120 Years, 120 Stories (Part 41): Britain blossomed through Boardman’s Lotus bike


A lot of recent episodes have been published on top-billing sports like athletics, swimming and gymnastics. Bored of the stereotyping of our series as if Olympics only revolve around this threesome? Although most of its celebrated champions are from this trinity, surely the greatest sporting spectacle is beyond this monotony. So for a change, let us work out our taste buds for something different in this latest episode of 120 years, 120 stories.

In one of our editions months back, we discussed about one doping scandal involving a cycle race. In this edition too, we will look into a controversy amidst a famous win – the hullabaloo here being more from a technical point of view than any physical foul-play. After all Lance Armstrong’s testimony related to his drug ban following his epic accomplishments leaves little doubt to the fact that cycling is one of the most controversial sports.

Our story is about a famous British cyclist from the 1990s named Christopher Miles Boardman and his victory in the 4-km individual pursuit at the 1992 Barcelona Games. The innovative cyclist, who is nicknamed “The Professor” for his detailed observations and in-depth study about the nitty-gritty of the game, made his debut at the Seoul Olympics four years ago to only getting eliminated in the qualifiers at the 4 km team pursuit.

The Merseyside-born, who has the difficult and hence had prestigious “Hour Record” in his kitty to boast of, reached the Games with a technologically supreme Lotus Superbike which he prepared jointly with a Norfolk mechanic named Mike Burrows. Burrows himself was an amateur cyclist who devoted a majority of the past decade in his workshop trying to fathom a few thoughts in enhancing the pedal speed. The lightweight Lotus 108 was designed in such a way to overcome the biggest obstacle in cycling – air pressure. Hence, the major role behind the Briton’s success laid in his vehicle also called “Windcheetah”.

The British Cycling Hall of Fame inductee who took to the sports not before he is 13, became the first from the greater island nation to win a track cycling event at the Games in 72 years since Thomas Lance and Harry Ryan at the Antwerp Games. Before I go into the details of the final, let me describe the procedure of an individual pursuit. In it, the two cyclists in fray start from points on opposite sides of the track. They then keep cycling on the bottom lane of the Velodrome in the pursuit of the fastest line. If any rider can overtake the other rider, then the pursuer is declared the winner or else the victor is determined by the clock.

But such was the margin of victory in this case that virtually the stop-watches kept for time-keeping were of no use as Boardman beat the reigning world champion from Germany, Jens Lehmann by a lap. Even in tune up to the finals, the Briton who is the winner of three prestigious titles in Olympic gold, Hour record and Tour de France, broke twice the standing world record – which in itself was a testament of his bike which he himself referred to as the difference between a bronze and a gold. In fact, more than Broadman, Britain actually flowered through that “Lotus”.

However, the other attempt that Broadman made at the Barcelona meet in team pursuit event was not much successful with Great Britain finishing fifth outside a place in the podium. Though he did not defend his gold at Atlanta four years later when he already accomplished the “Hour record” and a Tour de France title, he did win a bronze in the individual time trial. The last time he made an appearance in an Olympic event was in 2000 at Sydney where he finished a non-descript 11th.

Due to osteoporosis, Broadman had to take a premature retirement from the sport. He also served as technical adviser to the British Olympic team later on and also as a commentator at the last London Games. Signing off with a YouTube link (click here for the video) of his golden moment at Barcelona.