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Russell Mockridge racing

“The Geelong Flyer”

Which Olympian and Australian Sporting Hall of Famer chose to leave their sport at the top of their powers to come live and study at Queen’s?

As the greatest show on earth—the Olympic and Paralympic Games—take their leave from Brazil we look back at the sporting career of Wyvern, Olympian, and one of Australia’s greatest ever athletes—whose spectacular career was tragically cut short.

During his meteoric rise to the top of his sport he was known by many a moniker, their chronology attesting to his rapidly changing esteem: “Little Lord Fauntleroy”, “China Doll”, “Mocka”, “Rocket Man”, and “The Geelong Flyer”. As a student at Geelong College he was kept sidelined from taking part in the regular footie and cricket games due to his chronic short-sightedness. And so it was no wonder that he was seeking “a little exercise” when he arrived at his first amateur cycling race in 1946, aged eighteen years old. Dressed conspicuously in a sleek white jersey, pink hat, school handkerchief tucked into his top pocket, spectacles taped to his temples with white tape, DIY cycling shoes, and all sitting atop a heavy beaten old roadster, he was dubbed “Little Lord Fauntleroy” and “ China Doll” by his rougher opponents. When the novice suggested that he be allowed to ride out in front so as not to endanger anyone with his poor eyesight the group were further amused at the eccentric newcomer. In the end there was no need for such a gentleman’s agreement. Waving the riders through at the highway point, the official race timer jumped in his car and drove to the finish line and was perplexed to find the new entrant already arrived. After confirming that the rider had indeed not veered from the course he was pronounced the winner, albeit without an official race time.

Edward “Russell” Mockridge had indeed arrived upon the cycling world. Winning eight out of his next eleven amateur races, Mockridge went on to qualify for the 201 km Australian Road Championships the following year in 1947 and to take it out with a blistering burst of speed—making up 400m after he had slowed to eat a sandwich at the close of the race! His startling finish earned Mockridge Olympic qualification for the 1948 Olympic Games in London. However, his campaign was undone due to poor luck with two punctures in the 192 km road race, finishing 32nd from 101 competitors.

At the Auckland Empire Games in two years time Mockridge—the now leading Australian cyclist—won the 1000m time trail in record time, defeated fellow Australian and world sprint champion, Sid Patterson, in the 1000m sprint, and bagged a silver medal in the 4000m pursuit.

After the games it was then that Mockridge felt the calling of the Anglican Ministry and in the following year, 1951, sensationally quit cycling citing, “I have more to do in this world than ride a bike”, as he entered Queen’s College. His retirement and residence at Queen’s was short lived however. During the year Mockridge took a brief leave of stay for the World Amateur Sprint Championships in Italy. The contest was an uneven affair as the Italian team ganged up on Mockridge to check his ride, and the Italian Enzo Sacchi was declared the winner. The unfair result was rectified a week later when Mockridge challenged Sacchi to a race and won comfortably.

By the next year Mockridge had left Queen’s and set his hopes on a professional cycling career. In order to establish his professional credentials he sought to cement his position at the top of the amateurs during the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. In the lead up to the games Mockridge competed in the Amateur Paris Grand Prix and again beat his rival Sacchi, winning an invitation into the professional sprint race the next day. He famously embarrassed the professional contingent, including world champion Reg Harris, in winning the race —which led to a ban on amateur competitors for many years to come.

“I have more to do in this world than ride a bike”

As the Olympics neared, our premiere cyclist’s acceptance onto the Australian team was not without some controversy. Mockridge refused to be bound by the Australian Olympic Federation’s requirement that athletes remain amateur for two years after the games. At the eleventh hour the Mayor of Geelong, Bervin Purnell, negotiated a reduction to one year and guaranteed Mockridge’s signed fidelity bond of £750 just in time for his Olympic accreditation to be processed. “ I am extremely pleased to be able to re-join the team to ride for Australia at the Games as I wanted to do this all along”, Mockridge remarked. The Guarantee was good for Geelong and Australia. At the Olympics Mockridge became the first Australian cyclist to win two Gold medals—the 1000m time trial in record time, and the 2000m tandem—having only been paired with Lionel Cox for their first ride a week earlier. And Mockridge still holds the record for the only Australian cyclist to win two gold medals on the same day.

On his return to Australia Mockridge was heralded as the greatest living cyclist and broke many Australian records. A year after the Olympics Mockridge returned to Europe as a professional rider. He gave away track racing and made a modest living road racing. However, as a novice competing against professionals who were still aggrieved at his win over them as an amateur, and battling glandular fever, he did not fare as well as was hoped. On 26 September he married Irene Pritchard in London at the Church-in-the-Grove Sydenham.

In 1955 Mockridge teamed up with Australians Sid Patterson and Roger Arnold in winning the Paris six-day event. He then went on to complete the Tour de France as a solo rider, finishing 64th in the grueling 3,830km race—and notwithstanding having crashed two days prior to the start of the race and injuring his knee and head.

After his impressive display in the Tour, Mockridge returned to Australia and signed with promoter Ted Waterford. Over the next three years he continued to dominate the Australian cycling scene on both the road and the track, winning many races from the ‘scratch’ position (the last to start). In 1956 he set a world record in the Warrnambool to Melbourne Classic with an average race speed of 44km/h—a time that remained unbeaten for 25 years. The following year he won the Tour of Victoria, Tour of Tasmania, Tour of Gippsland and the Midlands Tour.

Also during the 1957-1958 season Mockridge met his old rival Sacchi again at the Melbourne velodrome and was awarded the win after a finish that was almost too close to call. So close in fact that Mockridge adjudged Sacchi the true winner and had the decision reversed. His rival left Australia professing that the Mockridge was the finest sportsman he had ever raced.

Nearing the end of another successful year of racing in Australia in 1958, Mockridge set his sights on a return to the professional circuit in Europe the following year. In September 1958 he again started ‘scratch’ in his title defense of the Tour of Gippsland and having just started the race was cycling through an intersection when a bus suddenly crossed, hitting Mockridge and fellow competitor Jim Taylor. Taylor survived with a broken collarbone. Mockridge, most sadly, was killed instantly. He was 30 years old, and was survived by his wife Irene and their 3-year-old daughter Melinda.

Testament to his prodigious talent and versatility, in the final year of his life Mockridge won the Australian 200 km professional championship, the 8 km pursuit title and the 1000m sprint. A regular feat for Mockridge, but one so incredible that it could be likened to Usain Bolt winning the 100m and 5,000m races, along with the marathon! He is widely regard as Australia’s greatest all-round cyclist and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985, and was an inaugural inductee into the Cycling Australia Hall of Fame last year (along with fellow Wyvern (1984), Kathy Watt OAM).

Mockridge was a quiet, introspective and studious man who loved English literature and whose deep faith was strong enough to lead him to study for the Ministry at Queen’s College at the peak of his sporting powers. Although it is for his cycling heroics that he will be long remembered. In fact, his legacy has already been immortalised in the fact that to this day Australian race handbooks are simply referred to as a “Mocka”.