BELIZE CITY, Mon. Jan. 27, 2020– At 96 years of age, functionally blind and bedridden, but still very lucid, one-time Speaker of the House and Amandala columnist C.B. Hyde has charged me “with the responsibility” to present the case of 3 items concerning former Cross Country champions that he thinks demand public attention and recognition as of great importance to our sporting culture and history. “We owe it to posterity,” he declared, to put these matters in the record once and for all.
On one of my regular visits with mom and dad, both bedridden, he greeted me yesterday with much anxiety and a sense of urgency, having distilled his thoughts enough to be convinced that his contribution was relevant and worthwhile to his beloved country and people, about which he spends much of his time nowadays contemplating. After he was finished delivering his “sermon,” somewhat exhausted from the effort, he concluded, “I charge you with the responsibility.. I have done my part.”
What 3 things was he talking about? One concerned Alfred Parks, another concerned Edward Miguel, and the most egregious, in his estimation, concerned Jeffrey O’Brien.
Personally, I remember a period in mid-1970s when Alfred Parks was the main topic in the cycling community, having embarked on a revolution of sorts, utilizing his trainer George Gabb’s creation, a bicycle home trainer, that allowed him to work-out on his bike while it was mounted in a room at Gabb’s art studio on Albert Street. I believe Parks was an employee/trainee of Gabb’s in the wood carving business, and when Gabb saw his dedication to the sport of cycling, and the time he needed to be away from work training on the road, he designed a training model that allowed Alfred to ride in place. Parks still did some road work; but the home trainer allowed him to get in more hours of training without affecting his job.
I can recall one Cross Country in particular (I suspect after his first championship in 1976) when the near 100-member field of cyclists would all be surrounding Parks as the race got under way, and as it progressed through the early stages, all seeming to follow his every move. So closely marked and crowded was Parks in that race, that he was unable to make any break away from the peloton, and there were a few mishaps along the way. His nemesis, Kenrick “The King” Halliday benefited from Parks’ problems on that occasion, racking up another of his 4 Cross Country championships.
The year in question, which would be 1979, it would seem that Alfred Parks had determined not to let the same thing happen to him. C.B. recalled that Richard “Dickie” Bradley (not yet a lawyer) was the race commentator on Radio Belize on that memorable day when Parks added to the Cross Country mystique with his memorable declaration, “Ketch di bull fi mi!” as all-alone he passed Busman Arnold’s farm where a bull was the station prize. And he now insists that this race was unique among all Cross Countries, in that it is the only Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic where one rider led the race from the start to the finish – Alfred Parks. This has not happened in any other Cross Country, C.B. asserts. He thinks this should be researched and verified; it is a remarkable achievement that stands out in the annals of Cross Country lore.
(P.S. On Thursday, January 30, following his appearance on the Krem WUB Morning Show with Nuri Muhammad, Dickie Bradley confirmed to me that C.B. Hyde’s observation is correct. Dickie said he had written an article in Amandala about that event, and I shall try to locate it in the Amandala archives for possible reproduction in the newspaper.)
The Miguel brothers established what has often been referred to as a dynasty in cycling during the latter 1950’s through the 1960s, winning ten (10) Cross Country crowns among them – Edward (’56, ‘58’, ’59), John “Johnnito” (’60, ’64, ’65, ‘68), Arthur (’62), and Rudy (’69, ’70); and they also added a number of second place finishes along the way. One of those victories by Johnnito was a dead-heat tie for first in 1960 with Duncan Vernon. But the following year, 1961, the record books make no mention of Edward Miguel, and Duncan Vernon is on record as the repeat champion that year. C.B. is of the strong opinion, which is no doubt shared by many, that the circumstances of the 1961 race finish require revisiting, and Edward Miguel’s name be installed as champion. The reasoning?
Rules are rules, and they are for a purpose. Infractions during the course of a race are rightfully penalized, as no rider should gain an unfair advantage over the others; and in modern times that has extended to the use of illegal chemical supplements/drugs (doping). Sometimes, accidents could be caused during a race by riders’ reckless behavior, especially when in a peloton. So, rules are to be followed for safe riding. When the race is over, that’s it.
There was an intense sporting rivalry at the time between Duncan Vernon and the Miguels. Edward Miguel’s first Cross Country win was in 1956, dethroning legendary 4-time champion, Jeffrey O’Brien; Duncan Vernon was second that year. In 1957, Duncan Vernon won his first Cross Country (A report said that “Edward Miguel hung up his wheels throughout 1957,” so it appears that he may have sat out this Country.) In 1958, Edward returned as champion, followed by Duncan Vernon in second place. In 1959, the Miguels asserted their supremacy, as Edward won his 3rd Cross Country, with brother Arthur in second place. In 1960, brother John Miguel finished in a dead-heat first-place tie with Duncan Vernon.
Now, with this type of raging battle for supremacy between Vernon and the Miguels, early in 1961 (the year of Hurricane Hattie in October), there was a Holy Saturday crucifixion of sorts, and C.B. Hyde feels strongly that it is better late than never for the sport of cycling to correct this grievous wrong. There is no question of any foul occurring in the dramatic sprint to the tape for the 1961 Cross Country championship after 144 miles of grueling pedaling. With the rivalry at its highest, no one disputes that already 3-time champion Edward Miguel crossed the finish line first, raising his arms in glorious victory over his arch-rival, Duncan Vernon, who was followed by Edward’s brother, Arthur. But, lo and behold, some astute official declared that a rule had been broken by the would-be champion, when he raised his arms off his handle bar at the finish line – a stupid rule that has long since been revoked. But we were still a colony then; and for that, and for all these years since then, the 1961 Cross Country record has not even mentioned the name of Edward Miguel. Look it up: Cross Country 1961 – Duncan Vernon 1st; Arthur Miguel 2nd. Not a word about Edward Miguel, who reportedly never rode Cross Country again.
Some folks may say, rules are rules and must be obeyed; and it is their right to say that. But we are an independent nation since 1981; and in this case concerning our Cross Country Classic, C.B. Hyde, always a proponent of “The Greater Good,” believes that a greater sporting purpose is served by placing the 1961 Cross Country garland where it rightfully belongs “for posterity,” on the shoulders (posthumously) of resulting 4-time champion, Edward Miguel.
There have been many great Cross Country champions who have dominated the sport during the time of their peak in the sport. In the record books, there are a number of back-to-back winners, a few 3-time, and an even fewer 4-time Cross Country champions; but the most consecutive victories on record have been by Aston Gill, who won 3 straight in 1945, ’46 and ’47; he then added a 4th crown in 1950. Other 4-time champions include Jeffrey O’Brien, Edward Miguel(*), John Miguel, and Kenrick Halliday. If not for an unprecedented anomaly in the 1953 Cross Country, Jeffrey O’Brien would be recognized as the only 5-time champion, and with 5 consecutive Cross Country crowns at that.
As my dad, C.B. Hyde related to me, “Buck Belisle, an aficionado of cycling, referred to Jeffrey O’Brien as the ‘god of cycling.’” The late Lewis “Buck” Belisle, my uncle, was himself a Cross Country cyclist in his youth, as was his brother, now 102-year-old Roy Belisle. Buck was a contemporary of O’Brien, and he later on became a coach/trainer of a number of Cross Country champions of the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Anthony “Tank” Hutchinson (’72, ’73), Alexander Vasquez (’80), and Alpheus Williams (’81, ’82, ’84).
Speaking of Belisle, C.B. recalled: “He said O’Brien was the only cyclist he had ever seen, in the world, who would sprint at full speed for hundreds of meters on a direct line, neither swerving left or right at any time.”
O’Brien having won consecutive Cross Country crowns in 1951 and ’52, it is often overlooked that he remained invincible in the Classic, though the record books do not show his name as champion in 1953, when 16-year-old Clinton Castillo was crowned Cross Country champion. But a story goes with that; and C.B. feels strongly that this anomaly needs to be corrected “for posterity,” and the greatest Cross Country champion ever be given his just recognition.
According to the story handed down, the Cross Country in 1953 was a “Handicap Race,” where “four youths were given a half hour jump over the older competitors as a mark of encouragement.” “… Castillo, then 16 years of age, was never caught…” “Twenty minutes afterwards, Jeffrey O’Brien and the others…” (from the April 2, 2013 article, see excerpt below, posted at www.belizemusicworld.com/Cross-Country-Cycle-Race-History)
But there was more to it than that.
As C.B. describes it: “The reason why a handicap was suggested was because everybody knew that O’Brien would win; so the race would not be exciting. O’Brien himself suggested that the handicap time be increased (from 15 minutes?) to half an hour… He should be credited with a 5th Cross Country championship.”
It is the standard practice of the Cycling Association to publish the finishing times of all participants in a race; and the winner is the one with the shortest finishing time, naturally.
In 1953, nobody defeated the reigning champion, Jeffrey O’Brien, although young Clinton Castillo performed a great feat, not getting caught. He certainly deserved a prize (youth champion?) as a “mark of encouragement.” But in terms of the time taken to complete the journey, Castillo reportedly covered “the 144 miles in 8 hours and 18 minutes,” with Jeffrey O’Brien and the others arriving “twenty minutes afterwards.” Of course, nobody could beat Jeffrey O’Brien in a sprint at that time; and the Association records put him at 2nd place. But, with a half hour handicap, and coming in 20 minutes after Castillo, it means that O’Brien finished in 8 hours 8 minutes, the best time for Cross Country in 1953. C.B. therefore insists, “He should be credited with a 5th Cross Country championship.”
THE HANDICAP RACE
The year 1953 was the first and last of its kind. Four youths were given a half hour jump over the older competitors as a mark of encouragement. The youths, Leonard Bernades, John (Shamba) Dominguez, Russell Gill and Clinton Castillo left Belize City at the stroke of five on the morning of Holy Saturday, April 4th. The older riders left half an hour later to catch up with Bernades, Dominguez and Gill somewhere on the return leg. However, Castillo, then 16 years of age, was never caught and he went covering the 144 miles in 8 hours and 18 minutes. Twenty minutes afterwards, Jeffrey O’Brien and the others, including two of the handicappers, Dominguez and Gill, came down on the tape.
Feature photo: C.B. Hyde