Farewell to Tommy Godwin

Tommy Godwin (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Tommy Godwin would have been 92 years old this Monday but sadly he passed away on Friday. Judging by the many accolades and tributes in the press and social media over the weekend, he was a lovely old boy, a lively raconteur with a twinkle in his eye and a great ambassador for the sport of cycling.

Earlier this year, the Guardian put together a slideshow on Tommy’s career and his passion for cycling.

He was born and raised in Connecticut after his parents had emigrated there from the Midlands before his birth in 1920. They stayed until 1932, forced to return home in the Great Depression. Tommy’s talents as a cyclist were discovered while working as a delivery boy in his late teens for the Wrenson grocery chain. At 16 he took a job at the BSA cycle factory in Birmingham and would build his own his racing frames as his career progressed. Tommy was in contention for the 1940 Olympic team until the outbreak of war and although, as an electrician, he was spared Army service, his best years were probably lost to World War II.

After the war, Tommy was unbeaten in five-mile scratch events and won the Cattlow Trophy in 1943 and 1944. In the national championship of 1944, at which Reg Harris made his breakthrough, Godwin won the five-mile. He repeated this success in 1945, adding the 25-mile title which he retained in 1946. In 1949 he won the 4,000 metres event. He won the BSA Gold Column, offered by his employers, by winning the five-mile at Herne Hill in 1945.

Chosen for the team pursuit at the 1948 Olympics with Robert Geldard, Dave Ricketts and Wilfred Waters, he also competed in the kilometre time trial (kilo) as a late replacement for bitter rival Reg Harris. Tommy won bronze medals in both events and was a little unlucky not to fare better in the kilo. Racing in near darkness, he was tied for the lead after the penultimate lap but a strong headwind in the finishing straight saw him drop a second and a half off the winner’s pace. He collected another bronze medal at the British Empire Games in 1950 before turning professional. In the same year, he opened a cycle shop in King’s Heath that he ran for the next 36 years. Tommy’s pro career was not as successful as it could have been and his father, who acted as his manager, was accused of mismanaging his son’s schedule.

A spritely Tommy Godwin in June of this year with his medals and bike from 1948 Olympics (image courtesy of British Cycling: Anthony Upton/PA)

On retirement Tommy became Britain’s first paid national coach in 1964 and trained a generation of British track riders, including Graham Webb, who beat the British hour record and won the world amateur road race championship, and Mick Bennett, who won bronze medals at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Both men worked in Tommy’s bicycle shop during their careers.

Brian Cookson, British Cycling’s president, paid tribute to Godwin:

Tommy Godwin represented all that is great about our sport. A true gentleman who achieved great things as a competitor, a coach and an administrator. Our sport is privileged to have been associated with him.

When Tommy was president of the British Cycling Federation, he pioneered the use of conditioning, healthy eating and warm-weather camps decades before these things became widespread. His autobiography It Wasn’t That Easy: The Tommy Godwin Story was published in 2007. A fellow Brummie, he was also president of his local cycle club, Solihull CC. In 2010 he became an official ambassador for the 2012 Olympic Games and carried the Olympic torch through his home town of Solihull, an act he considered “an honour and a thrill”.

He admitted:

I did wonder if I might get picked. I get on very well with Seb Coe [the head of LOCOG] and at a recent event he came up for a few words. He said he had a special job coming up for me. Now I know what he meant. We’ll have to wear this modern kit, which I don’t like the look of, but it will be a wonderful occasion to carry the torch. My life has been nothing but cycling and I’ve just never stopped loving it.

Rest in peace, Tommy.