In Search of Britain's Greatest Athlete

Jeremy Wilson
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Cyclist Beryl Burton - also known as BB - dominated her sport much as her male contemporary Eddy Merckx, but with a longevity that surpasses even sporting legends like Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams and Sir Steve Redgrave. She was practically invincible in time trials, finishing as Best All-Rounder for 25 consecutive years and setting a world record in 1967 for the distance covered in 12 hours that beat the men. She won multiple world titles, even when the distances didn' t play to her strengths. But her achievements were limited by discrimination from the cycling authorities, and by her strictly amateur status against state-sponsored rivals from Eastern Bloc nations. Yet she carried on winning, beating men and - infamously - competing against her own daughter, while working on a farm and running a household. Her motivation, sparked by appalling childhood illness, is as fascinating as her achievements are stunning. With access to previously unseen correspondence and photographs, and through extensive interviews with family, friends, rivals and fellow giants from across sport, acclaimed journalist Jeremy Wilson peels back the layers to reveal one of the most complex, enigmatic and compelling characters in cycling history. For the first time, he also provides the jaw-dropping answer to how fast she would still be on modern cycling technology. Long ignored by sporting history, Burton' s life story - recently told by Maxine Peake in a stage and radio play - is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Her story is mind-blowing. Why didn' t I know her? -- Maxine Peake The DiMaggio, the Muhammad Ali . . . of British cycling. -- Gordon Burn One of the greatest figures in the history of British sport. -- Matthew Syed I had never realised the longevity and scale of achievement. I' m in awe. -- Dame Katherine Grainger The least publicised, least rewarded great woman athlete ever to be disregarded by her own country. * The Times * Quite possibly the greatest Olympian Britain never had. -- Alistair Brownlee
Jeremy Wilson is the Chief Sports Reporter for the Daily Telegraph. He was voted investigative sports reporter and national journalist of the year for his work on football and dementia. His sports writing was again highly commended in 2021 at both the British Press Awards and the British Journalism Awards. A lifelong club cyclist, he worked previously as a sports journalist for the Guardian.