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01 Aug 1932
Los Angeles 1932

Cycling ace Gray swaps sickbed for podium

In late July 1932, Edgar Laurence "Dunc" Gray lay in a California hospital bed suffering from the debilitating effects of influenza. A week later, he was an Olympic champion and world record holder. Even the most imaginative Hollywood scriptwriter would have done well to concoct such an unlikely narrative.

The Australian cyclist had fallen ill on the eve of the Los Angeles Games and, as he fought to recover, it appeared doubtful that he would be in a fit state to participate at all, let alone mount a credible medal challenge.

Four years earlier at the Amsterdam Games, despite never having competed in the event previously, Gray won bronze in the track time trial to become Australia's first ever Olympic cycling medallist. In Los Angeles, as the only cyclist chosen in Australia's 12-person team, he was selected to compete in the same event once again, and, prior to his illness, harboured high hopes of finishing higher up the podium.

Born in Goulburn, New South Wales (NSW) in 1906, Gray learnt to ride a bicycle at an early age and refined his talents at the Goulburn Amateur Bicycle Club. His first major success came in 1926, aged 20, when he won the Five Miles Championship of NSW and the victory helped force him into the reckoning for the 1928 Olympics.

The sum total of Gray’s cycling achievements was simply remarkable. Between 1925 and 1943, he won 20 national titles, 25 New South Wales state titles, and 36 club championships.

But it was the 1932 Olympic Games that provided the stage for his finest hour. Rising from his hospital bed like a modern-day Lazarus, he rode to victory in the track time trial in a world record time of 1 minute 13 seconds.

Reporting on the day’s action, one California newspaper wrote: “A lanky Dutchman; a veteran from Australia and two young French stars were Olympic cycling champions today, winners of final events here last night witnessed by a crowd of 8,000 persons. Australian ace Edgar L. Gray set a new Olympic record of 1:13 flat in pedalling to victory in the 1,000m time trial.”

In fact, Gray was originally entered into both the sprint and the time trial events and, despite being laid down with flu, had actually reached the semi-final of the sprint. But with both events scheduled for the same day, Gray feared he lacked the strength for two tough rides and chose to compete in the time trial only. His decision was vindicated in emphatic manner.

Two years later, Gray became Australia's first British Empire Games cycling champion when he won the 1,000m time trial. But at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, despite being accorded the honour of carrying the Australian flag in the Opening Ceremony, he was unable to relive his Los Angeles success, reaching only the quarter-finals of the sprint.

He was again the flagbearer at the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney, where he won gold in the 1,000m sprint, and he continued adding national titles for several years after.

In his post-cycling years, Gray dedicated much of his time to supporting the Olympic Movement, including Melbourne's bid for the 1996 Olympic Games and then for Sydney's successful bid for the 2000 Games. In 1985, he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and 10 years later was officially named a "Legend of Australian Sport".

Named in his honour, the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Sydney, built for the 2000 Olympic Games, houses the bike that he rode in Los Angeles. He died in 1997 aged 92.

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