Little Lord Fauntleroy. China Doll. The Geelong Flyer. Edward ‘Russell’ Mockridge (1928-1958) may have left this earth at the age of just 30. But in that time he earned many nicknames and left an indelible mark on world cycling; a mark which sees him considered by many to be the Don Bradman or Phar Lap of Australian cycling.
In 2008 respected AOC historian, Harry Gordon, named Mockridge in Australia’s 100 Greatest Olympians while no lesser rider than Sir Hubert Opperman himself described Mockridge as “the most versatile cyclist Australia had produced … no other cyclist in my experience had been gifted with such a level of overall cycling talent”.
In an era when cycling was still rooted firmly in the working classes, Mockridge rode very much against the tide of the times both on road and track. A shy teetotaler educated at the prestigious Geelong College and reportedly possessing the most regal of accents, he was initially thought far too soft for the harsh realities of bicycle racing – hence the unflattering monikers bestowed upon him by rivals – until the results and records began piling up in his palmares.
Under different circumstances Mockridge may have never been a cyclist at all. Like many Victorians his first sporting love was Australian Rules football. But sadly for him, and luckily for cycling, he was chronically shortsighted; a condition which effectively ruled him out of serious participation in football and many other sports. With few other options as a teenager Mockridge thought cycling might be worth a try and joined the Geelong Amateur Cycling Club in 1946; sporting a rare bespectacled look which decades later would become synonymous with the ‘Professor’, Laurent Fignon. As it turned out Mockridge was rather good. In fact within months he claimed the 1947 Australian amateur road championship held at Sydney’s Centennial Park, and just one year later he was on the starting line for both road and track events at the 1948 Olympic Games in London.
In a delightful anecdote legend has it that when Mockridge showed up for his first-ever race in Geelong – with his spectacles taped firmly to his head – he quite innocently asked organisers if he might be able to stay out in front for the entire 40km as he was concerned his questionable vision might lead to an accident. The laughing was short lived. He won easily.
Questionable eyesight or otherwise, word quickly spread that the guy with glasses from Geelong could sure ride a bike. When not training in and around the Barabool Hills and You Yangs, Mockridge began chalking up wins ad nauseum. In one of his few set-backs as an amateur he would return from the London Olympics with little more than hard-luck stories. But it wasn’t long before the medals and bouquets began to flow. At the 1950 British Empire Games in Auckland he claimed gold in both the 1,000m sprint and 1,000m time trial. In July 1952 he became the first cyclist to win both the amateur and professional sprints at the Paris Grand Prix – a feat that led to the (traditionally invited) amateur champion being barred from the professional race for many years.
Whilst red tape surrounding his amateur status almost saw Mockridge left at home for the 1952 Olympic Games, he ultimately went to Helsinki where he won two gold medals in one afternoon in the 1,000m time trial and the 2,000m tandem where, having never ridden the event in his life, he formed an impromptu partnership with stoker Lionel Cox on a bike unwanted by the British team. They even had to assemble it themselves.
Mockridge turned professional precisely one year and one day after the Olympics – as per a fidelity bond he’d been forced to sign with the Australian Olympic Committee prior to Helsinki – and continued to enjoy success, primarily at home but occasionally abroad. Overseas highlights included being part of the winning trio at the Paris 6-Day event in 1955 and being one of just over 60 riders to finish the 1955 Tour de France from 150 starters in a combined Luxembourg/mixed team, 4:14:46 behind overall winner, Frenchman Louis Bobet. Mockridge also took part in Paris-Roubaix earlier in the same year finishing the Hell of the North in 42nd position behind riders including Fausto Coppi and Jacques Anquetil.
But it was Australia where Mockridge enjoyed his greatest triumphs as a professional. In 1956 he claimed the blue riband for fastest time in the grueling Melbourne to Warrnambool road race in 5 hours 47 minutes, 5 seconds – a record time which stood for nearly 25 years until broken by Wayne Hildred in 1980. In 1957 Mockridge would return to Warrnambool to again set the fastest time. In the same season he also claimed the Sun Tour and the Tour of Tasmania. In total he won 12 Australian championships across multiple disciplines, including the professional Australian road race title for three years running from 1956-58.
On 13 September 1958, in what was to be one of his final races before returning for another assault on Europe at the peak of his powers, Mockridge was killed instantly when struck by a bus near Melbourne, just minutes after starting as a scratch marker in the Tour of Gippsland. His untimely death was understandably a major news story of the day, as was the subsequent damages claim filed against the bus owners and its driver, Robert Alexander Watson, by his widow Irene and fellow rider Jim Taylor who was also injured. Whilst awarding partial compensation a jury found the riders themselves were considerably to blame for the tragic collision. Irene remained adamant a course marshal should have been present at the fateful intersection.
Even now, 56 years since his passing, there could be no better illustration of Mockridge’s versatility as a rider than the fact that at the time of his death he was the reigning Australian National Champion in three remarkably different disciplines: the 125-mile professional road race, the 1,000m sprint and the 5-mile pursuit. (Imagine Gerro doing that!)
The final gem about Russell Mockridge is he is also widely thought responsible for what is surely one of the finest cycling quotes of all time: “Before you can learn to win a race you have to learn to finish it.”
EDWARD ‘RUSSELL’ MOCKRIDGE
1946 – Winner, first ever race, Geelong Amateur Cycling Club 40km road race
1947 – Winner, Australian road championship (amateur)
1950 – Gold medal 1,000m sprint British Empire Games
1950 – Gold medal 1,000m time trial British Empire Games
1951 – Finalist, World Amateur Sprint Championship
1952 – Olympic Gold Medal 1,000m time trial (Olympic record)
1952 – Olympic Gold Medal 2,000m tandem
1956 – Fastest Time, Melbourne to Warrnambool (Race record)
1956 – Winner, Australian road championship (professional)
1957 – Fastest Time, Melbourne to Warrnambool
1957 – Winner, Australian road championship (professional)
1958 – Winner, Australian road championship (professional)
*Abbreviated palmares only. We’d need four pages to fit everything he did in!