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Abstract

Athlete-turned academic Dr. Marlon Moncrieffe takes us through his project 'Made in Britain: Uncovering the Life Histories of Black-British Champions.' in which he explores the careers of British-born black athletes such as the accomplished six-day racer Maurice Burton and the more contemporary BMX stars of Tre Whyte, Shanaze Read, Kye Whyte and Quillan Isidore. Our cover celebrates this body of work.
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“He was my role model. A great
man with a great heart.”
These are the words of Sir
Bradley Wiggins, a contemporary
British icon of cycling, speaking
to the significance of his
relationship with an early mentor
and cycling coach Russell
Williams – a British-born man
of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Sir
Bradley’s response appeared
on my @blackchampions_
Instagram page. It was in
acknowledgement of my
development of an exhibition of
oral testimonies, memorabilia
and photography showcasing the
lives of Black British champions
in cycling. This exhibition was
intended to mark and celebrate
the year 2018 as the 70th
anniversary of the HMT Empire
Windrush first arriving in Britain.
Although it was not the first
ship to do so, the Windrush is
widely known for transporting
many Afro-Caribbean migrants
and citizens of Britain to the
country in 1948 at the invitation
of the British government. As a
key moment in British history,
it forged the beginning of a 20th
century ethnogenesis. A Black
British identity emerged, and
through cultural and ethnic
interactions, it led to a new way of
seeing our national identity.
As a cyclist, a Black British
educator and a scholar with Afro-
Caribbean heritage I wanted to
create something to recognise
our multicultural interactions
and diversity. I wanted to
represent this through cycling
and share it with the wider
British public. ‘Made in Britain:
Uncovering the Life Histories
of Black British Champions’
became my concept and project.
I saw the 70th anniversary of
BLACK
CHAMPIONS
Exhibiting a constellation of lives in cycling
Words & Illustrations: Dr Marlon Moncrieffe
BRITISH
IN
CYCLING
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the ‘Windrush Generation’ as a
perfect opportunity and time to
bring these representations in
cycling to the fore.
I began the project in January
2017. A key aim was to collate
and share stories of the
excellence of black, British-born
Champions who from their
grassroots entry to the sport had
achieved ‘glory’ as medallists
and winners at British, European
and World Championships and
international stage races.
I have been involved in the
sport for nearly 30 years. I
mixed racing with my work as a
primary school teacher. I have
been a school cycling coach,
a volunteer national schools
cycling championships event
organiser and a racer in my
own right (TT, road and track).
A significant moment came for
me after winning an E12 race. I
jumped early and outsprinted
the bunch by about 10 lengths.
After the finish, the late British
cycling great Mr Keith Butler
approached me and suggested
I give track sprinting a go. I
didn’t live very near to a track at
that point. But I took his advice
and went on to win multiple
medals at British, UEC European
Masters and UCI World Masters
Championships.
When reflecting on my cycling
racing experiences, knowledge,
and ethnic identity, I sensed
that this project was made
for me to develop and share. I
knew enough folk in the cycling
community. I am an academic
specialising in critical history
and narrative inquiry. I knew
exactly which Black British
champions I could approach, and
where to find them to get their
oral testimonies.
Black British Champions In
Cycling
Maurice Burton was my obvious
starting point. This is because I
knew that he was the first Black
British national champion in
cycling by virtue of winning
the 20 km scratch race in 1974.
He progressed his career on
the continent by becoming an
amazing and respected six-day
racer. During our interviews,
Maurice provided me with a
stimulating account of his life
growing up in south London
– from joining the Velo Club
de Londres (VCL) to becoming
British champion, from being
denied a place on the 1976
British Olympic cycling team
when arguably he was one of
the best sprinters in the world,
to racing and competing with
the likes of Eddy Merckx, Patrick
Sercu and Felice Gimondi.
I was also keen to interview his
son Germain Burton. He was
an U16 British champion, an
U23 European champion and a
winner in the team pursuit at the
Charlotte Cole-Hossain riding to U16 Junior
National Points victory. Photo by Phil Wright.
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UCI Track World Cup in 2014. In contrast
to his father’s story, Germain spoke more
to the support offered by his father and
established networks which made his path
to his successes in cycling smoother.
Russell Williams was a champion racer and
youth cycling coach who I already knew
about. His racing career spanned three
decades from the 1970s to around 2000.
He was an 18-time British champion on the
track and road. He raced as a professional
with the best of his peers in Britain and
across the world. He was the winner of
British titles at all levels: schoolboy, junior,
senior and masters. At the end
of his career, he had moved with
his family to Australia. Still, I
managed to make contact with
him via Facebook and carried
out several interviews with
him which became the basis
of his oral testimonies at the
exhibitions.
David Clarke was a professional
road racer who I had seen racing
quite a bit in south-east England.
He had won British Cycling
Premier Calendar races and
performed well at international
stage races, with his finest
achievements including overall
victory at the Tour of Cameroon
in 2009 and a mountain stage
plus the King of the Mountains
classification at the Tour of
Alsace in 2004. He was also
King of the Mountains at the
Tour of Ireland in 2012. He was
the best-placed British rider in
the 2012 Tour of Britain. He was
also a multiple medal winner at
the British National Hill Climb
Championships. I made contact
with David via Facebook and
met with him in the Midlands
on three occasions to carry out
numerous interviews to develop
his oral testimonies for the
exhibitions.
One of the few females in this
project was Charlotte Cole-
Hossain. She is a double British
champion and the first female of
Black British heritage to win a
national title. Her cycling career
Maurice Burton British 20km Scratch Champion 1974.
Photograph courtesy of Maurice Burton
Charlotte Cole-Hossain at Herne Hill Velodrome. Photo by Phil Shepard Lewis.
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and successes were nurtured at
Herne Hill Velodrome. She is
from the Velo Club de Londres
and follows on in their tradition
of producing great Black British
Champions from south London
such as Maurice Burton and
Russell Williams.
Christian Lyte is a three-time UCI
Junior World Champion in track
sprint disciplines. He raced in
teams with and against the likes
of Jason Kenny and Sir Chris
Hoy. Following in the footsteps
of Maurice Burton and Russell
Williams, in 2006 Christian was
the Good Friday International
Track Meeting White Hope
Sprint Trophy Winner. I knew
Christian well from my own
track sprinting races and made
contact with him for the sharing
of his oral testimonies through
numerous interviews.
It was Christian who put
me in contact with current
Great Britain riders and BMX
champions Tre Whyte, Kye
Whyte and Quillan Isidore.
This path altered the focus of
my project a little, in that I was
originally strictly interested in
showcasing just those Black
British champions of road
racing and track cycling. Still,
I took the opportunity to meet
and interview these BMX stars
and also Shanaze Reade, who
herself has won medals in the
women’s team sprint event at
the UCI Track Cycling World
Championships. This path also led to my meeting BMX legend of
the 1980s Charlie Reynolds – King of the 360° jumps, and the first
man in the world to land the 720° jump.
The 1992 Star Trophy Series Winner Mark McKay also features in
the exhibition.
All in all, my sample of cyclists covers 50 years of Black British
representation in the sport, from the 1970s to the current day. How
do their experiences speak to diversity, representation, access and
inclusion in the sport?
Diversity, Representation, Access And Inclusion
Some commentators today speak of the need for diversity, for
representation and inclusion of minority ethnic group people in
the sport of cycling. This is a welcome call, seeing that it is a sport
seemingly dominated by the white British majority. However,
no reference is given by those commentators to the career
experiences of the cyclists mentioned above. What could be
Dr. Marlon Moncrieffe & Sir Bradley Wiggins
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learned from these? Could an understanding
of commonalities between past and present
help provide coherent recommendations for
the future of the sport in terms of diversity,
representation and inclusion?
There is no doubt in my mind that the
sport has been and currently is dominated
and represented by white athletes and is
organised by white people. However, my
own experiences of access to and inclusion
in the sport during the early 1990s were
completely positive. I was welcomed,
supported and mentored. My experience
of grassroots access is reflected in all of
the oral testimonies of the Black British
champions I have interviewed. In fact, it is
a collective perspective that counters the
current discourses of recent commentators
concerning lack of grassroots access. All of
the Black British champions in my research
acknowledged the support that they gained
from white people who were significant
to them as coaches or mentors. Of course,
they also discussed the uneducated haters
in the crowd stuck in their worlds of racist
ignorance.
The oral testimonies of the cyclists show
congruent patterns of hostility and barriers
they faced in progressing their careers,
especially where they started to win big
and sometimes against the odds. This
upset certain people and certain rivals.
Competition and desire can bring out the
best or worst in people. Patterns in the
oral testimonies also show that a stand-out
minority ethnic group cyclist with ‘a darker
Ramón Hoyos at the start of the Classic “El Colombiano
skin colour’ giving a beating to the majority
white-skinned competitors is more than
likely to be the target of haters, from fellow
riders to organisers to national selectors.
The Exhibitions
Two exhibitions open to the general
public have been curated: one in Brighton
during December 2018 and another in
London at ‘The Big Velo Fete’, Herne Hill
Velodrome, during June 2019. The oral
testimonies collected during my field work
are the central focus. This is because the
voices and lived experiences of the Black
British cyclists provide the hub to learning
about the sport through an alternative and
arguably marginalised discourse. Added
to the oral testimonies were memorabilia
provided by the cyclists: national
champions’ jerseys, medals, sashes, trophies
and photographs. All were to assist with
embellishing specific aspects of the given
narratives. I approached well-known cycling
photographers such as Paul J. Wright, Phil
O’Connor and Dave Hayward for their
endorsed support with photographs.
Iconography
I wanted to represent each cyclist through
visual portraits that would illuminate them
as icons: Black British icons at least. I was
not conscious of skin colour. I wanted
to illustrate them as vividly as possible.
I probably also had a sense of Marvel
Comic imagery in mind when I created the
multicoloured portraits. Still, these are a true
“Every one of them experienced
discrimination. It’s a massive shame on the
sport – on Britain!’’
“They all had a ver y tough time to go
through, but they were resilient and pushed
through.”
“I now have a heightened awareness of
black achievement in cycling.”
“I didn’t realise that there were so many
black cyclists.”
“Structural prejudice came up in almost
all of the testimonies as well as blatant
prejudice.”
“Brilliant exhibition. Please make this tour
the country/world.”
“I have learnt about the hardships of black
people in the history of cycling.”
“I wasn’t aware of the underrepresentation
of black cyclists’ contribution to the sport.”
“This is amazing. Thank you for all your
important work.”
“It is an excellent exhibition. I’ve learnt
the names of many talented young
black cyclists who no doubt would be
household names if it weren’t for structural
inequalities and racism.”
“It’s so important to recognise these
champions – their achievements and the
racism they faced at times. Brilliant work.”
“This exhibition has changed my perception
of bike racing. I always only ever saw white
faces. It’s fantastic. I didn’t realise these
people existed! Amazing exhibition. Thank
you!”
“Fascinating, heart-warming histories
that demonstrate determination, grit and
staying power.”
Although still not highly represented
there is a bunch of inspirational diverse
riders who have fought to put themselves
amongst the best in the sport.”
“I have been able to gain knowledge that I
didn’t know.”
All were worthy champions but it seems
that the system overlooked them due to
race.”
“It’s such a well curated experience and a
really joyful celebration of an overlooked
subject. Thank you!”
“Fascinating exhibition telling an important
story!”
“This exhibition highlights a side to cycling
I had never seen before. The determination
to get to where they had, then for it to be
taken away makes you question society.”
“Very impressive commitment and
incredible achievements.”
“Fantastic exhibition but I feel angry for the
lost opportunities for some of these great
riders.”
PUBLIC RESPONSES PUBLIC RESPONSES
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Maurice Burton
Charlotte Cole-Hossain
David Clarke
Russell Williams
Germain Burton
Christian Lyte
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reflection of the cyclists in their prime, and each portrait creates
for me a unique sense of the cyclists and their characteristics. I
began with Maurice Burton’s image and continued the process of
creation for all of the other cyclists. The multicoloured portraits
have become a recognisable feature of my exhibitions and work in
showcasing Black British champions.
Public Responses (see above)
I wanted the general public to read the oral testimonies and give
me feedback on these and my exhibition. They have provided me
with outstanding appreciation of the exhibition’s aim to uncover
and showcase the excellence of Black British cycling champions,
exhibiting them as a constellation of lives in cycling.
The public responses have recognised the double-edged nature of
the exhibition, i.e., one of celebrating the strength, resilience and
successes of Black British champions against the hostile, exclusive
and discriminatory factors of ‘whiteness’ and ‘privilege’ and in
some cases clear and indicative evidence of institutional racism
towards Black British cyclists at the highest levels of the sport in
this country.
“For me to be half the man he was when I grew up would have been
enough.”
I conversed with Sir Bradley Wiggins on Instagram messenger and
invited him to attend my exhibition at ‘The Big Velo Fete’, Herne
Hill Velodrome, in June 2019. He accepted without hesitation. We
planned for him to conduct a Q&A and public conversation with
his early mentor and coach Russell Williams. I had influenced
Russell to fly over from Australia to England for this meeting. The
quote above is one of many from Sir Bradley Wiggins, speaking to
the presence of Russell Williams in his life when reflecting on the
time he was a young aspirant racer who would cycle from his home
in Kilburn, north London for training sessions led by Russell at
Herne Hill Velodrome. Sir Bradley Wiggins spoke from the heart.
It was a beautiful conversation, where genuine respect was shown
between mentor and mentee.
I think that the greatest beauty in conducting this research work for
my exhibition is that it has brought people together who haven’t
seen each other for many years. I witnessed grown men with tears
in their eyes when coming together at my exhibition at Herne Hill
Maurice Burton winning an international sprint race against World and
Olympic champions. Photograph courtesy of Maurice Burton.
Velodrome. I witnessed hugs and smiles and general happiness.
This all comes from the love given through the sport. Friends
coming together, reliving the days where they lost and won races,
friends that have lived and breathed cycling. A key aim was to
collate and share stories on the excellence of black, British-born
champions. What a privilege for me to be able to make this happen.
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