Cycling Australia’s Hall of Fame: a great conversation starter
Let me be clear from the outset: a Hall of Fame for Australian cycling is a great idea. It’s a catalyst to get discussion started and prompts people to delve into their memories and remind themselves of why this sport is so compelling. There is no right or wrong nomination as the panel of judges – like anyone else creating a list of their own – are merely trying to offer suggestions of people who have had an impact on something many are passionate about. With this in mind, there is always the threat of a strong reaction, even disagreement, but isn’t that the basis of many healthy discussions?
The nominations were released on 11 November 2015 in a press release from Cycling Australia.
Cycling Australia Hall of Fame inductees 2015
- Sir Hubert Opperman OBE KCSJ (Athlete category, posthumous)
- Russell Mockridge (Athlete category, posthumous)
- Edgar ‘Dunc’ Gray (Athlete category, posthumous)
- Sid Patterson (Athlete category, posthumous)
- Phil Anderson (Athlete category)
- Kathy Watt OAM (Athlete category)
- Anna Wilson (Athlete category)
- Robbie McEwen (Athlete category)
- Sara Carrigan OAM (Athlete category)
- Ray Godkin OAM (General category)
- Charlie Walsh OAM (General category)
- Gerry Ryan OAM (General category)
There was minimal reaction in the media but when the list of 12 was posted on some cycling forums, commentary came thick and fast. This highlights one of the reasons for an initiative such as this: let’s get people talking about what cycling means to them!
Of the 12 names on the list of Cycling Australia’s ‘Hall of Fame’ there are obvious selections but also a few curious additions. What’s most odd, however, is the absence of the one rider who has introduced more Australians to cycling than any other. There’s a reason, as explained at the end of the announcement of the original inductees: “Riders are only eligible for induction into the Cycling Australia Hall of Fame after two years in retirement, from competition at the highest level.”
Cadel Evans stopped racing in February this year.
This initiative by Australian cycling’s governing body is only in its infancy but how many pundits read the fine-print of the regulations for selection when presented with what’s meant to be the beginning of a definitive list of contributors to the success of cycling in Australia?
There are many more cyclists from Australia than Evans but, to the general public – the wealth of people who have become fans of the sport in recent years – there’s one obvious Australian Cycling Star.
Surely the 2009 world champion and first Australian Tour de France winner deserves recognition in what is an exciting new element of Cycling Australia’s promotional portfolio. Instead his omission is a technicality of the rules of a Hall of Fame which has only just been established.
At the Cyclist of the Year Awards in 2014, Evans received a special tribute; he’s won the ‘Oppy Medal’ four times (ie. more than any other rider since the award’s inception in 1958) and yet his name is missing from the Hall of Fame until he becomes ‘eligible’ in another year and a half.
“The inaugural group of inductees exemplify those that have achieved greatness or reached the pinnacle of our great sport,” the CEO of Cycling Australia, Nick Green, tells us by way of a press release issued on 11 November. They are “the best of the best”, says Green about the 12 nominees.
It’s easy to be critical of the omissions and a range of names quickly come to mind when considering who else could be included and, for the athlete category, it shouldn’t be based on results alone. The criteria requiring retirement of more than two years ago explains why Evans is missing but what about others who have excelled on the bike and represented the cycling community for many years?
The selection panel is (in alphabetical order): Peter Bartels, Kate Bates, Rob Eva, Matt Keenan, John Trevorrow and Mike Turtur.
Like the ‘Australian Tour de France team of the century’ that was announced at the ‘Cyclist of the Year’ awards in 2014, the selection of the 12 original inductees to the Hall of Fame is politically correct, relatively predictable and, of course, lacking anyone with any association with doping. But there are still major omissions.
Danny Clark may have had his troubles – personal and professional – over the years but how can he possibly be left off the ‘Hall of Fame’ list? He is one of the most prominent Australian cyclists of all time and yet the selection panel has made no reference to him, or his time. Perhaps it’s because they believe that he’s still out there racing his bike in elite competition at the age of 64. He probably is…
Allan Peiper is regularly ignored when it comes to formal recognition of his achievements as a rider, writer, coach and more. His conquests are many and he doesn’t need his ego propped up with inclusion but he deserves a reference.
What about Brad McGee? He’s the first Australian to lead the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España; he’s won an Olympic gold medal; he’s won world titles as an individual and as part of a team; he’s set world records; he was a consistent performer on the road and track from the junior ranks to the pro peloton; he’s been an ambassador for clean sport… as a directeur sportif, he contributed to one of the finest victories in a Grand Tour in recent years. As an administrator and coach, he is an inspiration who doesn’t stop giving – to experienced and new riders alike. But he’s missing from the list of 12.
These things happen. If everyone is on the original list, it takes away some of the prestige of what Cycling Australia surely hopes will become an integral part of the end-of-year festivities, the chance to reflect on accomplishments.
According to the selection panel, there was no standout for the period between Sid Patterson and Phil Anderson. Surely they should start looking at the history books and perhaps even the recipients of Cycling Australia’s own Oppy Medal; there are several other multiple winners of the prize for Australian Cyclist of the Year who have been shunned. What happened to triple winner ‘Bulldog’ Besanko? Too much mongrel? Not enough panache? More likely, he has no interest in playing politics and is too willing to speak his mind.
These are obvious omissions but it doesn’t take much consideration before the list of possible candidate grows. Before we even consider the administrators or promoters, the volunteers or countless names who have committed a lifetime of toil to the betterment of the sport, there are riders with true pedigree – and a solid palmarès who have been ignored. Consider just a few: Bob Spears, Gordon Johnson, John Nicholson, Gary Sutton, Kenrick Tucker, Dean Woods, Kevin Nichols, Scott McGrory, Kathleen Shannon, Michelle Ferris, Ryan Bayley…
Each is well represented in results lists, and they all have stories to tell about their part of cycling’s evolution but they missed out. Not this year, maybe next…
Of course we recognise that there’ll be other inclusions but there’s something special about making the original 12.
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There’s no denying that the nine riders referenced have represented Australian cycling in a fine manner; four are no longer with us but their achievements were vast and Sir Hubert Opperman, Russell Mockridge, Dunc Gray and Sid Patterson are names that are regularly referenced when considering the historical impact of Australian riders both at home and abroad.
Similarly, Phil Anderson, Kathy Watt, Anna Wilson, Robbie McEwen and Sara Carrigan also have accomplished much on the bike and they continue to represent their sport well years after retiring from elite competition.
As for the ‘general’ candidates, the obvious inclusion is the man who has effectively become Australian cycling’s benefactor. The support of Gerry Ryan has significantly impacted the careers of riders from all over the country and cycling as we now know it would be entirely different without his contributions.
Charlie Walsh is a celebrated coach but he is also a divisive figure; many who had trained under his tutelage have been outspoken about his methods, but there is a vocal crowd of supporters.
“Charlie’s contribution,” the chairman of the selection committee, Peter Bartels, tell us, “[set] new standards in Australian track cycling, leading us to Olympic [Games], Commonwealth [Games] and world championship success is unprecedented.”
And yet since Walsh stepped aside as national coach just after the Sydney Olympics in 2000, subsequent campaigns at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and world championships have yielded far more medals.
Cycling has made significant steps towards becoming one of Australia’s true mainstream sports in recent years but it’s clear that much of the administration – or the selection panel for this ‘Hall of Fame’ at least – is very much ruled by old-school thinking and nostalgia. That is, after all, what a nod to the past should be about but surely we don’t need cronyism over genuine achievement.
Ray Godkin is perhaps the most predictable inclusion but he’s also the strangest. To many who know cycling in Australia, it would seem obvious that Peter Bartels’ voice was louder than the others in the selection panel.
Godkin was the chief administrator of the Australian Cycling Federation and was largely responsible for crucial decisions relating to the sport for many years. He was at the helm when professional and amateur competition was amalgamated in the early-1990s (a process that was fraught with controversy for many years); he was in charge when the ACF became Cycling Australia; and he became vice president of the UCI in 1985 and held that for 30 years, only being usurped from a functional role in 2008 when his good friend Hein Verbruggen stepped aside as president (but still he remained there as an honorary VP); he was the competition manager for cycling at the Sydney Olympics…
During Godkin’s reign as a true cycling politician, the former policeman was privy to many backroom discussions about the administration of the sport but he somehow managed to dodge any association with numerous scandals that took place in that time.
Should a Hall of Fame really be the place for people who have qualified for long service leave? Godkin’s contributions were many but he took from the sport much more than he gave back to it.
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This is a time of change for cycling in Australia, with a new administration at the helm, a fresh approach promised, and plenty of interest from the public. Instead of trawling out the obvious long-term associates (and lifelong friends for some on the selection panel) shouldn’t this Hall of Fame offer an opportunity for true acknowledgment of contributions made to the sport?
Martin Whiteley isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind for many who think about the success of cycling but his impact has been significant. He has long been an part of the expat cycling community but he was once the CEO of Cycling Australia. His passionate lobbying to the IOC back in the day is one of the key reasons why mountain biking is on the Olympic program.
Phill Bates and John Craven (and even John Trevorrow and Mike Turtur from the selection panel) have enormous history with Australian cycling. These race promoters have introduced thousands to the beauty of what bike racing can be. They have each sacrificed countless hours in the quest to showcase the sport and bring it to the people. They have invested significants sums of their own money and coaxed sponsors into supporting competitions on road and track. They have breathed cycling all of their lives but they have been overlooked. Hell, in their respective right, they are all members of the Boys Club that is Cycling in Australia but they don’t get a sideways glance.
The Oppy Medal itself, together with the Australian Cyclist of the Year Award, were originally initiatives of Bill Long OAM, a race promoter in his own right, the man who contributed heavily to the running of cycling events including for the Melbourne Olympics and a record 49 Six-Day bike races, and the long-time publishing editor of The Australian Cyclist magazine.
Long deserves recognition for his regular contributions to the sport of cycling and his ability to document the race scene for many years but he too is absent.
In fact, the media’s contribution to cycling in Australia receives not even a fleeting acknowledgement in this inaugural list of ‘Hall of Fame’ inductees and yet Godkin, an administrator who failed on many fronts to administer the sport during some of its darkest years, is included.
Surely Cadel Evans, Danny Clark, Brad McGee, Peter Besanko, Gary Sutton, Allan Peiper, Bill Long, Martin Whiteley, John Craven, Phill Bates and many others are more deserving of a place in this “group of inductees [who] exemplify those that have achieved greatness or reached the pinnacle of our great sport”.
Okay, it is an arbitrary roll call of people associated with cycling and it must have been a difficult process to include or eliminate names but it is a curious roster.
A ‘Hall of Fame’ deserves better. Many on the list are worthy of greater recognition for their contributions, but some being lauded when perhaps they should be called into question. Come on Cycling Australia and the selection panel, let’s make this a celebration of our sport not yet another example of a missed opportunity for promotion at a time when cycling is thriving.
– By Rob Arnold