Sunday, 14 August 2016

"The Worcester Wonder"

Ernest Payne was born on 23 December 1884 at 221 London Road. Payne worked in the City as a carpenter. 

In 1902 “Ernie” started his amateur cycling career as a grass-track racer. In his first season he won 13 of his 14 races, coming second in the other. By June 1903 ‘The Cyclist’ magazine had already christened him ‘The Worcester Wonder”.  About that time he joined Worcester St John’s Cycling Club and trained with his brother Walter on their grass-track circuit at Boughton Park.

He continued to compete until 1910, winning more than 150 races at regional, national and British Empire championships. It is however the Olympic gold medal he won, when only 23, that he’s most famous for.

In 1908 the Olympic Games were held in London. By then Ernie had moved on to cycling on banked velodromes and was a member of the Great Britain squad.  The team pursuit took place over three 660 yard laps of the White City Stadium. Ernie made up the four-man team with Benjamin Jones, Clarence Kingsbury and Leonard Meredith.

Their first race was a walkover when the Belgium team failed to show. In the semi-final they beat Canada (who went on to win bronze) by 9.6 seconds in a time of 2mins 29.6 seconds. In the final Payne led the team to a 10 second victory over the Germans in a blistering 2mins 18.6 seconds.

Payne also competed individually in the 660 yard, 5,000 metre and sprint events. He managed to get to the semi-finals in all three, but was unsuccessful in winning another medal.

Ernest Payne died on 10 September 1961 aged 76. The Worcester Evening News reported his death, but made no mention of his Olympic success. His gold medal was lost whilst serving as a motorcycle dispatch rider in France during WW1, but a replica can be seen at the City Museum and Art Gallery. The statue of him, on the St John’s side of the ‘new’ Diglis cycle and footbridge, is also a fitting tribute to his achievements.

Here’s hoping the GB squad in Rio can add to the 8 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals they won at the last London Olympics in 2012.

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