Wednesday 29 May 2024

The Distracted Goalie


The great Physicist, Niels Bohr, was brother to an outstanding mathematician, Harald who founded the field of almost periodic functions. In their youth both were very good athletes, with Harald clearly the more dedicated sportsman. Harald had been a member of the Danish National Football team while still a student and had earned a silver medal as such in the 1908 Olympic games; the first time the Olympic games had football. Harald scored two goals in the opening game defeating the French nine-zero. Denmark lost to the UK in the final game. He was such an accomplished football player that it is said when he defended his PhD thesis there were more football fans in the audience than mathematicians.
Brother Niels was also a good athlete, but often seemed to have his focus somewhere other than sports. Both brothers played several games for the Copenhagen-based Akademisk Boldklub, with Niels in goal. The story is told that during one game when almost all the action was happening in the attacking half for his club, a long clearing kick from the other end of the field began to roll toward his goal. Niels stood near the goalpost and seemed unaware of the ball rolling toward his goal with players rushing in from many yards behind it. Alerted by the screaming crown behind him, Niels made the save and cleared away the threat.
After the game his explanation was that he had been distracted by a math problem and was carrying out calculations on the edge of the goal post.
Apparently he kept his love for the game.  The photo at the top shows Niels Bohr with  a group that is unidentified, but he looks to me to be the one handling the ball.  A goal-keeper to the end, it seems.

An Anon. comment suggested, "I think there's also Gamow (upright), Pauli (back to camera) and possibly Heisenberg opposite Bohr. Must have been during a conference."  If anyone can spot brother Harald, and if someone recognizes young version of later great science/math wizards, share, please

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