I came across all sorts of interesting material during research for my book Marguerite Wilson - The First Star of Women's Cycling, much of which, whilst fascinating was not relative to the narrative of the book. This Blog allows me to explore those interesting topics, all loosely connected to MW in more detail. Bill Harvell crops up several times in the book, he had the distinction of having ridden in the 1932 Loss Angeles Olympic games whilst a member of Poole Wheelers CC, winning a Bronze medal in the 4000m team pursuit. Marguerite knew Bill well, they rode in the same Dorset track meetings and the 1930s and in later years Marguerite would visit Bill at his bike shop in Portsmouth.
I've been unable to find an account of his experiences at the games but in the process of research I developed an interest in the cycling events of the '32 Olympics and in the Games in general. To find out more about Bill Harvell read my next blog andfollow the link (below) to read Roger Watts' appreciation.
The Loss Angeles Olympic games were held in 1932 during the Great Depression. It is important to realise the depths of the depression, many were struggling to put food on the table so funding an team to travel to compete at the Olympics was well down the list of priorities for many nations. For this reason fewer than half the number of athletes competed here than in the preceding Amsterdam games. Britain's team Captain Lord Beulieu refers to funding difficulties in the Pathe film (link below). California was very remote in the time before air travel. Many teams arrived by ship and received an enthusiastic welcome at the docks and then again at the Olympic Village. (The purpose built Olympic Village was a new innovation for theses games). Many cycling teams whilst aboard ship trained on rollers during their voyage. The Canadian squad drove down from Canada in an old truck taking turns to follow on behind by bike, partly as training and partly because there wasn't room for everyone in the truck!
You might have thought that the USA team would be well funded, but this was not the case. Despite a very vibrant track scene principally on the East coast (e.g. Madison Square Garden) riders were individuals completely self funded. Eddie Testa in an interview given in 1988 recalled how how he got into cycling encouraged by his father an Italian who had raced in Italy before emigrating. His bike was made by an elder brother using Reynolds 501 tubing imported from England. Eddie commented that it had a fixed gear and lightweight wood rimmed sprint wheels which he said had more life in them and stayed more true than steels. He was self coached and apart from being issued with his USA Jersey and a sleeveless sweater, completely self funded.
Cycling took place between he 1st and 4th August and was contested by 63 men from 13 nations. (It was not until Games returned to Loss Angeles in 1984 that women could take part). Track events took place over three days at the Pasadena Rose bowel on a board track constructed especially for the games. There were four track events, the 1000m sprint, the 1000m time trial, the tandem and the 4,000m team pursuit. The Road Race on the final day was in fact a 100km individual time trial starting at Moorpark the hills then along the Pacific coast highway towards Santa Monica.
The club captain in those early years was Bert Bennett, an ex Dorset Regiment sergeant who married one of the lady members, Gwen Hawkins. They decided to take a tandem honeymoon. The ceremony was at St. John’s Church, Ashley Road, the crowd almost closed the road. I remember the Wheelers passing the tandem over the crowd to allow the couple to cycle off, preceded by the Pathe’ News van with the camera man standing on top winding the camera and followed by many of the Wheelers on their bikes. Later we were invited by the manager of the Gaumont Cinema in Bournemouth to view the Pathe News item and remain for the film, which was, by the way, mine and others’ first ‘talkie’.
Bert and Gwen