Although ancient Olympia took both its Games and Arts very seriously it still required a big stretch of the imagination to see a connection between cycling and art (unless you remember the Patterson drawings in CYCLING magazine!) The connection transpired to be that Dulwich both hosted the 1948 London Olympic track cycling events and it also has a world famous art gallery. Tenuous though this connection is, it was nevertheless celebrated with great enthusiasm in the bright periods between the showers at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in June when the supporters of the Herne Hill Velodrome joined DPG to launch our own Olympic effort, all amid the fantastic outdoor re-creations of Philip Haas.
Herne Hill is the only remaining site surviving from the London Olympics of 1948 and a capacity audience in the Linbury Room was given the flavour of those real austerity years in a fascinating talk by Tommy Godwin, winner of two bronze Olympic track cycling medals on that very circuit. He recalled how spartan the conditions were; athletes were accommodated in B&B’s or school halls although he and some of his team mates were put up at the home of the Editor of ‘Cycling’ at his home in Half Moon Lane. Extra ration coupons were allowed the athletes (2oz per week of butter and extra sugar, eggs and bacon). However, if the actual recipient was not selected for the final team, he had to hand the rations coupons back! After the Games were over Tommy then had to ride the same bike on which he won his medals back to his home in North London. Fellow Olympian Wally Happy, who has been active in the continuance of the life of the Velodrome then gave his memories of cycling in those Lycra-less times. (This writer was so impressed in his youth by the sight of the 4 man pursuit teams working out at the Herne Hill Velodrome in 1948 that he persuaded three school friends to join him in emulating them in a race along Alleyn Park. An event, it should noted, which ended in a pile up of bodies and bicycles)
A parade of keen cyclists, young and old, including members of the Veteran-Cycle Club and led by a very agile-looking Tommy Godwin (aged 91) made its way from the Picture Gallery down Burbage Road to cycling’s hallowed ground.