The Titanic Hit an Iceberg: This Day in Sports History

The Titanic
The Titanic / Central Press/Getty Images

Late at night on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg. Long before a movie would be made about that, one of the survivors turned down the opportunity to have both legs amputated and went on to win six Grand Slam events and a gold medal. That survivor was Richard "Dick" Norris Williams II.

Williams was traveling in first class with his father, Charles Duane Williams, when the Titanic went down on her maiden voyage. After the ship hit the iceberg, Williams broke down a door to help a trapped passenger. A steward threatened to report him for damaging company property. James Cameron apparently nodded to that story in this scene.

After that, Dick and Duane tried to get into the ship's bar, but another steward told them it was against regulation. With more than a century having passed, I feel safe saying the stewards on the Titanic were not very cool.

Right before the ship finally went down, Dick and Duane Williams jumped into the water. Dick watched as the first funnel fell on his father. The resulting wave sent him towards Collapsible A where he held on until being pulled into the raft. He then got into Lifeboat 14 and spent hours knee-deep in freezing water. From Williams' International Tennis Hall of Fame page:

"Williams’ legs were frostbitten from being submerged in the icy ocean for hours. When a physician aboard the Carpathia suggested amputating both of the legs, Williams was stoutly against such a drastic medical procedure. "I’m going to need these legs," he reportedly said, and walked the deck until sensation returned."

Smash cut to a few months later and Williams won the mixed doubles event at the U.S. Open. Yes, you read that right. He was on the Titanic when it hit an iceberg, spent a few hours getting frostbite in the Atlantic and walked it off. He then won a Grand Slam title a few months later. Williams would also go on to win the U.S. Open men's singles titles in 1914 and 1916, the doubles titles in '25 and '26, and the Wimbledon doubles event in 1920.

Amazingly, Williams wasn't the only Olympian or professional tennis player to survive the sinking of the Titanic. Cosmo Duff-Gordon, a fencer at the 1906 Summer Olympics in Athina, Greece, was also on board and was accused of paying crew members to not pick up anyone else in his lifeboat. An investigation eventually cleared his name.

And then there's Karl Behr. Williams and Behr met on board the Carpathia and then met again in the fourth round of the Longwood Challenge Bowl 12 weeks later. Behr defeated Williams ( 0-6, 7-9, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4). After tennis, Behr became a businessman and ended up on the board of Goodyear.