- 31 Jul 1952
- Helsinki 1952
Mockridge wheels his way to double gold
Russell Mockridge was one of the world's greatest cyclists, but his path to Helsinki was not a smooth one. Given the choice, he would have become an Australian Rules footballer, but his poor eyesight meant that was not an option. He took up cycling as a hobby when he was 18 and turned out to be astoundingly good, comfortably winning his first race despite not knowing anything about the sport's tactics.
His Olympic debut at London 1948 ended in disappointment, when two punctures had ruined his chances. He immediately decided to forget the long-distance races and concentrate instead on the track.
That switch of tack had proved fruitful, and he went on to win gold medals at the British Empire Games and enjoyed victories in both the amateur and “Open” Grand Prix events in Paris. In fact, his victory over the professional cyclists in the Open had so upset the French organisers that they promptly banned amateurs from taking part.
Mockridge briefly retired from cycling to pursue a career as a church minister, but was coaxed back into the national team and won 10 qualifying races from 10 starts to easily earn a place in the team for the 1952 Olympic Games.
There was another twist in the tale, as an argument with the team meant he only arrived in Helsinki four days before the start of the competition. It appeared to make no difference. Entered in both the 1,000m time trial and the tandem, Mockridge looked consistently assured.
His tandem partner was Lionel Cox. They had never ridden together before, but proved a natural fit and the two eased their way through to the semi-finals, where they won a high-quality contest against Italy.
The following afternoon Mockridge embarked on a pursuit of two golds. First up was the time-trial, where he went off 20th of 27 competitors and almost instantly looked the classiest performer. His finishing time was 1.6 seconds faster than his closest rival, and his first gold medal was in the bag.
The second came with almost as much ease as Mockridge and Cox swept past the South African pair to take victory in the tandem final. Within the space of a few hours, Mockridge had become a double Olympic champion.
The Australian turned professional a year later and competed widely throughout Europe. However, he was killed in a road accident in 1958, aged just 30, when he, and several other riders, were involved in a collision with a turning bus.