Sandy Williamson

Born: April 17, 1927;

Died: July 14, 2019

Sandy Williamson of Leven who has died aged 92 was an outstanding Highland Games grass track cyclist of the 1950’s, who competed as ‘Herd’ to avoid confusion with another cyclist called Williamson. Over a long career he won countless races over various distances with the highlights including national titles over one, two and four miles.

After emigrating to Australia for about thirty years in 1961 he competed successfully in ‘hard track’ velodrome racing and some road racing till well into his 60’s. Once finished competitive cycling he rode recreationally till a ripe old age as life without cycling for him was as unimaginable as breathing without oxygen. Any time he travelled including trips back home, his beloved cycle went with him, even via Zimbabwe where he visited sister Moira en route. Such was his immersion in the sport that aged 73 he corresponded with an international coach requesting a ‘sprints training programme,’ omitting to mention the small detail of his age. When this later became apparent, the coach became very concerned over the possibility that the intensity of the programme might result in fatal consequences for Sandy for whom, clearly, age was merely a number.

Grass track cycling was a tough demanding sport with riders speeding round tight uneven tracks, often in fields, at about 20m.p.h., very close to each other with the constant risk of collisions and falls. Bikes had no brakes, were fixed gear which meant they could not freewheel and cyclists were in effect ‘strapped’ onto the pedals, with consequences in the event of a fall. Sandy often cycled to the Games, competed and cycled home afterwards. Steely determination was required to succeed, an attribute he possessed in abundance.

Sandy and rivals, such as the Hendry brothers from Gartcosh, Bert Duff from Falkland, Jock Ward from High Valleyfield and others competed as professionals mostly in Fife and Central Scotland. Although ‘professional’, winnings never provided a livelihood but were a welcome bonus to the weekly wage.

He also travelled south to compete in Lakeland Games at venues including Penrith, Keswick, Kendal, Ambleside and at Knighton in Wales. In one feature, Sandy was referred to as one of “the big guns” who came down from Scotland to compete, recording his first win at Keswick in the mile in 1952, followed by many successes.

He won his first Scottish titles in 1953, the mile at Alva and 2 miles at Coupar Angus and later a further four Scottish 2 miles titles at Alva between 1957 and ’61, his best time of 5ms. 21 secs. in 1959 equating to an average speed of c.22m.p.h. He also clinched the British mile title at Keswick in 1955 while other venues that yielded regular wins included Ceres, Lochore, Cupar, Airth, Alloa, Crieff, Thornton and Blackford among others.

Alexander Williamson was born in Leven where he lived in Glebe Street and attended the local Public School. Father Andrew initially worked as a lorry driver before operating a mobile fish and chip shop. Sandy trained as a plasterer and while working on a house in Methil met Nancy Smith whom he later married and with whom he had three sons, Sandy, James and Ian, all resident in Australia. By this time he was competing for Kennoway Road Club which led to his grass track career.

In 1961 the family emigrated to Melbourne where Sandy was soon employed in his trade and prospered by dint of hard work, subsequently building his own house. He joined Footscrays Cycling Club, competing in velodromes with success locally till into his 60’s. Occasionally he did road racing and participated six times in the Melbourne-Warrnambool one day Classic, at 165 miles the world’s longest.

After Nancy’s death in 1985 he returned home to visit a year later and although 59 raced at various Games including Inverkeithing where he was awarded ‘Athlete of the Day’ after clinching five prizes. Thereafter he returned to Australia via Colorado to watch the World Cycling Championships.

In the course of another trip home he met an old school friend Stella Dury nee Laing, then a widow and the couple married in 1990, later settling in Leven. He continued dabbling in Games and in 1996 and ’97 at Alva won the 1600ms. race, the latter when 70.

Son Sandy, himself a champion cyclist in Victoria who his father coached, came over in 2002 and together they went to follow the Tour de France for a week during which Sandy Sr. met Lance Armstrong’s mechanic whom he knew, giving them the opportunity to examine the American’s bike at close quarters and be photographed with it.

Apart from cycling, Sandy enjoyed holidays in Italy and was interested in languages, obtaining certificates in Italian and French. An occasional East Fife fan, he was a supporter of the Labour Party and held strong opinions. A friendly individual, he spoke to everyone, once memorably engaging ex Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in a restaurant in Harare and establishing excellent rapport. A colourful character, he was one of the last from a different era of cycling. Unfortunately Stella predeceased him in 2016 but he is survived by his sons, nine grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren.JACK DAVIDSON