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Riders remember a brilliant life lost

11/08/2008 11:03:00 AM
WHILE modern athletes pit their skills against each other in Beijing, a veterans' cycling club is set to silently honour an Olympic champion who was killed in his prime in Clayton 50 years ago.

Maillot Jaune riders club members plan to meet at Leighoak Hotel, Oakleigh, on September 13 at 10.10am to commemorate the moment dual gold medallist Russell Mockridge was crushed by a bus minutes into the 1958 Tour of Gippsland road race.

Mockridge was among a group of cyclists who started from the hotel, riding full-tilt along Dandenong Road when a north-bound bus crossed their path at the Clayton Road intersection.

The bus rolled and crushed the 30-year-old Mockridge, killing him instantly.

Maillot Jaune secretary John Green, of Oakleigh, said the commemoration would have no speeches, instead being a silent gathering of well-wishers to remember Mockridge.

He said Mockridge was one of Australia's greatest Olympic cyclists, winning two gold medals at Helsinki in 1952 and competing with the best road cyclists in the Tour de France.

"He was the Australian road champion and the Australian sprint champion at the time. He hadn't even reached his peak yet."

The Maillot Jaune (which means "yellow jersey" in French) is a national club of 250 veteran riders, with patrons including contemporary stars Cadel Evans and Stuart O'Grady.

Member Daryl Perkins, a former Olympian, was 15 at the time of Mockridge's death.

"It was pretty devastating," he said. "Mocker was a bit of an idol of mine, as he was for all the kids in those days.

"I couldn't believe it. He was cut down from the pinnacle of cycling."

Author and journalist Martin Curtis, who plans to release his book Russell Mockridge: The Man In Front in time for the anniversary, said the tragedy was avoidable.

"The riders expected there to be a marshal on the corner, as in previous years. The last thing they expected was to give way to a passenger bus."

He said Mockridge's late widow Irene, who was following the group, was embittered by the tragedy.

"[Irene] didn't feel the death was properly investigated. She was bitter that she had lost her husband and noone seemed accountable for it."

He said Mockridge was an unusual breed - a former journalist who studied for the Anglican priesthood.

"He was someone who had broader horizons than the average sportsman. He and his wife enjoyed Europe as expatriates in the '50s."

He wanted to revive the Mockridge story, which was strongly recognised by his contemporaries but little-known by the next generation.

"I think part of the tragedy was the unrealised potential because he was so powerful - there were many victories ahead of him."

Curtis became fascinated with the Mockridge story as a community newspaper reporter in the 1990s.

He pushed for a permanent memorial at the fateful intersection.

He still thinks a plaque should mark the spot, as well as a memorial at the former Olympic velodrome site in Melbourne.

"I think there is some significance around the corner, and [Mockridge's] contemporaries think there's a significance.

"For a new generation of cyclists, it reminds them of how vulnerable we are."

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I'm the author of the Mockridge book which will be available at end of August in major book shops. Alternatively Russell Mockridge: The Man in Front can be ordered from Melbourne Books website, MelbourneBooks.com.au.
Posted by Martin Curtis on 19/08/2008 11:08:22 AM
Fifty years on, I can also vividly recall the impact on my Blackburn Amateur Cycling Club friends. I think we were actually at an amateur race meeting at the time. I can also vividly remember the finish of what must have been the 1958 Austral Wheel Race, when the four backmarkers, including Mockridge and Patterson caught the field, with a quarter of a lap of the Melbourne Olympic Board Track to go. Without hesitation, and sprinting flat out, Mockridge cleved straight through the field, pushing one up, one down, in seconds, finally finishing third. I had always thought this was the dream of an enthusiastic youngster, until Graham Shiel verified that my recollection was perfectly accurate, and it is also a life long memory of his.
Posted by Alan Telfer on 19/08/2008 5:29:05 PM
without doubt the greatest cyclist we have produced.regardless of claims,there will never be another mockridge.
Posted by huddo on 25/08/2008 7:14:23 PM
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In memory: Maillot Jaune members John Hine and Daryl Perkins who will help commemorate a champion killed in an accident five decades ago. Picture: Melissa Banks
In memory: Maillot Jaune members John Hine and Daryl Perkins who will help commemorate a champion killed in an accident five decades ago. Picture: Melissa Banks
Tragic loss:  Russell Mockridge in action.
Tragic loss: Russell Mockridge in action.

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