viewers in the UK, and Jacks became a national hero, appearing on children's TV shows and picking up endorsements usually beyond the reach of a minority sport participant. Superstars also expanded again in 1980, adding International Superstars to its list of programmes, though this was as a direct replacement for the European event. Although wildly popular in the UK, US, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Holland and Australia, Superstars reached its peak at the turn of the decade, and one by one (starting in Europe) the participating nations fell away.

Jacks succumbed to shingles in late 1979 so was unable to travel to The Bahamas for the World Championship, so he started the 1980 season with something to prove. Against him now was Daley Thompson, globally recognised as the top multi-sports athlete after his sensational victory in the 1980 Olympic Games decathlon competition. With Brian Budd in attendance for the UK National final, Brian Jacks took on Thompson, Steve Assinder from Basketball, pentathlete Danny Nightingale and the new "Past Master", former 400m hurdler John Sherwood, who won all his events in the heats, setting a new record. With new events like basketball included for the first time, Jacks was under pressure to show he was still the Superstar, and he did so with panache, winning his greatest victory.

In the gym tests Jacks scored an amazing 80 in the dips and 73 in the squat thrusts, and finished 18 points ahead of Sherwood in second place. Thompson could only finish third. John Sherwood in finishing in second place gained a place in the World Championships and with it the possibility of big prize money. To ensure that he was able to finish second Sherwood had to turn professional part-way through the competition in order to compete in the 100m (as his status as an amateur track and field athlete would normally have barred him from competing in this event). Although many amateur athletes (most notably Kjell Isaksson) had competed in Superstars since its inception, they had never been able to retain any prize money, with this instead going to their sport. In winning three World Superstar titles, Brian Budd won over $130,000, while Bob Seagren (the first World Champion) won over $200,000 – huge amounts in 1980.

For Sherwood – a PE teacher from Sheffield at this time, and not a full-time sportsman – the World Championship would prove to be a roaring success. The same could not be said for Jacks, who desperately wanted to prove his ability by becoming the first European to win the title. In The Bahamas both Britons won events: Jacks in the weightlifting and the gym tests – after an epic struggle against Brian Budd – and Sherwood in the bike race. However, it was Sherwood's two second-places in the football and 800 metres that propelled him into second place, with the cycling coming at Jacks' expense, and winning him $15000 in the process. He was officially now Britain's best ever Superstar, although he had still finished 26 points behind the imperious Budd.

For Jacks the magnificent demolition of British all-comers earlier in the season, and his International Superstars triumph in Israel were now only distant memories. In Israel he had beaten both of the other European Superstars champions (Ties Kruize and Kjell Isaksson) as well as 1980 Tour de France winner Joop Zoetemelk to claim the new title, but in The Bahamas he was outclassed. Budd and Jacks were similar types of athletes, good all round, and with a game-plan to win their key events and score well in the others. The problem for Jacks was Budd did this and he did not, and he lost by 31 points. His record breaking win in the World Championship gym tests (with an awe-inspiring 118 sliding squat thrusts) was his high-water mark. He had never before been beaten in any Superstars contest, and there could only be one way on from here, down.

1981 - The Challenge of the Champions[edit]

To start the 1981 season, the BBC decided to invite the most successful British Superstars back for a one-off "Challenge of the Champions" programme, featuring all the past winners of the UK National contest, as well as the two "Past Masters" and the two men who had won heats of European Superstars. Joining Brian Jacks were David Hemery, Keith Fielding, Lynn Davies, John Conteh, Tim Crooks, Malcolm MacDonald and John Sherwood.

This was arguably the strongest ever UK Superstars contest, and with so many competitive sportsmen present it was no surprise that records tumbled. Jacks was the heavy favourite, and duly won his 'banker' events, but his inability to compete in the running tests left him facing huge obstacles. His performance in the gym tests was simply astonishing, smashing his own parallel bars record in the starkly lit Cwmbran Stadium sports centre with an awesome 100 in 54 seconds; had he pushed himself all the way to the minute he could easily have added more. His innovative 'rocking' technique (like Budd's sliding squat thrusts) was widely copied, but none of his rivals could get anywhere near him, and though Sherwood again pushed him close in the squats section, in reality Jacks was in a class of one here.

The key to winning Superstars had become to gain maximum points in your best events and then to place as highly in the others – simple in theory, but appallingly hard in practice. Jacks usually dominated in the gym and weightlifting, and almost always also won the cycling and canoeing. That gave him a nominal 40 point head start on his rivals, but if this sequence could be disrupted, then Jacks was relying on picking up more points elsewhere. He never competed in the two running events and was a weaker shot that his rivals, so he was then faced with winning the basketball or swimming which were much more equal events. And in the Challenge of the Champions Keith Fielding was able to disrupt Jacks' strategy by enough to beat him.

Early on Jacks was looking good, beating Fielding in a record time to win the canoeing, but once Fielding had won the cycling Jacks was beaten. Fielding had entered the event hoping to take the Superstars 100m record first and foremost, and then to put up a good showing against Jacks. Now he was the ultimate champion.

The key had been his ability to score well throughout – he was second in the steeplechase for instance – and even losing his 'banker' (the 100m to David Hemery) was not a problem. By winning the steeplechase in the final event, Lynn Davies was able to push Jacks down into third place, and with injuries forcing the judoka to miss the 1981 British final later that season, this would be an ignominious end to his Superstars story. For Fielding, the forgotten man of 1978, this was a new dawn that he followed up by a second convincing win in the UK final.

Jody Scheckter famously won the 1981 World Superstars Championship after applying motor oil to his training shoes to help him slide faster during the squat thrusts contest.

Here, in a new venue Bath, the Rugby League winger reached his Superstars highpoint, dominating Davies, pentathlete Jim Fox and new challenger Andy Ripley from Rugby Union with a strong all-round performance. He had his share of luck (water skier Mike Hazelwood was tied in first place in the shooting when he mis-fired the decisive shot, gifting 10 points to Fielding) but he was on top form this season. He had every reason to believe he had a strong chance in both International and World Superstars later that year, but, as so often in Superstars, he could not hold his form; the ever increasing levels of competition saw him lose, first to a resurgent Ripley in the second International, then to a motor-oil powered Jody Schekter in the 1981 World Final. Again, Fielding would never win another Superstars event. The curse of the European champions seemed to be holding strong.

1982 - A British World Champion[edit]

Since 1978, the BBC had also produced an equally popular British Superteams event, which was dominated from the start by the "Athletes" – a team of Track and Field stars, who won every series but the final one in 1985. From 1979 a stand-out performer in this team was Brian Hooper, a pole-vaulter with an immense will to win. He first came to prominence in the 1979 Superteams final, failing to be able to jump onto a balance beam in the obstacle course event, and by 1982 he had blossomed into a fine, all-round performer.

Leading the 1982 Athletes team to Superteams victory, Hooper was trailed by the BBC as the new challenger to watch in that season's UK final. He was a strong swimmer, almost unbeatable in the canoeing and gym tests, and competitive in all his other events. And then he lost in his heat, to Karate fighter Vic Charles, and his promise seemed lost. However, Charles was unable to compete in the 1982 final, and Hooper was his replacement. He would go on to win his next five straight Superstars events, becoming two time British Superstar, three-time International Superstar, and the 1982 World Superstar Champion. Only Brian Budd has a better record in the competition.

Hooper's victory in the 1982 World Championship came at the expense of defending World Champion Jody Scheckter, and American Footballers James Lofton, Cris Collinsworth and Mark Gastineau. Hooper later stated that he felt pressured by the aggressive nature of the US challengers, which came to a head in the final of the bike race, where he found himself boxed in by several rivals all seemingly working in concert to hold him back. Charging through powerfully and fairly, Hooper finished comfortably in the lead, but was then faced with official protests, claiming he either took a short-cut off the track or otherwise acted illegally. He clearly had not, and was quickly declared the legitimate winner. Victories in the rowing and second place in the gym test and swimming saw him win by just 3/4 of a point from talented runner Lofton. He was however 10 3/4 points clear entering the final event (and thus guaranteed to win the title) and coasted through his obstacle course heat. As only the two fastest heat winners ran in the final, Hooper could not add to his tally. Lofton on the other hand had $10000 to fight for, and bested Renaldo Nehemiah in the final event, and duly took second place, something again he was virtually guaranteed before the event.

By now a professional Superstar (he won $37000 for the 1982 World Championship), Brian Hooper dominated British and International Superstars until he retired in 1984. He beat all of the major British Superstars of his era except Brian Jacks, who had previously retired through injury. Returning to the event age 50 in 2004, Hooper competed ably despite a torn pectoral muscle, finishing fourth against rivals at least 15 years younger than himself. Even now he still won the kayaking and came second in golf, almost making the final, beaten only in the end by an agonising uphill bike race.

1983 to 1985 - End of the first era[edit]

Though Brian Hooper continued to compete in (and dominate) Superstars events until he retired in 1984, he stopped competing in the UK national contest after 1983, and he was succeeded as national champion in 1984 by athlete Garry Cook. The 1983 championship was also notable for the record breaking performances of Des Drummond in the 100m, with the agile Leigh Rugby League player managing to lower the mark down to only 10.85 seconds, in itself a time comparable with many full-time track and field athletes who would compete in the 1984 Summer Olympics. The final also saw Hooper beat Vic Charles[8] (the only man ever to finish above him in any Superstars competition at that point).

In the 1984 final Garry Cook was pushed very close by professional stunt performer and motorcycle racer, Eddie Kidd, but he held on against a weaker field than usual to become champion. Cook also competed in the now more popular Superteams series, as part of the never-defeated 'Athletes' team, who were only finally beaten during the last season of the show in 1985. By now the BBC had decided that the programme was in need of 'freshening up' and had altered the format several times, changing the format of the gym tests to include bar jumps and adding computerised scoring to stop the trend of sliding squat thrusts. The programme was also moved to Portsmouth and took on a naval theme, adding a field gun competition in a bid to boost flagging ratings. The final series of Superteams was duly won by 'Watersports' (a team representing swimming, water-skiing and diving) which was led by Olympic swimmer Robin Brew who excelled at running events and also in the gym tests, where the bar jump became his speciality.

Continuing this success, Brew reached the final of the 1985 UK national championship where he narrowly beat a strong field, including Rugby League player Joe Lydon, Olympic silver medallist Judoka Neil Adams and then only a one-time Olympic gold medal winning rower, Steve Redgrave. The RAF officer then completed a successful first year in Superstars by becoming the last ever International champion, this time much more comfortably.

A new period of Superstars dominance could have evolved for Brew, but with the UK version being the only surviving national championship outside the United States, and no prospect of World Superstars being revived, once TWI decided to halt production of International Superstars the BBC version was soon cancelled as well. With viewing figures falling, and potential participants ever more pressurised into not entering by scheduling conflicts and insurance demands the BBC's decision to end the show was neither unexpected or mourned, and although David Vine, Ron Pickering and executive producer Peter Hylton Cleaver did fight to keep the show on air, it was all to no avail.

Over the next fifteen years, though the US version continued unabated, Superstars in the UK existed solely as a nostalgic memory for sporting clip shows, usually focussing on Kevin Keegan falling off his bike, Stan Bowles shooting the table instead of a target, or Brian Jacks eating oranges. During the 1990s BBC programmes (such as Fantasy Football League) regularly made use of this footage – and kept the show in the public spotlight – while Sky Sports began to show full-length programmes on its Sky Sports Classic channel. This, together with a new generation of television executives and sports presenters who grew up as fans of the show created interest in a revival, which finally happened as part of the 2002 Sport Relief charity event.

2002 to 2004 - Sport Relief and a new era[edit]

In 2002, the BBC held a one-off, but truncated, UK Championship as a major feature of its biannual Sport Relief charity telethon. Featuring a field including Sir Steve Redgrave, Martin Offiah, John Regis, Austin Healey and Chris Boardman, the event was a first for a British Superstars event in that it featured both non-British competitors (Dwight Yorke and Gianluca Vialli) and also female participants (Alex Coomber and Stephanie Cook).

Anthony Joshua won the British Men's National Superstars Championship during the 2012 Olympic Superstars edition.

With only seven events (as opposed to the usual eight or ten) and being only part of a larger event instead of being a stand-alone series, the contest was different from those of the earlier era.

While the participants were no less able, the event was less 'competitive', with no prize money at stake and no European, World or International contest to qualify for. It was dominated by Healey, who won four of his five events, and came runner-up in the other. Stephanie Cook was the other stand-out performer, finishing joint second with Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman, and finishing runner-up in two events.

The event was an overwhelming success,[9] and it inspired the BBC to create a new UK Championship series in 2003. Produced by TWI and held in La Manga in Spain, this time it was a full event with heats and a final, something that had not been part of the series since 1983.[10]

2012 - Olympic Superstars[edit]

Following the success of Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics, the BBC revived Superstars for a single special edition that aired on Saturday 29 December at 6.45pm, comprising a men's and women's UK championship. Presented by Gabby Logan, Iwan Thomas and Denise Lewis, the event was held on 24 & 25 November 2012, at the sports facilities of the University of Bath.

The show featured Olympic medallists who were coached for swimming by Rebecca Adlington, and the competitors were: Alistair Brownlee, Jonathan Brownlee, Mo Farah, Robbie Grabarz, Michael Jamieson, Anthony Joshua, Andrew Triggs Hodge, Peter Wilson, Nicola Adams, Lizzie Armitstead, Laura Bechtolsheimer, Gemma Gibbons, Helen Glover, Katherine Grainger, Jade Jones, Christine Ohuruogu.[11]

The Men's Championship was won comfortably by Olympic Super-heavyweight Boxing Champion Anthony Joshua, while the Women's Championship was won even more convincingly by women's coxless pairs Olympic champion Helen Glover. Joshua won with an event to spare, while Glover won her final event (the Gym Tests) to win the Women's Superstars title by 14 points.

List of British Men's National Superstars Champions[edit]

Position Athlete Sport Country
1973 – Crystal Palace
1st David Hemery 400 metre hurdles England England
2nd Barry John Rugby Union Wales Wales
3rd Joe Bugner Boxing England England
1974 – Crystal Palace
1st John Conteh Boxing England England
2nd David Hemery 400 metre hurdles England England
3rd Colin Bell Football England England
1975 – No Competition
1976 – Aldershot
1st David Hemery 400 metre hurdles England England
2nd John Conteh Boxing England England
3rd James Hunt Formula 1 England England
1977 – Aldershot
1st Tim Crooks Rowing England England
2nd Geoff Capes Shot put England England
3rd Dave Boy Green Boxing England England
1978 – No Competition
1979 – Harlow
1st Brian Jacks Judo England England
2nd Lynn Davies Long Jump Wales Wales
3rd Andy Irvine Rugby Union Scotland Scotland
1980 – Cwmbran
1st Brian Jacks Judo England England
2nd John Sherwood 400 metre hurdles England England
3rd Daley Thompson Decathlon England England
1981 – Bath
1st Keith Fielding Rugby League England England
2nd Andy Ripley Rugby Union England England
3rd Mike Hazelwood Water Skiing England England
1981 – Challenge of the Champions – Bath
1st Keith Fielding Rugby League England England
2nd John Sherwood 400 metre hurdles England England
3rd Brian Jacks Judo England England
1982 – Bath
1st Brian Hooper Pole Vault England England
2nd Alan Lerwill Long Jump England England
3rd Keith Fielding Rugby League England England
1983 – Bath
1st Brian Hooper Pole Vault England England
2nd Des Drummond Rugby League England England
3rd Vic Charles Judo England England
1984 – Bath
1st Garry Cook 400 metres England England
2nd Eddie Kidd Stunt performer England England
3rd Peter Elliott 800 metres England England
1985 – Portsmouth
1st Robin Brew Swimming Scotland Scotland
2nd Joe Lydon Rugby League England England
3rd Steve Redgrave Rowing England England
1986 to 2001 – No Competitions
2002 – Sport Relief – Bath
1st Austin Healy Rugby Union England England
2nd Stephanie Cook Modern Pentathlon England England
2nd Chris Boardman Individual Pursuit England England
2003 – La Manga
1st Du'aine Ladejo 400 metres England England
2nd Alain Baxter Slalom skiing Scotland Scotland
3rd Jamie Baulch 400 metres Wales Wales
2004 – La Manga
1st Alain Baxter Slalom skiing Scotland Scotland
2nd Du'aine Ladejo 400 metres England England
3rd Steve Williams Rowing England England
2005 to 2011 – No Competitions
2012 – Bath
1st Anthony Joshua Boxing England England
2nd Michael Jamieson Swimming Scotland Scotland
3rd Alistair Brownlee Triathlon England England
  • In 2002 Stephanie Cook and Chris Boardman finished as joint-runners up of the British Championship.

List of British Women's National Superstars Champions[edit]

Helen Glover won the British Women's National Superstars Championship during the 2012 Olympic Superstars edition of the show.
Year Athlete Sport Country
1977 Gillian Gilks Badminton England England
1978 No Competition
1979 Val Robinson Field Hockey England England
1980 Anne Hobbs Tennis England England
1980 – 2003: No Competition
2003 Zoë Baker Swimming England England
Lesley McKenna Snowboarding Scotland Scotland
2004 Denise Lewis Heptathlon England England
2005 – 2011: No Competition
2012 Helen Glover Rowing England England
  • In 2003 Zoë Baker and Lesley McKenna finished as joint-winners of the British Women's Championship.

List of European and International Superstars Champions[edit]

Position Athlete Sport Country
European Champions
1975 – Rotterdam, Netherlands
1st Kjell Isaksson Pole Vault Sweden Sweden
2nd David Hemery 400 metre hurdles Great Britain United Kingdom
3rd Ard Schenk Speed skating Netherlands Netherlands
1976, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1st Kjell Isaksson Pole Vault Sweden Sweden
2nd Johan Granath Speed skating Sweden Sweden
3rd Karl Schnabl Ski Jumping Austria Austria
1977, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1st Ties Kruize Field Hockey Netherlands Netherlands
2nd Keith Fielding Rugby League Great Britain United Kingdom
3rd Jean-Paul Coche Judo France France
1978 – No Competition
1979, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1st Ties Kruize Field Hockey Netherlands Netherlands
1st Brian Jacks Judo Great Britain United Kingdom
3rd Otti Roethof Karate Netherlands Netherlands
International Champions
1980, Netanya, Israel
1st Brian Jacks Judo Great Britain United Kingdom
2nd Kjell Isaaksson Pole Vault Sweden Sweden
3rd Ties Kruize Field Hockey Netherlands Netherlands
1981, Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
1st Andy Ripley Rugby Union Great Britain United Kingdom
1982, Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
1st Brian Hooper Pole Vault Great Britain United Kingdom
2nd Des Drummond Rugby League Great Britain United Kingdom
1983, Christchurch, New Zealand
1st Brian Hooper Pole Vault Great Britain United Kingdom
1984, Christchurch, New Zealand
1984 Brian Hooper Pole Vault Great Britain United Kingdom
1985'
1985 Robin Brew Swimming Great Britain United Kingdom
  • In 1979 Ties Kruize and Brian Jacks finished as joint-winners of the European Championship.

Miscellany and Records[edit]

  • One of the European competitors was Ivo Van Damme, a middle-distance runner who was killed in a road accident in 1976.
  • For most of the duration of the run of this programme on BBC TV, the programmes' producer was Peter Hylton Cleaver.
  • Brian Jacks had a computer game based on the competition, Brian Jacks Superstar Challenge, named after him.
  • In the spin-off called The Superteams a memorable moment was when British athlete Garry Cook played goalkeeper in the six-a-side hockey contest without wearing a helmet, running out of the D circle and tackling an opponent.
  • On 29 April 2008 it was announced that the show would be returning on Five for the summer of 2008.[12] It was produced by TWI with eight one-hour shows. In a change of format, the competitors were split into four teams, captained by Kelly Holmes, Steve Redgrave, Roger Black and Mike Catt.
  • After each event, the competitor who is ranked first gains 10 points, the next best ranked gets 7, then 4, 2 and then finally 1 point. These points are then totalled up to give a total out of 80 (from a maximum of eight events). Lynn Davies won seven of his eight events in the 1979 UK Past Masters contest and scored 70 points (a record).

United States Superstars[edit]

The Superstars was first broadcast by ABC Sports as a two-hour special in 1973. Bob Seagren, an Olympic pole vault gold medalist, was the first winner. However, it was heavyweight champion boxer Joe Frazier who nearly stole the show. In the very first event, the 50 meter swimming heats, Frazier nearly drowned, and only after he was retrieved from the pool did he admit to commentators that he didn't know how to swim. When a reporter asked him why he tried the race, Frazier replied, "How was I to know I couldn't unless I tried it?" He also famously opined, "That Mark Spitz," (who had won several gold medals for swimming at the 1972 Olympics) "is a tough muthafucker!"[citation needed]

Spin-offs included a women's version of the show, and a Superteams version, where the two World Series and Super Bowl teams each faced off (except that the owner of the New York Yankees at the time prohibited his players from competing, so in years where the Yankees were in the World Series, their league's runner-up competed instead), with the winners competing in the finals. There were also brief runs of versions for celebrities and for juniors, where each state's Department of Education was asked to nominate one high school, and those schools each sent one boy and one girl to qualifying rounds, with the final aired on TV.

The show remained popular in the 1970s, but ratings declined and the last edition produced by ABC came in 1984. NBC Sports picked up the program the next year and carried it from 1985 to 1990. ABC took the show back in 1991, and broadcast it through 1994. During a three-year period (1991–1993) the event was held in Cancun, Mexico. The competitions were held in different areas of Cancun Palace and Melia Cancun hotels. During that period former great NFL players Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdof and Lynn Swann worked as commentators of the Superstars Tournament.

There was no American version for three years (1995–1997) then ABC revived the show in 1998 and broadcast it through 2002. CBS Sports picked up the show the next year.

Several athletes won the event two or more times. Among them:

Speed skater Anne Henning won three straight women's competitions (1976–78). Basketball player Ann Meyers matched that feat in 1981 through 1983. Volleyball player Linda Fernandez won two straight events in 1979 and 1980.

List of American National Superstars Champions[edit]

Year Athlete Sport State Flag
1973 Bob Seagren Pole Vault California Flag of California.svg
1974 Kyle Rote, Jr. Soccer Texas Flag of Texas.svg
1975 O. J. Simpson Football California Flag of California.svg
1976 Kyle Rote, Jr. Soccer Texas Flag of Texas.svg
1977 Kyle Rote, Jr. Soccer Texas Flag of Texas.svg
1978 Wayne Grimditch Water Skiing Florida Flag of Florida.svg
1979 Greg Pruitt Football Texas Flag of Texas.svg
1980 Charles White Football California Flag of California.svg
1981 Renaldo Nehemiah Track and field New Jersey Flag of New Jersey.svg
1982 Renaldo Nehemiah Track and field New Jersey Flag of New Jersey.svg
1983 Renaldo Nehemiah Football New Jersey Flag of New Jersey.svg
1984 Tom Petranoff Javelin Illinois Flag of Illinois.svg
1985 Mark Gastineau Football Oklahoma Flag of Oklahoma.svg
1986 Renaldo Nehemiah Football New Jersey Flag of New Jersey.svg
1987 Herschel Walker Football Georgia Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg
1988 Herschel Walker Football Georgia Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg
1989 Willie Gault Football Georgia Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg
1990 Willie Gault Football Georgia Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg
1991 Kelly Gruber Baseball Texas Flag of Texas.svg
1992 Mike Powell Long Jump Pennsylvania Flag of Pennsylvania.svg
1993 Dave Johnson Decathlon North Dakota Flag of North Dakota.svg
1994 Dave Johnson Decathlon North Dakota Flag of North Dakota.svg
1995 – 1997: Competition Not Held
1998 Jason Sehorn Football California Flag of California.svg
1999 Jason Sehorn Football California Flag of California.svg
2000 Jason Sehorn Football California Flag of California.svg
2001 Hermann Maier Alpine Skiing Austria Flag of Austria.svg
2002 Bode Miller Alpine Skiing New Hampshire Flag of New Hampshire.svg
2003 Jeremy Bloom Freestyle Skiing Colorado Flag of Colorado.svg

2009 edition[edit]

In 2009 the franchise was revived for ABC. The Superstars paired athletes and celebrities to compete as a team. Kristi Leskinen (Freestyle Skiing) and Maksim Chmerkovskiy (Ballroom Dancing) won the competition.

Obstacle Course variations[edit]

The popular obstacle course was the final event of the original Superstars to determine the overall winner. The Superteams version featured the obstacle course as an earlier event. The original course had the contestants climb a 12' rope wall, run through a tubular tunnel, push a blocking sled (or traverse across monkey bars in the Women's and Superteams versions), cleanly step through a dozen tires (2 rows of 6), jump over a water hazard (rectangular pool of water), clear a 4'6" high bar, jump two sets of hurdles and cross the FINISH line. Penalty seconds were added for missing tires, stepping in the water hazard and knocking down the high bar and/or hurdles. Some athletes have shown super skills on this course by climbing the wall without using the rope and clearing the high bar like a hurdle.

For the 2009 "elimination event" version, contestants have to climb a rope wall, duck under four rope hurdles (2 sets side-by-side) (this was changed mid-season to a balance beam just over 3-inches wide), cleanly step through a bungee grid, ascend and descend a large ramp, push through a large door-like block, jump two sets of hurdles, run through a cargo net and cross the FINISH line.

SuperTeams[edit]

A companion competition, this event would pit the two World Series teams and the two Super Bowl teams in a playoff-type match using all the Superstars events, with some team events added such as Hawaiian rowing and the Tug-of-War. The running, swimming, and cycling events were relays, with the cycling done on tandem bikes; the obstacle course (which had its blocking sleds replaced by monkey bars similar to those used in the women's competition, as it was felt that the football teams would have too much of an advantage over the baseball teams) was decided by best combined time. The team that won the most events in each semi-final advanced to the SuperTeams finals where an ultimate champions would be crowned.[13] The New York Yankees advanced to the World Series in 1977, 1978, and 1981, and was eligible to participate in these events held the early in the following year, however Yankees owner George Steinbrenner refused to allow his players to compete, as he had several of his top players under lucrative long term guaranteed contracts that required players to get ownership permission to participate in outside athletic activities, which in this case Steinbrenner refused to grant. In those years, loser of the ALCS in those years took the Yankees place, and in all three years that team ultimately won the competition.

In the 1978 final, the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Royals split the first six events, so the tug-of-war would decide the winner. However, while there was a time limit in the preliminary rounds, there was none in the final, and after 75 minutes in which neither team came particularly close to winning, the organizers declared the event (and, as a result, the competition) a tie.

SuperTeams Winners[edit]

World Superstars[edit]

1977 – Callaway Gardens, Georgia, US[edit]

1977 World Superstars Championship Final Result

Place Athlete Sport Country
1st Bob Seagren Pole Vault United States United States
2nd Kjell Isaksson Pole Vault Sweden Sweden
3rd Peter Snell 1500 metres New Zealand New Zealand
Bob Seagren won the inaugural World Superstars Championship at Callaway Gardens in Georgia in 1977.

In 1976, following the success of the Superstars programme in the US, Britain and mainland Europe, Dick Button and American host broadcaster ABC decided to organise a World Superstars Final, to be held the following March at Callaway Gardens in Georgia.

The participants in the inaugural "World Superstars Championship" were to be the competitors from across the various national and continental versions of the show with the best records in the previous years, and as such the US was to be represented by its previous national champions Bob Seagren, O. J. Simpson, and three time reigning current champion Kyle Rote, Jr.. The rest of the participants were to be drawn from the top six finishers from the 1976 European Superstars final, the top six from the US version in 1977, and the winner of the 1976 Canadian Superstars event. In reality, as was always an issue for Superstars, several competitors withdrew in the weeks before the contest, with Rote and Simpson pulling out just a week before taping, leaving a slightly weakened field headed by Seagren, double European champion Kjell Isaksson, Canadian champion Tony Gabriel and the joint runners-up from the US final Guy Drut and Dave Casper.

Aside from the withdrawals of Rote and Simpson the other major omission from the field was the double British champion and 1975 European runner-up David Hemery who was currently studying at university in the US, and had failed to qualify for the 1976 European final after finishing a narrow third in his heat. Had he paddled his Kayak 0.4 seconds faster or scored two more points in the pistol shooting he would have made the final, and with other strong European challengers (like Ties Kruize, Kevin Keegan and Björn Borg) also absent, the European challenge was significantly poorer.

The contest started with Rowing, where Peter Snell capitalised on a mistake from fellow athlete Frank Nusse to win the first ten points, then the penalty shoot-out. Here Gareth Edwards was one kick away from winning nearly $5000, but he fluffed his final shot and had to settle for a five-way tie for second place, while Guy Drut easily won the play-off, and took the money. After this it became a two-way contest between the two pole-vaulters, Isaksson and Seagren.

Controversially, Seagren (by nature of being retired from IAAF competition) was allowed to run in the track and field events, while Isaksson was not. Seagren later admitted that this gave him a major advantage over his younger, Swedish rival, as running was a fundamental part of any pole-vaulter's training regime, and thus they had to be favoured in such events. While Seagren was unable to win the 100 yard sprint, he did score two points, and his win in the half-mile race gave him a further ten. Isaksson countered with a win in the gym tests and two second place finishes in the bike race and weightlifting. Seagren however kept competing strongly and his victory in the swimming and second place in the gym tests saw him take a 33 points to 30 lead over Snell and Isaksson into the final event: the obstacle course.

This event was not held in Europe, and therefore Isaksson was attempting it for the first time. In the heats Isaksson ran a time of 25.81 seconds, while Snell was far behind with 29.2 seconds. Seagren however, with much more experience in the event, ran 0.8 seconds faster than the Swede, finishing in 24.64 seconds. His loss in the final to record holder Lynn Swann was irrelevant; the seven points for second place made him the first World Superstars Champion, and won him $37,000 in the process.

1978 - Freeport, Bahamas[edit]

1978 World Superstars Championship Final Result

Place Athlete Sport Country
1st Brian Budd Soccer Canada Canada
2nd Bob Seagren Pole Vault United States United States
3rd Greg Pruitt American Football United States United States

With the Superstars franchise nearing its zenith of popularity, the World Championship returned in 1978 with a 12-man field consisting of the national champions from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the top three finishers from the 1977 European Superstars final, and the top five from the 1978 US National Championship. Completing the line-up was the returning champion, Bob Seagren.

Though the 1977 runner-up Kjell Isaksson was missing (he would not compete in Superstars again until 1980), Europe was strongly represented by Jean-Paul Coche, Keith Fielding and Ties Kruize, while Wayne Grimditch, Greg Pruitt and Dwight Stones (who could famously jump up the 10-feet high obstacle course wall in one stride) represented the US. It was the Canadian champion however, Brian Budd, who would completely dominate the contest, and World Superstars for the next three years.

Budd was an strong all-round athlete, his soccer training covering swimming, running, bike racing and gym work. He also understood that the key to winning Superstars was to win as many points as possible in the events you were good at, and to hold on for as many points as possible in the others. And he was nearly unbeatable in the gym, half-mile race and the swimming, and more than competent in cycling and rowing. In 1978 he won 44 points from these five events alone, ten points more than he needed to become World Champion.

In the 100 yard dash, joint favourites Greg Pruitt and Keith Fielding were both unbeaten in the 100 yards/metres, and a fabulous race was in prospect. Budd got off to a blistering start – according to the UK commentator Ron Pickering it was 'a flyer'[14] – and led in the first 30 yards, but Pruitt, then Fielding accelerated, and the two had a large lead over the rest of the field. As they approached the finish line, Fielding pulled onto Pruitt's shoulder, then leaned as the two crossed the line together. Without photo-finish equipment the result had to be called from hand-timing only. Fielding was given a time of 9.97 seconds; Pruitt had officially run 9.96. Fielding believed he had won, as did the BBC commentators covering the final. Fielding's challenge was teetering, and in the half-mile run the searing Caribbean heat and a crazy pace he had attempted to catch up with Budd cost him physically; he collapsed of heat exhaustion and had to receive first aid and oxygen from Ron Pickering at track-side.

Fielding eventually battled on bravely to finish fifth (and top European), but it was Bob Seagren who again gave the strongest challenge. His consistent performances won him a clear second place, but he was still 14 points behind Budd. The Canadian had joked and fooled his way through the contest, but it was all a very good act. He was far and away the best multi-disciplined athlete in the field, and he would prove just as unbeatable in the following two years.

1979 - Freeport, Bahamas[edit]

1979 World Superstars Championship Final Result

Place Athlete Sport Country
1st Brian Budd Soccer Canada Canada
2nd Wayne Grimditch Water Skiing United States United States
3rd Greg Pruitt American Football United States United States

The third World Championship was held in March 1979, again in the sweltering heat of Freeport, Bahamas. Budd returned as reigning World and Canadian champion (and strong favourite) with Pruitt back as well, but this time as US National Champion. The European challenge was again restricted by injury and conflicting commitments, and was restricted to three competitors: UK runner-ups Lynn Davies and Dave Boy Green and Irish Superstars champion Pat Spillane. The 1979 European Superstars final had finished with Ties Kruize and Brian Jacks joint-winners, but both had missed out on The Bahamas through injury. If Europe was perhaps under represented, then the US challenge was as formidable as ever, with Pruitt, Wayne Grimditch, Jim Taylor and Joe Theismann all qualifying. Completing the line-up were two invited challengers – not Hemery, Isaksson, Fielding or Kyle Rote though. Instead the organisers had asked both Emerson Fittipaldi and Rafael Septien to 'make up the numbers', even though only Fittipaldi had ever entered Superstars before, both in the US and Europe, but neither time with any success. They did however represent Brazil and Mexico respectively, and thus increase the media interest in the contest in Latin America. They would have little impact on the final.

That was not the case for Budd, who dominated again, winning three events comprehensively, setting new records in the swimming and half-mile run in the process. He also finished third in every other event he competed in, winning the title by thirteen points this time. While Grimditch and Pruitt won multiple events, they could not match Budd's consistency. Neither could the best European, Lynn Davies, who finished second in four events but disappointed in the weightlifting and gym tests. In the end only two points separated second to fourth, with Grimditch beating Pruitt for second on count-back, and Davies two points back in fourth.

Budd had set new standards, and most viewers thought him unbeatable. There was only one caveat to this victory. The top Europeans Kruize and Jacks were not present, and with Jacks in particular even more dominant in the gym tests than Budd there were questions asked about what he could have achieved. They would meet a year later.

1980 - Freeport, Bahamas[edit]

1980 World Superstars Championship Final Result

Place Athlete Sport Country
1st Brian Budd Soccer Canada Canada
2nd John Sherwood 400 metre hurdles Great Britain United Kingdom
3rd Brian Jacks Judo Great Britain United Kingdom

Brian Budd won by the largest margin ever in the World Championship, winning three of the sports and finishing second in four. Because this was his third consecutive championship, he was not allowed to participate in any more Superstars competitions.

1981 - Key Biscayne, Florida, US[edit]

1981 World Superstars Championship Final Result

Place Athlete Sport Country
1st Jody Scheckter Auto racing South Africa South Africa
2nd Declan Burns Kayaking Republic of Ireland Republic of Ireland
3rd Russ Francis American Football United States United States

1982 - Key Biscayne, Florida, US[edit]

1982 World Superstars Championship Final Result

Place Athlete Sport Country
1st Brian Hooper Pole Vault Great Britain United Kingdom
2nd James Lofton American Football United States United States
3rd Cris Collinsworth American Football United States United States

List of World Superstars Champions[edit]

Year Athlete Sport Country
1977 Bob Seagren Pole Vault United States United States
1978 Brian Budd Soccer Canada Canada
1979 Brian Budd Soccer Canada Canada
1980 Brian Budd Soccer Canada Canada
1981 Jody Scheckter Auto racing South Africa South Africa
1982 Brian Hooper Pole Vault Great Britain United Kingdom

Music[edit]

For the British, European and International version of the show, and in all episodes broadcast in the UK (regardless of where the episode originated) the theme music is "Heavy Action",[15] written by Johnny Pearson. The strong association of the theme music to Superstars has led to the music being frequently misidentified as "Superstars",[16] even though it is used in other countries as the theme to other sports events (ABC and ESPN use the theme during coverage of Monday Night Football in the United States).

While not necessarily written specifically for the UK version of Superstars (with Heavy Action instead being written by Pearson for the BBC music library in 1970 while he was working on Top of the Pops), the music has now become synonymous with both Superstars in the UK, and indeed sport in general, still regularly used by the BBC on sports shows, such as during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The ABC version in the 1970s and 1980s also used an instrumental version of Superstar (from Jesus Christ Superstar) as its theme.

References[edit]

External links[edit]