As Tommy Godwin, the 1948 Olympic cyclist, prepares to attend the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards for the first time in his life tonight, he tells PHILIP BARKER about the role of one sports journalist at the last London Games 60 years ago
Britainâ€™s cyclists deservedly won the SJA’s Team of the Year Award last month for their exploits in Beijing, but 60 years ago, the British cycling squad also came away with a clutch of medals at the last London Olympics. Their success was due in no small measure due to the help of a journalist.
Tommy Godwin, now 87, pictured, was a bronze medallist in the 1,000 metres time trial and the 4,000m team pursuit.
â€œWe were in a private home for digs and it belonged to a journalist Bill Mills, who used to edit the cycling magazine and he gave the place over to us for our camp and then we just went round the corner and raced,â€ Godwin said.
The “landlord” who would report on the cycling events for World Sports was WJ Mills. This monthly was the premier sporting magazine of its day with extensive coverage of the 1948 Olympics. Herne Hill Stadium was where the Olympic track events were staged. To make their quarters feel more like home, Tommyâ€™s mum was drafted in to cook for the squad and although team members received food parcels from overseas, post-war rationing meant Mrs Godwin had to be resourceful.
â€œWeâ€™d have the meat and veg with Yorkshire pudding, spam fritters for breakfast, just general home cooking by my mum.”
Godwin worked as an electrical engineer for the cycle firm BSA. â€œThey never gave me any time off for training because that would have gone against my amateur status, so I worked 47 hours a week. Training was Tuesday and Thursday, that was it. When we raced, we won clocks, watches, canteens of cutlery… all my friends have got a canteen of cutlery now.
He joined Dave Ricketts, Wilf Waters and Alan Geldard in a quartet which took time to achieve its best. In the first round they beat Canada but with a very slow performance.
â€œThe first ride we did was shocking. I was very disappointed about it. In the next ride we improved 9sec and beat the Danes and they were a very good team. We improved lumps throughout the Olympics.â€
In the semi-finals, the British quartet lost to the French, but then beat the Uruguayans in the race for bronze with 4min 55.8sec, faster than either gold or silver medallists.
In the 1,000m time trial, Godwin was up against the Frenchman Jacques Dupont but as WJ Mills noted in the Official Report, â€œHeavy and damp conditions ruled out all possibilities for fast times.â€ Dupont came home to take gold followed by Pierre Nihant, of Belgium, with Godwin half a second behind in third.
The public, starved of international sport for most of the previous decade and in an era long before most people had access to television, flocked to watch the cycling at the Olympics and at other events in the immediate post-war years. Often, cyclists would compete at multi-sports meetings alongside the great track athletes of the day, among them Shirley Strickland, Arthur Wint and Sydney Wooderson.
â€œOne night the crowd was up to 14,000 and they locked the gates,” Godwin says. “I used to love the crowd Iâ€™d wink at them as I went by, they loved it.”
For more on Godwin, Dorothy Tyler and the other veterans of London’s last Olympic Games, click here
This is the latest in an on-going series of articles about covering sport over the past six decades.
To read David Hunn on how the Association was formed in 1948, click here
To read John Rodda on what it was like to cover cycling at the 1948 London Olympics, click here
To read Hugh McIlvanney writing about the Best footballer he has ever seen, click here
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