Harris at the 1948 Olympic Games
1 March 1920|
Birtle, Bury, Lancashire, England
22 June 1992 (aged 72)|
Macclesfield, Cheshire, England
Reginald Hargreaves Harris OBE (1 March 1920 – 22 June 1992) was a British track racing cyclist in the 1940s and 1950s. He won the world amateur sprint title in 1947, two Olympic silver medals in 1948, and the professional title in 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1954. His ferocious will to win made him a household name in the 1950s, but he also surprised many with a comeback more than 20 years later, winning a British title in 1974 at the age of 54.
Harris was born as Reginald Hargreaves at 7 Garden Street, Birtle, Bury, Lancashire,. His mother, Elsie Hargreaves, a cotton weaver, remarried and Reginald took the name of his stepfather, an engineer and businessman called Joseph Harris.
Reg Harris left school without qualifications and his first job was as an apprentice motor mechanic in Bury, soon moving from the workshop to the salesroom. During this period, at the age of 14, he bought his first bicycle, and entered a roller-racing competition organised by the Hercules bicycle manufacturing company.
Amateur career and military service
His ability attracted the attention of other cyclists and Harris joined the Bury section of the Cyclists' Touring Club and then its racing offshoot, the Lancashire Road Club,. In 1935, he won his first race, a half-mile handicap event held on a grass track in Bury, and also started competing in individual time trials.
Harris moved from the motor mechanics job to a slipper factory, then, in early 1936, to a paper mill which he felt would pay him enough in the winter to spend the summer training and competing. During 1936, he raced on grass tracks in Lincolnshire, then competed in and won his first events in conventional competition at Fallowfield Stadium in Fallowfield, Manchester.
In early 1937, he was confident he could support himself as an athlete, selling the prizes he won as an amateur, and left the paper mill to focus on the summer cycle racing season, returning to the mill the following winter (repeating the process the following year). He continued to win races and attract attention, and by the summer of 1938 was able to beat the existing British sprint champion. At the end of that season, he joined Manchester Wheelers' Club, and in 1939 won a major race in Coventry, leading to his selection for the world championship in Milan, Italy. He travelled to Milan and had familiarised himself with the Velodromo Vigorelli when World War II broke out and the British team was recalled to the UK.
Harris joined the 10th Hussars in the North Africa Campaign as a tank driver but was wounded, transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps, and later invalided out of the services as medically unfit in 1943. He liked to joke that he was one of the few men to leave the army less fit than when he joined,. Despite the judgment of the army medics, in 1944, he won the 1,000 yards (910 m), quarter-mile and five-mile (8 km) national cycling championships. He retained the two shorter titles in 1945 and added the half-mile on grass. He was invited to race in Paris in 1945 and again impressed the crowds, and he was expected to do well in the 1946 world championships in Zurich, Switzerland, only to have his chances ruined by an over-enthusiastic pre-race massage. Harris's amateur world championship achievements were celebrated in 1947 when Cycling Weekly awarded him his own page in the Golden Book of Cycling.
By the time Harris won the world amateur sprint title in Paris in 1947, he was already employed and equipped by bicycle manufacturer Claud Butler and was testing the boundaries of amateurism. The cycling world expected that Harris would take three titles in the 1948 Summer Olympics: the sprint, the tandem sprint and the kilometre time trial, but three months before the London Games, he broke two ribs in a road accident. After hospital, with a few weeks remaining to the games, training, competing and winning, he fell in a ten-mile (16 km) race at Fallowfield and fractured an elbow,. Completing the rest of his preparation in a plaster cast, he had to be satisfied with two silvers, being beaten by Italy's Mario Ghella in the final of the sprint, and partnering Alan Bannister to second place in the tandem sprint (timetable constraints meant Harris's place in the kilometre was taken by another rider, Tommy Godwin, who won a bronze medal). Two weeks later, he claimed a bronze medal in the 1948 world championships sprint in Amsterdam. He was named sportsman of the year by a poll in 1949, winning by 7,000 votes over the football player, Billy Liddell.
On his return from Amsterdam, Harris turned professional under sponsorship of the Raleigh bicycle company. He was paid £1 000 a year with a bonus of £100 if he won a world championship, £50 for every grand prix and £25 for every British record. Harris was aware of his commercial attraction to race promoters and even as an amateur drove a Jaguar Mark IV. His earnings in the 1950s have been put at £12 000 a year. He dominated Raleigh's advertising for a decade and, despite coming from a sport with no great following in Britain, he was as familiar as Stanley Matthews and Stirling Moss.
In 1949 he won the world professional sprint championship in Copenhagen - a victory he repeated the following two years in Belgium and Milan. He then won a fourth and final world professional title in Cologne in 1954. He won the Sports Journalists' Association's accolade of Sportsman of the Year in 1950, and was runner-up in 1949 and 1951.
He retired in 1957 to devote himself to business interests, none of which suited his tastes or abilities. He managed Fallowfield Stadium, renamed the Harris Stadium; he was involved in various abortive ventures associated with Raleigh; and he started a 'Reg Harris' bicycle manufacturing business in Macclesfield which lasted three years before folding. He then worked in sales promotion for the 'Gannex' raincoat company, before working for two plastic foam producers. In the 1960s he owned and managed the Reg Harris Petrol & Motor Service Station on Wilmslow Road in Didsbury, Manchester which is now the site of the Shell Petrol Station on the corner of Grange Road.
In 1971, he returned to racing, winning a bronze medal in the British championship in Birmingham after little preparation. With more training behind him, he approached the British championship in Leicester in 1974 in more confident mood, and beat Trevor Bull to win the title at the age of 54. In 1975, he returned to Leicester, but was narrowly beaten by Bull in the final and had to settle for the silver medal. He continued to cycle almost to his death.
A memorial to his achievements can be found in the National Cycling Centre in Manchester.
Harris's achievements are marked annually with the Reg Harris Sportive, organised by his family and friends. The inaugural event on 25 August 2013 raised money for charities.
In popular culture, Harris is referenced in the Hancock's Half Hour episode 'The Junkman'.
He was married three times. The first two marriages (in 1944 to Florence Stage (daughter of the former Bury F.C. captain Billy Stage), then to Dorothy Hadfield) ended in divorce. He married Jennifer Anne Geary in 1970. He died in Macclesfield, Cheshire, of a stroke, survived by his third wife, and was buried at St John's Church in the north Cheshire village of Chelford.
- 1st Sprint, Vi-Tonica Gold Cup
- 1st Sprint, Muratti Gold Cup
- 1st Sprint, Vi-Tonica Gold Cup
- 1st Sprint (Amateur), National Track Championships
- 1st Sprint (Amateur), Track World Championships
- National Track Championships
- 1st Tandem sprint (Amateur), National Track Championships
- Olympic Games
- 3rd Sprint (Amateur), Track World Championships
Grand Prix Paris 1946, 1951, 1956
Grand Prix Copenhagen 1949 und 1954 bis 1957,
Grand Prix Aarhus 1956,
Grand Prix Antwerp 1950,
Grand Prix Brussels 1954 und 1955,
Grand Prix London 1955 und 1957, Grand Prix Amsterdam 1950, 1952 und 1956,
|1 km time trial||1:09.80||23 October 1949||Vigorelli (Milan)||Open air|
|1:08.60||26 October 1952||Open air|
|1:09||9 November 1952||D'Hiver (Paris)||Indoor|
|1:08.90||12 February 1955||Westfalenhallen (Dortmund)||Indoor|
|1:08||19 July 1957||Hallenstadion (Zürich)||Indoor|
Awards and honours
- Bidlake Memorial Prize: 1947, 1949
- Daily Record Sportsman of the Year: 1949
- Sports Journalists' Association Sportsman of the Year: 1950
- Order of the British Empire: 1958
- Oxford National Biography, UK
- The Golden Book of Cycling - Reg Harris, 1947. Archive maintained by 'The Pedal Club'.
- The Bicycle, UK, 1 February 1950, p13
- Reg Harris Sportive Archived 17 June 2013 at Archive.is
- Dineen 2012.
- "Reginald Harris". Cycling Archives. de Wielersite. http://www.cyclingarchives.com/coureurfiche.php?coureurid=7342. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
- "Men's World Records". Union Cycliste Internationale. http://www.uci.ch/mm/Document/News/NewsGeneral/16/60/64/Historiquedesrecords_HommesElite_21.10.2014_Neutral.pdf.
- "Award Winners". http://www.bidlakememorial.org.uk/award%20winners200.htm. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
- Dineen 2012, p. 146.
- "Past winners of the SJA British Sports Awards". http://www.sportsjournalists.co.uk/sja-sport-awards/past-winners-of-the-sja-sports-awards/. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
- Dineen 2012, p. 293.
- Dineen, Robert (2012). Reg Harris: The rise and fall of Britain's greatest cyclist. London: Ebury Publishing. ISBN 978-0-09-194538-1. https://books.google.com/books?id=vDb_ygAACAAJ.
- Harris, Reg; Bowden, Gregory Houston (1976). Reg Harris: Two Wheels to the Top: An Autobiography. London: W. H. Allen. ISBN 978-0-491-01957-6. https://books.google.com/books?id=ZBeZAAAACAAJ.
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