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Sport and the Spirit of Capitalism

Today the scandal in professional cycling is doping: a hundred years ago it was racism.

Traditionally, things have tended to be difficult for the American athlete who happens also to be black. Jesse Owens, snubbed by his own President, had to travel to the 1936 Berlin Olympiad for the “warmest ovation of his life” – and a friendly wave from the Fuhrer himself – whilst a young Cassius Clay, disgusted by his homecoming reception some 24 years later, reportedly consigned his Rome Olympic Gold to the muddy depths of the Ohio. Practically unknown today, although in his time as famous as Owens or Clay, is cyclist Major Taylor. Why?

Pedalling in Ever-decreasing Circles

Cycling is popular again but what happened to the old Clarion Cycling Club?

The metamorphosis of the precarious Ordinary – “Penny Farthing” – into its essentially present-day “Safety” format in the 1880s and a steady reduction in manufacturing costs, saw the bicycle by the following decade fast-becoming the main means of personal working class transport. Villagers and townies, hitherto isolated, could now venture healthily afield, widening geographical and social horizons, seeking erudition and enlightenment, diversifying and enriching the gene pool.

Devastating as it undoubtedly was for “High Wheeling” aristocrats and toffs to find their pastime suddenly infested with hoi polloi, salvation, at least for the seriously affluent, was nigh: the internal combustion engine was already spluttering into life.

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