Saturday, December 9, 2023

Ian Hallam – Team and Individual Pursuit Champion of the ’70s and ’80s

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HomeInterviewsIan Hallam - Team and Individual Pursuit Champion of the '70s and...

It’s our privilege to have interviewed Mr. Ian Hallam; two Olympic Team Pursuit bronze medals, a Worlds Individual Pursuit silver, a Worlds Team Pursuit silver, two Commonwealth Individual Pursuit golds, a Commonwealth Games Team Pursuit gold, Commonwealth bronze in the Kilometre and 20 Kilometre, and 25 British track titles.

A British Road Race Championship silver as a junior and two bronzes as a senior, two Milk Race stages, a stage in the Olympia Tour and too many domestic road and criterium wins to count.

And best not forget third in the RTTC ‘25’ Championship behind King Alf and specialist tester Dave Holiday.

Retirement from cycling then competing at a high level at the World Windsurfing Championships, finally coming back as a ‘Master’ to win 15 World titles…

We had to hear about it all from the man himself.

Ian Hallam
Ian Hallam on the front during the Cleveland GP in the late ’70s. Photo©Stan Hilton

You took silver in the ’66 National Junior Road Race Championships; does that one still rankle?

“I had three great opportunities to win the National Road Champs.

“In 1966 the late Phil Edwards was the favourite (he won it the following year). Phil attacked several times but was brought back. 

“It was a bunch coming into the finish and on a small rise with about 400 metres to go Don Parry jumped and got a gap and I didn’t have the confidence to react straight away – I was closing fast at the line but it was too late. At the time I was delighted to get a silver but realised after that I could have won.

“As a senior, in 1972 the Nationals were held at Lancaster and I had won the Lancaster GP the previous year. Phil Griffiths and Doug Dailey attacked and I was too far back the bunch to react. I knew that I should have gone after them but hesitated. 

“They opened a two minute gap before I attacked and went clear on my own – I chased for the last 20-odd miles and closed to about a minute but had to settle for a bronze.

“Again in 1974 I won bronze but this time it was bad luck. I was flying and was in the winning break with Bill Nickson, Willi Moore and Tony Gornall. 

“Bill attacked on a climb with about a mile to go. I reacted but my back wheel jumped and a spoke broke. The wheel was rubbing on the brake blocks and the tyre on the chainstays but it was too late to change bikes so I chased and got back. In the sprint I was beaten by Bill and Willi. I’m sure that without the broken spoke I would have won the sprint.

“So looking back, yes, it does rankle that I didn’t win a road champs.”

Ian Hallam
Ian Hallam (centre) shakes hands with Mick Bennet. Photo©unknown

You rode the Olympics in 1968, a huge experience for a young man – your memories?

“It was a dream come true. 

“As a 15-year old, in 1964 I watched the Olympic Individual Pursuit on TV from Tokyo where the Czech riders, Jiří Daler won; I thought how I would love to do that.

“Also as a 15 year-old, I watched Hugh Porter ride a Pursuit against Harry Jackson at Harvey Hadden Stadium, Nottingham, and loved his smooth style. I wanted to be like Hugh!

“I had been aiming for the Olympics since Norman Sheil started coaching me – the basis of my training interval training and when I was sprinting I imagined that it was the last lap of a Pursuit final.

“When Norman first offered to coach me, I wasn’t sure that I could combine racing at that level with my studies but Norman convinced me that by adopting interval training, I could combine that with studies.

“So to get selected for the Olympics four years after watching that Pursuit final was incredible. I was 19 years-old, very shy and was overwhelmed by the whole experience of the Olympics – it was my first international and the first time abroad. 

“Because Mexico was at 7,500 feet, we had to travel out early to acclimatise. It meant seven weeks out of University – I missed an important exam but they set another when I returned for me and another dental student who was an athlete and was selected for the 200 metres. I suppose it was good prestige for the University

“I was selected for the Team Pursuit but we rode a pre-Olympic competition and I beat Brendan McKeown, the national Pursuit champion, by three seconds and so I was selected for the Individual Pursuit as well. 

“In that pre-Olympic event, I rode against a Dutch rider and beat him by six seconds… his name was Joop Zoetemelk.

“In the Individual Pursuit I was really nervous – I broke the previous Olympic record but was well off qualifying; 15th fastest with 4:50:62 to fastest qualifier Xavier Kurmann of Switzerland’s 4:40:41.

“Kurmann ended up with bronze, the Frenchman Daniel Rebillard ran out winner from Mogens Frey of Denmark. 

“We were 12th in the Team Pursuit with 4:28:49 to the Italians as fastest qualifiers with 4:16:10. The Italians ended up bronze medallists with the Danes winning from the West Germans. 

“I remember feeling really disappointed afterwards – I thought to myself that in four years I really want to win an Olympic medal.”

Ian Hallam
Ian Hallam was pure class. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh 1970 with gold in the Pursuit then Worlds Silver at Leicester that same year, those were massive results for a British rider of that era – is it true they were achieved on minimal training?

“Yes, I was a full time dental student and my training was 30 minutes interval training per day (for cardio-respiratory fitness and speed) plus longer rides and road races at weekends for stamina. 

“At the time it was revolutionary but as you know it is common now.

“I rode against a young Danny Clark in the final of the Games in Edinburgh and then to ride the Worlds at Leicester was great. 

“I came up against Mexico Olympics bronze medallist Xavier Kurmann in the final; he had ridden four seconds faster in the semi so I knew that I couldn’t beat him. 

“But I was so proud to win silver in front of a home crowd; my hero Hugh Porter won gold in the pro Pursuit and the late Beryl Burton won bronze in the women’s Pursuit.”

The Olympia Tour in The  Netherlands, a race which obviously suited you; three top four finishes and fifth on GC in ’72 and a stage win in ’73 – and is it true you won that stage with a broken top tube?

“I loved the Olympia Tour; fast racing and echelons, where you had to get to the front and force your way into the echelon. The Dutch riders didn’t usually let foreigners push in but they seemed to respect me and I was accepted. 

“It was in an era when there were great Dutch amateurs, such as Hennie Kuiper, Zoetemelk, Jan Raas, the late Gerrie Knetemann and late Fedor den Hertog.

“In 1973, I was eighth overall and with about 20km to go into Amsterdam my steering went funny and I noticed that my top tube was broken just behind the head tube. I couldn’t get out of the saddle so round every corner I lost ground; I knew that if I changed bikes I would lose my place on GC.

“There was a corner with about 500 metres to go and – in the saddle – I closed the gap to the group and caught them with about 300 metres to go – there was no chance of easing and then trying to sprint so I just flicked across to the other side of the road and when I looked behind there was only Piet Van Katwijk on my wheel.

“I nearly went the wrong side of the coned-off lane for the vehicles but to my luck Piet went the wrong side. 

“I couldn’t  believe that I’d won!

“Of course, it was a big story in the Dutch press.”

Ian Hallam
Ian Hallam during the Chandy Criterium in 1971. Photo©unknown

Did those results attract any attention from continental pro teams?

“Yes, but I didn’t really follow them up because I had my profession as a dental surgeon.”

The Munich Olympics and Team Pursuit bronze, though it could have been better but for an ill-timed puncture?

“We were absolutely thrilled to get a medal, the first Olympic cycling medal since 1956.

“We were unlucky with the puncture in the semi-final against West Germany and were not beaten by much, but we never really thought we could beat the West Germans.”

Ian Hallam
Team Pursuiting before the hi-tech race took hold; Ian Hallam is man one, with Ron Keeble, Willi Moore, and John Patston. Photo©unknown

The ’73 Worlds; are you still happy with your decision not to accept the rainbow jerseys after the Germans crashed in the final and were DNF?

“There are two answers to that. 

“At the time it was absolutely the right thing to do – we were well beaten going into the last lap and the Germans crashed, not because of any fault of their own but because of an official getting too close to the edge of the track. 

“Officially they could not be World Champions because they did not finish. 

“But we just couldn’t accept the title – it was morally wrong and the decision was unanimous; and we thought that we would have the chance again to win…

“For many years I had no regrets about the decision.

“However, the second answer, is that in sport you have to accept good luck as well as bad luck and I’m sure no other nation would have done what we did; in the record book we would have been down as World Champions and no-one would remember the circumstances. 

“More recently I have thought that I was never a World Champion, and I think that perhaps I was good enough to have been. 

“So from that point of view, I do regret it.

“However, I don’t think that I would have been proud to say that I was a World Champion and I do think that it is better to be proud of your achievements and do the right moral thing.”

Ian Hallam
The Great Britain Team Pursuit team with Ian Hallam on the front look fabulous. Photo©unknown

The ’74 Commonwealth Games; a terrific campaign with two gold and two bronze medals – your recollections?

“As a team, this was the most satisfying achievement of my career. 

“We had such great morale and we all fed off each other. We had such a great time and had fun off the bike as well. 

“The only rider in the track team not to win a medal was Maurice Burton, so I felt really sorry for him.”

Montreal and the ’74 World must have been a huge disappointment, you broke a spoke, punctured and crashed when on a record time against the Czechs in the semis – your memories?

“Yes, we were devastated. 

“We probably had the best team ever, with Steve Heffernan, Mick Bennett and Willi Moore – I think that we could have beaten the Germans. 

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