The 1952 British Track
Team in South Africa: Prelude to the
1952 was an Olympic year
with the XV Olympiad being held in
Helsinki, Finland, during the month of July. In January 1952 a six-man
British NCU team arrived by ship in Cape Town from the UK for a six
week racing tour of South Africa. The team crisscrossed the country by
road and rail to compete on tracks in major towns and cities. This is
the story of that tour, focusing on its highlights and relating it to
the cycling events at the 1952 Olympics later in the year.
Background to the 1952 tour
The 1952 British track
team was the second to tour South
Africa. In early 1948 a six-man British team had raced on tracks in
both Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. This had proven
to be an excellent preparation for the 1948 London Olympics, with
several of the team’s members going on to win track medals at
Games. This undoubtedly prompted the British cycling governing body,
the NCU, to send out the 1952 team. It would enable their potential
Olympic track cyclists to train and race in the warmth of the South
1952 British team (see
The team members
Tommy Godwin (team
captain, aged 31)
Lloyd Binch (20)
Wally Box (24)
Don Burgess (18)
This was a youthful team of Olympic hopefuls guided by the experienced
Godwin who had won two track bronze medals at the 1948 London Olympics.
Binch was the team’s leading sprinter while the others were
left: Tommy Godwin,
captain, toured South Africa with last British team in 1948.
Utility man of the team.
Has had two
trips to New Zealand
since 1948, i.e.
New Zealand Centenary Games and 1950 British Empire Games.
centre: Ken Mitchell
is in the Royal Corp of Signals and is the Army Cycling Champion
had to get special leave from
the military authorities to make this tour.
right: Alan Geldard,
a poster designer who is
24, was also a member of
the British Empire Games Team in 1950
Left: W R Box
is the present British
25-miles track champion. He is a
draughtsman 24 years of age
Above Centre: Don Burgess
who is 18 is the baby of
the team. He is a
Above Right: L Binch
is the star sprinter aged
20 and is in the hosiery
When the team disembarked
in Cape Town they were met by Mr. J.K.
Wybenga. He was a cycling official from the diamond mining town of
Kimberley in the Griqualand West region. He had been appointed by the
hosting SAAA&CA (South African Amateur Athletics and Cycling
Association) to serve as the team’s local manager.
African cycle sport and
the British influence
South Africa had its origins in the late 19th
century. It originated largely with British cycling enthusiasts who
were drawn to the country at the time as the British Empire expanded in
the region. Throughout most of the 20th century the sport remained
modelled on the British pattern. Typically this involved summer track
racing on large outdoor shallow banked tracks with most races being
based on the Imperial mile. By the post-WWII period, the majority of
South Africa’s larger cities boasted dedicated outdoor
Historically, South African cycle sport was racially segregated and was
to remain so until late in the 20th century. White cycling was
administered by the SAAA&CA up until the mid-1950s. The 1952
British touring track team competed exclusively against white South
African cyclists affiliated to the SAAA&CA. At the time the
SAAA&CA was fully recognised internationally by the UCI as the
legitimate cycling governing body in South Africa.
British Captain at the start of the 1000 metres which he won, Paarl
1952 British team
captain, Tommy Godwin, was a member of the
British track team which had toured South Africa in 1948. This was the
first foreign cycling team ever to have visited the country. It was
hugely successful, with the track meetings attracting large spectator
numbers. The 1948 British team members were: Lew Pond (captain), Alan
Bannister, Tommy Godwin, Ron Meadwell, Dave Ricketts and Ian Scott.
1948 South African vs. Great Britain track
The high standard of the 1948 touring team’s performances
a shock to South African cyclists. The Britons triumphed in meeting
after meeting across the country. This culminated in their overwhelming
victory in the solitary international. Held on the massive 500 yards
plus cement surfaced De Beers stadium in Kimberley, it took the form of
a multi-event omnium. The British team won it by 32 points to the South
Africans’ meagre 5 points. The result prompted a rethink by
SAAA&CA with regard to selections for the 1948 London Olympics.
Ultimately, only one of the eight South African cyclists from the
Kimberley international, Wally Rivers, gained selection for the 1948
By 1952, however, a new generation of cyclists had emerged in South
Africa and the second British touring team was to meet with tougher
opposition than that encountered by the 1948 team.
organisation of the 1952 British track tour and SA cycle sport
its predecessor, the
1952 British team faced a busy schedule of
track meetings in different centres. This involved travelling long
distances by both road and rail, including a trip to Bulawayo in what
was then Southern Rhodesia. In South Africa itself the team was due to
race at meetings in Paarl near Cape Town as well as Johannesburg,
Krugersdorp, Kimberley, Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
Two internationals were scheduled: one on the Malvern track in
Johannesburg; the other in Paarl.
By the early 1950s, the metropolis of Johannesburg had emerged as the
epicentre of South African competitive cycling. Members of the
city’s three clubs – Troyeville CC, Southern
and Rand Roads CC – dominated the sport nationally.
Administratively, the Johannesburg region had set a precedent by
breaking away from organised athletics and establishing the Southern
Transvaal Amateur Cycling Union (STACU). This was ultimately
lead to the establishment of the South African Cycling Federation
(SACF) in the mid-1950s. It was the SACF which was to come
conflict with the world governing body, the UCI, in the 1970s over
racial discrimination in the sport. It resulted in South African
cycling’s suspension by the UCI and this remained in force
the ending of apartheid in the early 1990s.
The racing on the 1952
British track team tour
after their arrival
in Cape Town the British team of amateur
cyclists were out on the new Green Point Track for a limb loosener, and
then five of the six left by road to cycle the 36 miles to Paarl for
their opening match against the Western Province. Lloyd Binch, their
crack sprinter, was the only member of the team to travel by car to
The South African Cyclist,
In the same issue of the magazine, the inaugural Paarl meeting was
reported under the headline: ‘British Cyclists Overwhelm
Province’. The British riders won every one of their six
quarter mile, one mile, 1000m individual time trial, 4000m team pursuit
and ten mile. It was to become a familiar pattern, echoing the
achievements of the 1948 team.
BRITISH PURSUIT TEAM IN ACTION
Box leading, D Burgess, K Mitchell and A Geldard. Winners in
match against Western Province
WESTERN PROVINCE PURSUIT TEAM
(top of banking), Rivers, Laubscher and Otto
LEADING THE BUNCH IN THE 10-MILE
by Lausbacher, Otto, Burgess and Mitchell (with glasses)
to Right: BURGESS (2nd), GODWIN (1st), and LAUBSCHER (3rd)
of the 10-mile at the opening of the Btitish Tour at Paarl, 19
The team later competed against a Southern Rhodesia team in Bulawayo,
2000 kilometres distant from Cape Town. The SA Cyclist headline read:
‘Two Rhodesian Records Broken by British Team - Another Grand
Slam’. Tommy Godwin set a new Rhodesian record for the I000m
of 1:15.2, bettering the old record of 1:15.5. In the 4000m team
pursuit the combination of Godwin, Box, Burgess and Mitchell recorded a
new best time of 5:8.2. However, after returning to South Africa, the
team began to encounter stiffer opposition.
In Port Elizabeth on the South African east coast the tourists were
challenged by an Eastern Province selection. Binch won the match sprint
event, Mitchell the 4000m individual pursuit and Britain the 4000m team
pursuit. The big upset came in the prestigious one mile race where the
local junior, Abe Jonker, won in a fast time of 2:25.7, with Burgess
second and Geldard third. The headlines in the SA Cyclist read:
‘Eastern Province Cyclist scores First Win against British
Cyclists’. The scene was set for the two internationals.
The 1952 South Africa
versus Great Britain ‘Tests’
‘test’ took the form of an omnium with the
contesting a series of different events including a tandem match
sprint. Points were accumulated over the course of each meeting with
the team achieving the best overall score on each occasion being
declared the omnium winner.
Robinson, R Fowler, G Estman, J Swift and T Shardelow
was held on the Malvern track in Johannesburg,
the second in Paarl. The choice of Paarl as a venue was somewhat
controversial in view of the recently completed track in Cape Town.
However, Paarl has a long cycling history extending back to the late
19th century, with the first of its celebrated annual Boxing Day track
meetings being held in 1897. The centrepiece of this meeting, the 25
mile event, has been won by many top trackmen down the years.
In both of the 1952 omnium contests the British team faced a seven-man
South African squad which included a specialist tandem pair. The South
African team was: George Estman (captain), Bobby Fowler, Johnny Ramsay,
Ray Robinson, Tommy Shardelow, Jimmy Swift and Rudi Vorster. Ramsay and
Vorster were the national tandem sprint champions at the time. Estman
had competed in the 1948 Olympics but the other team members were all
newcomers to international competition.
Right - Godwin Binch
"The first ‘test’ was held under floodlights at
Johannesburg’s Malvern stadium and it attracted a large and
enthusiastic crowd. The turning point proved to be the 4000 individual
pursuit, with Bobby Fowler representing the home nation and Ken
Mitchell riding for Great Britain. To quote one account of the contest:
The test hinged on who would win the 4000m individual pursuit
Bobby Fowler versus Ken Mitchell. All the spectators held their breath
as the pistol cracked and the men began to circle the track
one lap they were level, but Mitchell began to gain on the second and
increased his lead by the third. By the end of the fourth lap, at the
half-way mark, the Englishman was well in the lead. It looked as if
Fowler was beaten, but the crowd came to life again after five laps;
the gap seemed a little narrower. The spectators screamed themselves
hoarse as Bobby clawed himself level with Ken during the next two laps,
then, unbelievably, continued to accelerate to the finish line. It was
victory for South Africa, Bobby Fowler … the S.A. 4000
record had been pulverised … "
Learmont. Cycling in South
Africa. (1990) p.75.
‘test’ ended with South Africa
and the second test resulted in a 5-1 victory for the South Africans.
Five members of the triumphant SA team were selected to represent South
Africa at the 1952 Olympics: Estman, Fowler, Robinson, Shardelow and
Swift. It was to prove a memorable Olympics for SA cycling.
Cycling at the 1952
African cyclists participated in all the cycling events at the
1952 Olympics: match sprint, 1000m individual TT, 4000m team pursuit,
tandem match sprint and also the road race. Overall, they fared better
than the British in the medal stakes in Helsinki, winning two silvers
and a bronze to Britain’s one bronze medal. South
only disappointments came in the match sprint and the road race.
In the 4000m team pursuit, South Africa won the silver medal behind
Italy while Great Britain took the bronze. In the tandem match sprint
the South African pairing of Ray Robinson and Tommy Shardelow were
beaten in the final by the Australian team of Russell Mockridge and
Lionel Cox. Ray Robinson won the bronze medal in the 1000m individual
time trial behind Mockridge (Australia) in 1:11.1 and Italy’s
Mario Morettini (1:12.7). Robinson’s time was 1:13.0.
Three of the South African team pursuit silver medallists
participated in the 190.4km Olympic road race: George Estman, Bobby
Fowler and Jimmy Swift. None of the three finished the race won by the
Belgian André Noyelle in a time of 5:06:03.4. The best
finishers were the brothers Des and Brian Robinson, 26th and 27th
respectively, both in 5:18:08.9. Brian Robinson subsequently enjoyed a
successful career as a Continental professional roadman.
The 1952 Helsinki Games were the most successful ever for South African
cyclists. After the 1960 Rome Olympics, South Africa was excluded from
the Games by the IOC because of apartheid in sport. It was to be more
than 30 years before South Africa was readmitted to the Olympics. This
occurred at the 1994 Barcelona Olympics by which time the apartheid era
in South Africa was over.
Looking back, all the indications are that the 1952 tour of South
Africa by the British track team was an important catalyst for the
successes of the South African cyclists at the XV Olympiad in Helsinki
am indebted to Garth ‘Faggi’ Thompson for the
loan of a
copy of the souvenir issue of The
South African Cyclist
1952) marking the 1952 British track team tour. Information contained
in this forms the main basis of this article.
This souvenir issue of the magazine also contains numerous adverts for
‘sports’ bicycles. One is for a ‘Phillips
sports’ machine complete with drop handlebars and produced by
‘Hercules & Phillips Cycles (South Africa) Ltd.,
The advert below for the ‘BSA Sports Model’,
page 2 of the magazine, is evocative of the era. It is clearly a hybrid
machine, being neither a utility model nor a genuine lightweight. The
first South African lightweights were produced at this time in
Johannesburg by Hans Huth using tubing provided by Carlton. These bore
the name ‘DHC’, signifying Deale & Huth
‘DHC’ was ridden by Bobby Fowler in the 1952
‘tests’ and the marque was popularised by him and
SA riders although, of course, they remained strictly amateur.
Jowett, W. (1982) Centenary:
100 years of
organised South African cycle
Learmont, T. (1990) Cycling in South
Sandton: Media House
African Cyclist. February,
Cycling at the Summer Olympics