The postponed 2020 Summer Olympics began in Tokyo on 23 July 2021. Sid Payne will be following events more avidly than ever, after coming across a sporting legend in his family tree.
“I’ve always had a keen interest in track events,” explains Sid, who lives in Wimborne, Dorset. “When I discovered that one of my relatives was an Olympic cycling gold medallist I couldn’t believe my luck.”
Sid’s second cousin three times removed was Ernest Payne, who was born in 1884 in a cottage at Red Hill, Worcester. His parents were gardener John Payne and his wife Annie Morris.
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“Ernest’s talent was first noticed at Worcester St John’s Cycling Club, on a bicycle borrowed from his brother Walter. A successful racer himself, Walter became Ernest’s trainer alongside Arthur Hale, whose brother Frederick was a racing cyclist too.
“St John’s archives are a treasure trove of information and photographs. Between 1902 and 1903 Ernest represented the club in 14 amateur cycling events, racing to victory in 13 of them. He was a full-time carpenter, but trained hard in his spare time.
“By 1903, the Cyclist magazine was referring to him as ‘the Worcester Wonder’. That year, Ernest competed in the prestigious Challenge Cup held in Bath and took it, all four feet of silver, home to Worcester.”
Old newspapers recorded the jubilation of the spectators: “Excitement was intense and a great crowd rushed on to the track and carried Payne shoulder high to the pavilion. From the station to his home at Red Hill, the popular cyclist had a triumphal progress.”
Further glory came at the National Cycling Union championships in 1905 where Ernest became ‘Champion of England’, a title he retained for three years. In 1906 he took second place at the Grand Prix de Paris, after racing in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon and travelling to France overnight for the Sunday race.
“Ernest’s greatest achievement was his victory at the London Summer Olympics in 1908. He was selected to ride for Great Britain in the team pursuit, with Benjamin Jones, Clarence Kingsbury and Leonard Meredith.
“The event comprised three laps of the 660-yard track at London’s White City Stadium. Ernest’s team had an easy run in the heats and semi-final, beating Belgium and Canada respectively.
“The final took place on 17 July inside a packed stadium. Ernest led the team to victory with superb pace-making over the last two laps, and they beat Germany by 10 seconds. I can only imagine the deafening roar of the home crowd as Ernest crossed the finishing line, winning gold.”
It was a hectic time for Ernest. His wife Dorothy – Arthur and Frederick’s sister – had given birth to their daughter Barbara only three days before his triumph.
In the years that followed, Ernest also enjoyed a successful career as a footballer, playing for Manchester United and Worcester City. “He scored a goal for Manchester United in only his second match for the club.
“Mysteriously, his gold medal disappeared after the First World War, in which he served as a motorcycle dispatch rider. It was our last Olympic gold in the event for 100 years, until Ed Clancy, Paul Manning, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins raced to victory in Beijing in 2008.”
Ernest died in 1961, and his second wife Emily donated his memorabilia to St John’s Cycling Club. There is also a very public tribute to him: he is immortalised in a sculpture beside a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Severn at Diglis, near St John’s.
“We are so proud of Ernest’s achievements. My son Christian has just named his own son ‘Lucas Ernest Payne’ in his honour.”
Sid Payne runs a Facebook page about Ernest at bit.ly/fb-sid-ernest. Please contact him if you also have a link to the cyclist.