Het is vandaag tachtig jaar geleden dat de Canadese wielrenner Lionel Coleman in tragische omstandigheden om het leven is gekomen…
Lionel Maurice Coleman was born on March 29, 1918 in Hamilton, Ontario. He was a member of the Maple Leaf Wheelmen of Hamilton, which was affiliated with the Maple Leaf Wheelmen of Toronto, a part of the Canadian Wheelmen’s Association (later the Canadian Cycling Association). Although only eighteen at the time, Lionel Coleman was the first choice of the Canadian Cycling Team that was to compete at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games in Berlin.
He was already well known as one of the top amateur riders in the country. He had qualified for the team, as he had won the quarter-mile, the half-mile and five-mile races during the Olympic Trials. He won the twenty-five mile 1936 Dominion Cycling Championship at the Canadian National Exhibition track, with a two-lengths lead over Roy Taylor and Allen Jackson of Toronto.
The Daily Mail and Empire of Tuesday, June 7, 1936 featured a photo of the cycling team that would come to represent Canada at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games (onderstaande foto). As well as Lionel Coleman (age 18) of the Maple Leaf Wheelmen of Toronto, the team also included George Crompton (age 22) of the Maple Leaf Bike Club, Claude “Rusty” Peden (age 20) of the Maple Leaf Wheelmen of Toronto, Bob McLeod (age 23), George Turner (age 23, who was absent for the photo as he was with the Permanent Force at Petawawa), and were coached by Bill Deacon, a former rider himself.
Coleman, along with Crompton, Peden and Turner, competed in the Individual Road Race at the Games, whereas Coleman, Crompton, Turner and McLeod competed together in the 4000 metre Team Pursuit event. Moreover, McLeod competed in the 1000 metre Time Trial.
Coleman’s uncle, Archie Coleman of Toronto, shipped Lionel Coleman’s bicycle to Berlin, prior to the start of the Olympic Games, so that he could have his own bicycle to ride for competition. In a letter to his uncle, written by Lionel Coleman, dated August 3, 1936, at the Olympic Village in Berlin, he described his experiences while at the Games: “We got here after a splendid voyage and found everything prepared for us on a big scale. (…) I think they are the most congenial and hospitable people I’ve ever met up with, that is as a nation. The village is all layed out, like the picture or diagram that acts as a letterhead, and everything is swell. Clean and neat, and stewards to look after everything for you. Twice every day we go to training to the track in Berlin. The Army supplies a bus to take us there, wait, and bring us back when we’re through, and we’re generally well looked after. I got a letter, an Invitation from your London representative, Mr. Cooke, inviting me spend a stay in London with him so I think I’ll do so.”
Coleman, along with the rest of the team, failed to win any medals at the Games. A newspaper photo (boven) featured Coleman on his bicycle, stating that he had been a member of the last Olympic team and that he was about to defend his Canadian Championship title at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto. He was described as “one of the best amateur riders ever produced in this country.”
In 1939, he earned the title of all-round Ontario Bicycle Champion, with a total of seventeen points at the Provincial Dirt Track Bicycle Championships at the Canadian National Exhibition.
Lionel Coleman was a resident of Stoney Creek, when his terrific cycling career came to a tragic end, on September 25, 1941, at the age of 23. He was the owner of a pleasure craft and a member of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, when shortly after 6:30 p.m., he volunteered to assist Douglas Sager of the Hamilton Harbour Police, as Sager was about to set out alone, to bring in several boats which had been ripped from their moorings during the heavy gales present that evening. As the Harbour Patrol Boat drew near to one of the drifting vessels, Coleman stood up, ready to jump aboard and secure a rope to tow it in. The waters were rough and when within a few feet of the craft, the Patrol Boat listed and tossed Coleman, plunging him into the water where it was twenty-five feet deep. Sager hurried to the side of the boat and waited, as the small boat was tossed wildly by wind and waves, but Coleman never reappeared. The police rushed to the scene with an inhalator but weather conditions interfered with efforts to locate the body, which was not recovered until 8 p.m., Coleman tragically drowning in Hamilton Harbour.