Following GB cycling’s successes at the recent 2008 olympics and world championships, I was reminded about the accomplishments of Beryl Burton who died early over 10 years ago.
It seems that in any sphere of human endeavour there is always one person who is head and shoulders better than anyone else. We had the domination in tennis, say, of Navratilova, Sampras, Federer; in motorsport of Fangio, Senna, Schumacher.
This year and for the past few, GB has had Chris Hoy, who has changed sport several times, and become champion at all of them.
But for longevity, and as an amateur, Beryl Burton’s exploits bring tears to my eyes for sheer determination. In the big tours, like the Tour de France, the time-trial is called “the race of truth”, because everyone can watch you, all the way. There’s no hiding, no competitor. You ride against the clock and against all the negativity produced by your body.
In this Beryl Burton excelled. For two years, at one distance (the 12hr), she was faster than any man in the world. Indeed, when she broke the record she passed a man (Mike McNamara) who was in the process of setting the Men’s record! As she passed him, she is reputed to have given him a Liquorice Allsort – which he ate!
Beryl Burton didn’t start to ride until late – 18. But then for 25 years she won medals and set records in nearly every single year. Maybe she burnt out? (She died of heart failure on a training ride aged 59). Who knows – but what a legacy?