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SPORTING LIFE

From a pond plunge to green jacket to olive wreath, victory has many traditions

When Lydia Ko tried archery as a kid, a teacher suggested she stick to golf. Understandably. Bows weren't necessary because with a wedge she could make Katniss Everdeen blush. On Sunday, she won her second Major with an 88-yard shot on the final hole to one foot of the flag. She smiled. Like assassins do.

Her rival, Ariya Jutanugarn, had driven into water and now Ko had to dive into it. In front of the cameras. While looking cool.

Tradition can be stressful.

In 1988, back when Michael Jackson was still being danced to, Amy Alcott won the Nabisco Dinah Shore event and at the urging of her caddie leapt into the water surrounding the 18th green which was subsequently named Poppie's Pond.

A joyous whim at the Mission Hills Country Club gave birth to tradition. A spontaneous leap has turned into carefully-designed plunges. On YouTube there is a video rating the Top 10 victory leaps into the water. Next, judges will be giving points for artistic merit. No wonder Ko spoke to people to ask, "Hey, how should I jump, how do I make it cool".

Traditions can be idle but the best ones cement sport, they connect past to present, they allow athletes to walk in ancient footsteps. In an engaging, new documentary by Fox Sports on Joseph Schooling, the swimmer points to a board above his doorway at his Texas home which says: Ian Crocker 44.72. Since he beat Crocker's 100 yards butterfly record, he now, according to his Texas college tradition, gets to keep the board forever.

At least her soaking was more animated than Angelique Kerber's sedate entry into Melbourne's Yarra River on winning the Australian Open. But it was understandable. The Yarra is occasionally polluted with minor stuff such as sewage. Poppie's Pond, however, has been deepened - after Stacy Lewis' mother hurt her leg while jumping - and is drained and scrubbed every year.

After the plunge, Ko was draped in a bathrobe. On Sunday, at the Masters, the winner will be cloaked in a jacket, which is a perfect advertisement for golf's elitism: Footballers celebrate by taking off shirts, golfers by adding an extra layer of clothing.

From ancient times, golfers have worn unsightly hats, beastly breeches and, on victory, colourful jackets. The winner of the European Masters gets a red one, at the Australian Masters it's gold, at the Colonial it is plaid and at the Masters it is green.

You would like to think the Green Jacket - single-breasted and not Made in India as far as we know - had some devastatingly romantic story behind it. Not quite. It emerged in 1937 so that club members could be easily identified by guests. Twelve years later it was handed out to champions who treat it as if they're being outfitted in a cape. Of course Superman, aka Tiger Woods, slept in his.

The Masters champions get a sterling replica of a trophy made of "900 separate pieces of silver" and a gold medallion, but it's the jacket we remember. In a fast-changing planet, such tradition offers reassurance. Even if it involves an adrenaline-crazed dude drinking milk.

Champagne as a post-victory tipple is a cliche; milk as a celebratory drink makes for an original formula. In 1936, Louis Meyer celebrated his victory at the Indianapolis 500 with some buttermilk. A milk executive, with a brilliant marketing eye, saw the photo, pushed for the practice to continue and the rest is wholesome history.

It is a cute tradition but with an amusingly modern spin: In case they win, drivers select the milk they want before the race: fat-free, whole, 2 per cent or lactose-free. Perhaps a similar choice will be extended at the 100th anniversary of the race this year when 100,000 milk packs will be distributed to fans. Together they will create the world's fastest and healthiest toast.

Traditions can be idle but the best ones cement sport, they connect past to present, they allow athletes to walk in ancient footsteps. In an engaging, new documentary by Fox Sports on Joseph Schooling, the swimmer points to a board above his doorway at his Texas home which says: Ian Crocker 44.72. Since he beat Crocker's 100 yards butterfly record, he now, according to his Texas college tradition, gets to keep the board forever.

Ice hockey players, however, who win the Stanley Cup get to keep the trophy for a day. It is possibly the most elegant tradition in sport for it offers a sense of ownership. Accompanied by a white-gloved chaperone, the Cup is taken by players to home towns, paraded in hospitals and parks, brandished in cemeteries and churches, used to chill drinks and apparently to baptise children.

It is a glorious custom but of all sporting traditions in victory the most stylish one has gone. Before gold medals were first awarded at the 1904 Olympics, champions at the Ancient Olympics were given a crown of olive.

It was - legend has it - a wreath of wild olive, made from the branches of a tree planted near the temple of Zeus, which were cut with a golden sickle by a boy whose parents had to be living.

But in Ludwig Drees' book, Olympia: Gods, Artists And Athletes, he clarifies that before the wreaths emerged, another trophy was in use. Indeed, Coroebus of Elis, the Games' first winner, earned a rather prosaic prize for his deeds.

An apple.

Not the most long-lasting of prizes, but perhaps a perfectly apt one. Coroebus, after all, was a cook.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'From a pond plunge to green jacket to olive wreath, victory has many traditions'. Print Edition | Subscribe