Sunday, September 8, 2013

Billy Guyatt

One of Billy Guyatt's greatest triumphs came towards the very end of his career but I'm probably starting this post from the wrong end. Billy Guyatt showed his potential very early as a junior rider.
He and his brother Herb grew up in the Gippsland town of Sale. Their father Jim Guyatt was a cyclist and I guess this is where their passion for the bike grew from.

Billy as a 11 year old actually borrowed a bike and rode out to watch his father compete at a local 32 mile Gippsland race. Riding beside his father and asking how he was going showed Mr Guyatt that he had a son with some future potential. This was 1931. It would seem that young Billy Guyatt had a desire to succeed and that passion for success would be part of his persona during his life time - both in sport and later in business.

Success didn't always come easy though. Guyatt's cycling life did have its ups and downs. Starting his racing career as an amateur, he accepted a small cash prize and Mr Guyatt had to argue his son's case to ensure that he could continue as an amateur so that he may compete in both state and national competition during the pre-war years. Like many cyclists of the pre-war period, their careers endured a hiatus that put a stop to their progress and possible successes.

In 1935 at 15 years old he won the Victorian junior road championship held on the Albert Park Lake circuit. During the pre-war period the lake was a mecca for training. At 16 years of age Guyatt won several track championships in Brisbane and was hoping to represent Australia for the 1936 Empire Games being held in Sydney but Dunc Gray beat him in the National Sprint Title. Missing selection, Guyatt turned professional at 17 years old. From that day he forged an illustrious career as one of Australia's most versatile track riders of his day.
Prior to WWII the mecca of track racing in Melbourne was the Exhibition Board Track situated beside the Exhibition Buildings close to where the current Melbourne Museum now stands. Many imports who came from France, Italy and America raced there during their off season and Guyatt was matched against all of them with success. Later the Exhibition Board track was transported to North Essendon where Guyatt continued racing.
Trips overseas to gain a World Title were unsuccessful for Guyatt due to poorly prepared trips and sickness on arrival in Europe. The war intervened in his career as it did for many of our sporting greats. Guyatt did continue racing after the war however there were younger men on their way up. One of of them during the late 1940s was Sid Patterson. From what I've researched, there was an attempt to match the two however such was the age difference, it may be considered that Guyatt had too much to lose.
He did however race well and had two Sydney 6-day wins in 1941 with Ray Brooking and 1942 with his great competitor Jack Walsh.

During the 1950s, Billy Guyatt was coming towards the end of his career, he was in his 30s and although still a clever technician, his pace was dropping away. After a short retirement from racing Guyatt came back to ride the 1954 Warrnambool Road Race. Considered a sprinter, this 165 mile road race would seem an impossible task for the ageing sprinter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sitting at a lunch this week, I got talking to old cyclists who knew Billy Guyatt and they had many stories to tell me. One of them, Gordon Jennings claims that Guyatt was accosted by a group of Roadies who claimed that Guyatt was just a soft Trackie. Further discussion ended in a quite substantial amount of a wager being struck with Guyatt claiming he would win the 1954 Warrnambool Road Race. Gordon Jennings claims that both the wager and the winnings of the prestigious race, he was able to start his electrical retail business. History proves that he won the event. Billy Guyatt was given the handicap time of 27 minutes before the scratch men and the papers of the day considered him a favourite. That particular year was not an easy one - in fact due to headwinds all the way to Warrnambool, it was one of the slowest in contemporary times. It took Guyatt 8 hours and 24 minutes to win the 1954 Warrnambool. Most probably due to his success in winning Australia's oldest classic road race, Guyatt was lured back to the North Essendon Velodrome for the beginning of the season. This season was to be his last as he hung up his wheels at the end of the summer to concentrate on his business life.

Billy Guyatt wins the 1954 Warrnambool. Bill Long, cycling promoter and editor of Australian Cyclist magazine  stands to the back on the left. 
Another two people I sat with during that lunch this week was Ian Browne and Tony Marchant, winners of the 1956 Olympic gold for the Tandem in Melbourne. Billy Guyatt was their mentor and motivator at the Games. Ian Browne had some fond memories, some he hinted at with a glint in the eye, yet to be told.
Browne told me that Guyatt sold electrical products for companies such as Electrolux and found a good market in the country selling to country housewives. His success in cycling transferred into his business life (and possibly his social life) with becoming the best salesman within the company.

Guyatt did come back for one last season after his 54' Warrnambool win to the North Essendon board track.
Seen here with Hughie Cram at training.
Guyatt with open arms greet the 1956 Tandem Olympic Gold Medallists, Browne and Marchant.
Browne told me that after he and Marchant had reached the finals, Guyatt took them down under the track for a motivational and tactical talk before the finals. It must have worked because the gold medal was theirs for the taking.

An excerpt from Wikipedia
One of the reasons behind Australia's return to form had been the return of Guyatt to a mentoring role. Guyatt had assisted them at the national championships, but they were assigned to another coach at the Olympics. Guyatt was regarded as a marketing-style motivator and he attempted to give Browne and Marchant a psychological boost. Equipped with their new machines, Browne and Marchant employed a tactical trick devised by Guyatt. The Australian staff had noticed that the Czechoslovaks had always made their final burst from a certain point from the finish. During the final, Australian team manager Bill Young stood at the said point as the Australian led out. When Browne came to the point, he pulled upwards and pre-emptively blocked the expected Czechoslovakian attack. This helped to stifle the attack and Australia went on to win the gold medal.

Ian Browne related to me that after the win, Guyatt said to him, "Go and give your mum a kiss, she's up there on the fence."
Avery Brundage, then president of the IOC had to wait until Browne gave his mum a kiss under orders from Guyatt.

The "Old Bikies" lunch is certainly one that I hope to return to for more tales that I can share with you on future posts.