Tuesday, March 6, 2007

MAJOR TAYLOR: AN INDIANAPOLIS HERO

CYCLING CHAMP FROM INDY. Have you heard of Major Taylor? Most folks from Indianapolis, or those who know anything about either cycling history or African-American history, have. Maybe you've heard of the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indy, but who's the man behind the name? Here's a brief profile of the cycling great, one of Indy's own:

RECORD SETTER. "It is widely accepted that Marshall Taylor was the first black athlete to be a well known athlete. He was the first African American who was not a boxer to be recognized internationally. Born in 1878 and nicknamed Major because he performed bicycle tricks as a child in a military uniform, he won the first cycling race he ever entered at the age of 13. Two years later he set a track record in the mile at a track in Indianapolis, his hometown. He became a professional in 1896."
WORLD CHAMPION. "He became a star in 1899 when he went to the World Championships in Montreal. He earned the world championship by winning the 1/2 mile, the 1 mile, and the 2 mile races. There were 18,000 people watching that performance. In 1900, he won the National Cycling Association's sprint title to become a national champion."

INTERNATIONAL CELEBRITY. "Taylor then left to compete in Europe. He dominated while racing the best cyclists in Europe. In 1901, he won 42 races in 5 different countries. In 1902, he won another 40 races and came back to the U.S. Although only 5'7" tall and 155 pounds, he completely dominated the best champions from Europe and Australia. At the turn of the century Taylor was the highest paid athlete in the world earning the equivalent of $30,000 a week in today's society. By 1902 he held seven world records. Taylor was the first African American world champion, a feat not accomplished again until 1998. In 1908 he returned to Europe and set two more world records that would last 20 years. He retired from racing in 1910 and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Somerville, N.J. in 1989."
TREATED TERRIBLY. "Despite being a celebrity in Europe and Australia, Taylor was an outcast because of his color. He was constantly treated poorly. Stories include that Taylor was once choked by an opponent, given second place in races he easily won, being banned from many tracks and races, and not allowed to enter hotels and restaurants because of his color. He was forced to skip almost every race in the southern U.S. because of the harsh discrimination. He died in 1932."

PIONEER AFRICAN AMERICAN ATHLETE. "Today, Taylor is remembered as a courageous pioneer who helped pave the way for many other great African American athletes. He has a racing velodrome (track) named after him in his hometown of Indianapolis. He also has a prestigous award named after him given to a black athlete or coach judged to have made significant local or national contributions. Past winners have included Jackie Joyner Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner. Taylor also helped make many improvements to the bicycle including handle bar extensions."

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