The bicycle built for two, made famous in the 1892 song “Dasiy Bell”.
Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do! I’m half crazy, All for the love of you! It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage But you’ll look sweet upon the seat Of a bicycle made for two.
Did you know that bicycles built for two were also vehicles for Olympic competition? Tandem racing over 2000 meters was an Olympic event from the first modern Games in 1896 in Athens, to the 1972 Games in Munich.
In 1952, at the Helsinki Olympic Games, two Australian cyclists, Lionel Cox and Russell Mockridge, decided to compete in the tandem cycling event despite never having ridden on a tandem bike together. In fact, not only had they not practiced together before arriving in Helsinki, they didn’t even have a tandem bike to compete on. They eventually took on a discarded bicycle from the British team. They had to actually assemble it on their own before practicing for the first time.
On a tandem bike, one cyclist can ease off the pedalling while the other pedals hard, but if both cyclists pedal hard, you can generate speeds significantly greater than a cyclist on a single-seat bike. In one of the heats prior to the finals of the 2000 meter competition, the Australians were leading when Mockridge, who was seated up front, eased up at the end. The result was a photo finish that took considerable time before the judges declared the winner of the elimination heat. Mockridge and Cox went on to win gold, in fact the second one for Mockridge that day. (He had won gold in the men’s 1000 meter time trial.)
Although the tandem cycling event was discontinued, it still exists in the Paralympics where a blind or visually impaired person is seated in the rear seat. In the front seat is a sighted person who is not a professional cyclist.
Dorothy Odam-Tyler of London competed in four Olympics, which is an amazing fact. But she did so over a 20 year-period in a land devastated by war. A world record high jumper, Tyler-Odam won the silver medal in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics, the only athlete to have won medals before and after the Second World War.
World War II took place from 1939 to 1945, resulting in the deaths of over 60 million people. Quite ironically, the host cities selected for the XI Olympiad in 1936, the XII Olympiad in 1940, and the XIII Olympiad in 1944 were respectively Berlin, Tokyo and London – the capitols of the three of the most prominent players in the Second World War.
As it turned out, Olympics of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled due to war. In other words, the Olympic spirit, or rather the Olympic legend of suspending war in order to conduct an Olympiad was not able to overcome the nationalism and militarism of the mid-20th century.
In 1936, war was not imminent. Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany, but had not yet made explicit his need for “elbow room”. Thus the 1936 Games in Berlin were his opportunity to show the world that the German way was the way of the future.
Dorothy Odam, as she was known in 1936, was still only 16 years old when she appeared in Berlin. According to Mike Fleet in his wonderful biography of the English high jumper entitled Thanks and No Thanks Mr Hitler, Odam-Tyler had an eye-opening experience. “The politically uniformed teenager had a further rude awakening, as hundreds of Hitler Youth members marched about proudly swinging their swastika armbands, many with shovels and brooms at the slope of their shoulders.”
Despite the militaristic atmosphere and the grandeur of the opening ceremonies, the teenager was able to keep her emotions intact, and battle to, essentially, a tie in the high jump. Utilizing a scissor-jump approach, Odam-Tyler was one of three of the remaining athletes to jump 1.6 meters on her first attempt. Only two others were able to clear that height, but not without failed attempts.
Unfortunately, the rules were not in Odam-Tyler’s favor, according to Fleet. In today’s world, Odam-Tyler would have been considered the winner for making the top height with the least number of missed attempts. But in 1936, they re-set the bar higher. In the next round, Ibolya Csak of Hungary was the only one to clear 1.62 meters. Odam-Tyler cleared 1.6 meters again, taking silver, and becoming the first British woman to win an Olympic medal.
During the war years, Odam-Tyler worked for the Royal Air Force in the war effort, still finding time to train. She was now married to Dick Tyler, but they were soon separated as he joined a tank regiment that served first in North Africa, and then in Burma. And fortunately, they both survived the war.
Dorothy Odam-Tyler was now 28, and the Olympic Games were scheduled for the summer of 1948 in London. Her motivation was to win gold and wipe out the memory of her loss in Berlin 12 years before. And despite the time that had been sacrificed to war instead of training and competition, the bar continued to be raised, literally, in what was a thrilling competition.
As the field thinned, only three remained at 1.62 meters, including American Alice Coachman and French women Micheline Ostermeyer. At 1.64, Ostermeyer failed to make the cut. Odam-Tyler and Coachman continued their duel. First they both cleared 1.66 meters, setting an Olympic record. Then they both cleared 1.68. But at 1.70 meters, both failed in their three attempts. Due to the tie-breaking rules, Coachman was declared the winner, and became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
As for Odam-Tyler, she won her two silver medals in two Olympiads 12 years apart, bookending one of the most violent and largest wars in the history of mankind. One could
I recently ran in a 5,000 meter race, the first time I had competed in any official competition. It was for charity, so all I wanted to do was finish. I ran about 5k on my weekend runs, so I was confident I could complete the race. There were others who ran the 5k after just running the 10k race, which blew my mind.
Today, world-class athletes will rarely compete in multiple long-distance runs as the strategy and mindset differ from distance to distance, in addition to the general punishment on the body. However, not only did legendary runner, Emil Zátopek win the 5,000-meter race and the 10,000-meter race in Helsinki in 1952, he triumphed in the 42-kilometer marathon. The legend from Czechoslovakia won the three longest of the long-distance Olympic races and Emil Zátopekset the world record in each competition, all within one week. And his time record-setting time in the marathon of 2 hours, 23 minutes and 2 seconds was accomplished in the very first marathon he had ever run.
As discus thrower, Olga Connolly (nee Fitkotova), related in her autobiography, “The Rings of Destiny”, Emil Zátopek was the most sought-after star in the 1956 Games in Melbourne, where Connolly won gold. “Not only every athlete wanted to shake his hand, but every coach wanted to learn from Zátopek, every reporter wanted to interview him and every photographer wanted an ‘unusual’ or ‘intimate’ picture. At first the crowds of invaders searched for him in the dining room, later they sought his living quarters. Soon he found people walking freely in and out; eventually he developed the reflex of leaping into a broom closet each time he heard unfamiliar steps in the corridor. Zátopek complained that perhaps no other machinery was more effective in destroying the chances of a champion than excessive publicity.”
As it turns out, Zátopek did not medal at the Melbourne Games.
While the media wanted to know the secrets to Zátopek’s success, he revealed them to his friend, Connolly. “Before we settled to dinner, Emil ceremoniously unwrapped two bottles of Pilsner Urquell, the best Czechoslovakian beer, and divided the contents among my glass, his and Dana’s (his wife).”
“‘Emil, this is quite a celebration,’ I said. ‘You can’t have much beer left.’ I knew how jealously he protected the small case of beer he carried all the way from Prague. He sighed, ‘Well, it goes fast. Everybody is after me for a glassful, so I’ll soon have to manage without the ‘elixir.’ Zátopek was accustomed to drinking a glass of beer a day and claimed it helped to replenish body fluids lost in his daily twenty miles of running.”
“‘Medicinal beer drinking’ was one of the few topics on which Emil enjoyed anyone agreeing with him. In most other instances he preferred being opposed – always ready to engage in polemics, he was a master of aggravating arguments. Behind Zátopek’s receding forehead lay extraordinary mental faculties. He could recall minute facts from conversations he had held years before, and in several weeks abroad he could master the basics of any language. Years later, if he met his foreign friends again, he astonished them with his handling of Finnish or Urdu.”
It’s worth watching the above video to get to the last line of the narrator: “Here’s one Czech that will always be honored.”