Passings: Jonah Lomu, rugby great; Bert Olmstead, played on Stanley Cup championship teams
Jonah Lomu, a New Zealand rugby great who bulldozed opponents with his size and blistering speed, died Wednesday at his home in Auckland. He was 40.
Nadene Lomu, the wife and manager of the All Blacks player, confirmed his death but did not specify the cause. Lomu had struggled with a kidney illness for 20 years.
“He was a bloomin’ nightmare to play against,” former England fly-half Rob Andrew told the Daily Telegraph this week. “He was intimidating and he had a smile on his face when he did it, which made it even worse. We all just chased around after him like kids in the playground.”
The son of immigrants from Tonga, Lomu was at his devastating best at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups, scoring 15 tries in 11 games but never winning the trophy.
At the height of his career, he had the ear of Nelson Mandela, charmed Hollywood comedian Robin Williams — who wore an All Blacks cap and called him “mate” — and visited parliaments and palaces.
Born May 12, 1975, he grew up in a working-class suburb of Auckland. His father, Semisi Lomu, was a factory worker, devoutly religious and a harsh disciplinarian. His mother, Hepi, held the family together and acted as a buffer between father and son.
“At times he was the best dad that he could be,” Lomu said in a 2013 interview. “It was just when he drank, that’s when me and him disagreed. He was quite violent when he was drunk.”
At 1, Lomu was sent to Tonga to be raised by an aunt. On his return to New Zealand, Lomu rebelled against his strict father, leading to their eventual estrangement, and gravitated toward the streets.
“It made me battle-hardened for rugby,” Lomu said. “When I was playing, when I found it hard, I just thought of my father and that got me through it. That anger got me through it.”
The stabbing death of a friend forced him in a new direction. He entered Auckland’s Wesley College, a famous nursery of Polynesia rugby talent, where he displayed the formidable combination of strength and speed that enabled him to crash through or cruise around opponents.
He played for New Zealand’s under-19 team and starred in rugby sevens before his international debut in June 1994. At 19, he became the youngest ever All Black. He burst to international fame at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, scoring seven tries in five matches, including four in a rampaging semifinal win over England.
In 1998, he won a rugby sevens gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. At the 1999 World Cup, he scored eight tries in six games, including two in New Zealand’s semifinal loss to France.
Nephrotic syndrome, a degenerative kidney illness, curtailed his career at his peak. He tried making a comeback after a 2004 transplant, but was forced to abandon hopes of playing the 2007 World Cup. He played his last match in 2006.
Bert Olmstead, a Hall of Fame left winger who played on five Stanley Cup championships teams during his 14-year National Hockey League career, died Nov. 16 in Alberta, Canada . He was 89.
His death was announced by the NHL and the Montreal Canadiens. No other details were given.
Olmstead had 181 goals and 421 assists in 848 regular-season games for Chicago, Montreal and Toronto from 1948 to 1962. He had 16 goals and 43 assists in 115 playoff games, winning titles with the Canadiens in 1953, 1956, 1957 and 1958 and the Maple Leafs in 1962.
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985, Olmstead played on Montreal’s top line with Maurice Richard and Elmer Lach and later Jean Beliveau and Bernie Geoffrion.
The Saskatchewan native, who was born on Sept. 4, 1926, matched the then-NHL record with eight points — four goals and four assists — in a Montreal 12-1 victory over Chicago on Jan. 9, 1954, and set a record with assists on Beliveau’s three goals in a 44-second span against Boston on Nov. 5, 1955. He also set a record with 56 assists in 1955-56, and finished that season with a career-high 70 points.
Olmstead coached the expansion Oakland Seals in 1967-68, going 11-37-16 before resigning.
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