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Competing for Triple Crowns

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

The Triple Crown Is More Than Horse Racing

For Americans, the Triple Crown means a horse winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, but there are many other triple crowns. Triple crowns usually mark sporting achievements, but there are other endeavors that are celebrated with three victories.

The nearest the writer is going to get to a triple crown is three pints of best bitter at a single sitting in a pub.

The nearest the writer is going to get to a triple crown is three pints of best bitter at a single sitting in a pub.

Triple Crowns on Wheels

The Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, and the Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championships make up the Triple Crown of bicycle racing. Some cycling aficionados say La Vuelta in Spain takes the place of the Road World Championships.

To complete the Italian, French, and Spanish races, riders must peddle their way over more than 10,000 km (6,200 miles) through cities and villages and up and down mountains. The three races combined take up 72 days with three days of rest in each race, and it all takes places over 14 weeks from early June to mid-September. The Road World Championships is a one-day event.

The Cycling Triple Crown involving Italy, France, and Spain is a grueling test of stamina and nobody has won all three in one season. Two men have claimed the Triple Crown of the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, and the Road World Championships—Eddy Merckx of Belgium in 1974 and Stephen Roche of Ireland in 1987.

But surely, an asterix must go against both names because of doping allegations. Merckx and Roche say they always rode clean by drug use is endemic in the world of professional cycling. Those who follow the sport say it's extremely difficult for a clean rider to be successful. And, it's dangerous.

Cycling Magazine lists 17 professional riders who have died as a result of doping since 1967.

Eddy Merckx

Eddy Merckx

Another wheeled sport that takes the lives of those participating is automobile racing—many hundreds of them. Motorsport also has a triple crown, albeit an unofficial one. It involves winning the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500, and the 24-hour race at Le Mans, and it doesn't have to be in the same year. In fact it can't be in the same year because the Formula One calendar often clashes with the other two.

Capturing the motorsport triple crown requires mastering three dissimilar disciplines; the twisty narrow streets of Monte Carlo, the high-speed oval of Indianapolis, and driving as a team in sports car class of Le Mans. notes that “The tools a driver must use, the depth of skill they have to harness, even the cars are wildly disparate. The Triple Crown requires a mastery of not just car control but true racecraft. And yes, you also need a hell of a lot of luck.”

Only one person has ever completed the challenge—Britain's Graham Hill. Between 1963 and 1969, he won the Monaco Grand Prix five times and he won the Indy 500 in 1966, while capping off the triplicate with Le Mans in 1972.

Thoroughbred Triple Crowns

Three-year-old thoroughbred horses compete for the Triple Crown trophy every spring in the running of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.

The first horse to win all three races was Sir Barton in 1919 but there was no trophy back then and even the title didn't emerge until 1930. Of the roughly, 4,500 horses that have been entered, just 13 have won the Triple Crown; the most recent being Justify in 2018. The American triple crown is run in a short time frame of May and June and the distances are one-and-a-quarter to one-and-a-half miles.

The English Triple Crown is a bit different. To start with it's been run since 1809. The first race is the 2,000 Guineas Stakes (one mile) in late April/early May, followed by the Epsom Derby in June (one-and-a-half miles), and the St. Leger Stakes in September (one-and-three-quarters miles.

In all its long history, the English Triple Crown has only been claimed by 15 horses, and it hasn't been won since 1970.

Dozens of other countries—India, France, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan, Kenya, and Spain to name a few—have triple crown champions.

And then, there's Buttercup. She's a miniature donkey and she has won the Western Pack Burro Association's Triple Crown twice. These are endurance races in which pack animals carrying a gold miner's equipment and accompanied by a runner, compete over distances of up to 29 miles.

Secretariat is judged by many to have been the greatest thoroughbred ever.

Secretariat is judged by many to have been the greatest thoroughbred ever.

Triple Crown of Acting

“The Triple Crown of Acting is a term used in the American acting community to describe actors who have won a competitive Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award in acting categories” (Internet Movie Database).

The Academy Award, better known as the Oscar, is for excellence in motion pictures. It is voted on by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Actors who have won as part of the triple crown include: Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, 1962), Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman, 1992), and Helen Mirren (The Queen, 2006).

The much-coveted Oscar art deco statuette.

The much-coveted Oscar art deco statuette.

The Emmy Award for acting first appeared in 1949 and its first recipient was ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale. Emmies are awarded for excellence in television and have expanded to at least three iterations. Notable recipients for acting who have gone on to claim the Triple Crown of Acting include: Jason Robards (Inherit the Wind, 1988), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, 2011), and, Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder, 2015).

The word “Emmy” is a corruption of television crew slang for “immy,” which was a device used in television cameras called an image orthicon.

The Tony Award is named after actor/producer Antoinette Perry. The initial awards were handed out in 1947 and recognize the highest levels of achievement in plays and musicals on Broadway. Winners as part of the triple include, Rita Moreno (The Ritz, 1975), Christopher Plummer (Barrymore, 1997), and Jessica Lange (Long Day's Journey into Night, 2016).

The Triple Crown of Acting has been won just 24 times—15 times by women and nine times by men.

Some Other Triple Crowns

The Appalachian Trail (2,160 miles), the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles), and the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles) comprise the Triple Crown of Hiking. That's almost 8,000 miles of hiking, often over rough ground. Each trail has to be completed in a single hike; there's no doing stretches of a few hundred miles and taking a break.

About 400 people have so far completed the challenge and the American Long-Distance Hiking Association-West established the Triple Crown of Hiking “To honor these individuals and their enormous accomplishment . . .”

About 4,000 people take on the Appalachian Trial each year but only around 1,000 complete it.

Surely, a case can be made for the Triple Crown of Wrestling to be included in the Triple Crown of Acting. The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) sponsors this grappling fest that involves winning the WWF Championship, Intercontinental Championship, and World Tag Team Championship. There are various other triple crowns awarded by several of the professional wrestling promoters, but all winners get similar and massively gaudy belts to mark their achievements.

Sadly, Haystacks Calhoun (601 pounds) did not win the Wrestling Triple Crown during his career; neither did Happy “Squasher” Humphrey (802 pounds).

Happy Humphrey a man of large athletic performances.

Happy Humphrey a man of large athletic performances.

Bonus Factoids

  • There is, of course, a triple crown in baseball, but it involves such arcane compilations of statistics that no mere mortal in the writing trade can understand it.
  • Triple crowns adorn the national coat of arms and flag of Sweden and nobody is quite sure why they are used as an emblem.
  • Several sports have grand slams that usually consist of winning four major tournaments in a single season. Golf's Grand Slam is the Masters, The United States Professional Golfer's Association Tournament, the U.S. Open, and the British Open. Nobody has won it. Tiger Woods came close by winning three of the classic tournaments in 2000, and the fourth in 2001. But, the true Grand Slam of Golf requires all four be won in a calendar year. American amateur golfer Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930 but it was made up of different tournaments at the time.


© 2022 Rupert Taylor