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The Woman who Broke Men's and Women's Records
You may never have heard of this woman, unless you are British
aged 50 plus, or a cycling enthusiast. She raced in all forms of
cycle racing, but her speciality was in time trialing. In British
cycling this is where you cycle against the clock travelling half
the distance one way and the other distance in the opposite
direction to offset the effects of wind and hills. In this event,
she was totally dominant over any woman and regularly beat the
leading male proponents.
An Incredible Victory
Famously in 1967 she overtook Mike McNamara, the eventual winner
of the Men's race after starting one minute later! McNamara broke
the men's British record in this race and she had beaten him! The
event, by the way, was the 12 hour time trial. Essentially,
whoever cycles the most in 12 hours wins. Beryl had managed to
chalk up 277.25 miles, at an average speed of over 23.1 m.p.h.
This record wasn't broken by a man for 2 years and has still not
be broken by any woman. That is a record which has lasted 45
years! Very few records last that long-by way of example, the
oldest men's world record in track and field is 26 years set by
Jürgen Schult in 1986. Changes in Sports science, nutrition and
technology, particularly in cycling have been great since 1967.
She also set over 50 new national records at 10, 15, 25, 30, 50
and 100-mile distances; her 10, 25 and 50-mile records each lasted
20 years before being broken, her 100-mile record lasted 28 years.
As well as time-trialling, she was also the women’s world road
race championship in 1960 and 1967. On the track she was the
individual pursuit world champion five times (1959, 1960, 1962,
1963 and 1966). Women's cycling was not introduced until she
reached the age of 47. She would undoubtedly have gained many gold
medals if this had occurred when she was still young.
Beryl Burton always remained an amateur, despite being offered
professional contracts. She was steadfastly working-class,
spending her days in the fields as a farm labourer, often doing 12
hour shifts followed by 40 mile training runs on her bike.
Unfortunately, she had a chronic medical condition, having
contracted rheumatic fever at the age of 12. Doctors had told her
to not over exert herself! Sadly, the condition finally overcame
her. Whilst out on her bike delivering invitations for her 59th
birthday party she collapsed and died.
Beryl Burton, a true working-class hero, I salute you!