Keith Thurgood was born in Broken Hill; New South Wales (N.S.W) on June 17,1913 and began his racing career around the age of 19, he quickly rose to become a champion cyclist. Thurgood was a member of the Morgan St. Cycle Club at Broken Hill and by 1933 had won the Shelly Wheelrace, Renmark Wheelrace, Appilla Wheelrace and a host of other handicap and scratch races.
Seeking employment in Adelaide, South Australia (S.A), Thurgood set out to ride his bike there and soon found work at Elliott Bros. which soon after became Super Elliott’s.
Competition was growing among other Australian states and Victor Elliott, founder of Elliott Bros. saw potential in Thurgood and included him into his sponsored Super Elliott racing team, the team also consisted of Deane Toseland, Phil Thomas and Jack Conyers.
Thurgood rose to fame in 1935 to win the Burra-Adelaide 128 mile road race, starting with a handicap of 26 minutes and riding alone over the last 25miles displaying stamina with skilful riding. The race was full of punctures and mishaps and as it had become known to him that Deane Toseland was picking up speed he gave an almighty effort to finish 14minutes ahead of him. This was his first major win after having arrived in Adelaide.
In 1936 Thurgood won the prestigious Austral Wheelrace at Olympic park in Melbourne, he had previously won the fourth semi-final and experts had already predicted that he would ride to victory, his burst of speed upon the final lap saw him leave the rest behind and handed to him was prize money of £100.
In the same year Thurgood defeated supreme sprinter Arne Bate at Payneham Oval (S.A), not happy with his loss challenged Thurgood to a special match at the following cycling Carnival held at Payneham. Bate challenged Thurgood to the best two out of three events in a lap special match.
With an attendance of 500 spectators, Bate won the first heat by employing tactics but Thurgood gave him no chance in the next two heats. The second heat saw Thurgood sprinting from the start and Bate never looked like reaching him and the final heat Thurgood did exactly the same and Bate failed to reach him. The race had no award but it is understood there was a frenzy of side waging. Keith Thurgood became known as “Ajax” named after the famous racehorse because of his ability, style and speed in any type of race, as an all-rounder he also teamed with Clerrie Haunt in the tandem event and broke the tandem record by three seconds, the record was previously held by Deane Toseland and D. Wittenburg.
The 1935-36 cycling season ended with Thurgood awarded the title of outstanding all-round cyclist and at the end of the 1938-39 track season, Thurgood had an impressive 28 wins with races contested in N.S.W, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia and was given the title of South Australia’s No. 1 track cyclist that year. His total wins to date were 125 with nearly 100 seconds. A special year as he also celebrated his marriage.
Thurgood and other members of the Super Elliott racing team traveled all over Australia, with each successful and returned back to Adelaide with numerous smashed records and numerous prizes.
In 1939 Thurgood established a new tandem-paced record and beat Lennie Rogers, champion cyclist at the Sydney Sports Arena (N.S.W).
Thurgood was unstoppable and proved himself a threat to all competitors during his racing, within seven days during the month of March he had nine starts with seven wins, once second and once unplaced.
Thurgood also had his share of misfortune in 1939, an incident left him with some cuts as officials were using strands of wool instead of tape for the finish line and as Thurgood crossed the line the wool failed to break and inflicted cuts upon his nose and eyes, he was also suspended for two weeks on a charge of unsatisfactory riding at the North Essendon (VIC) board track.
Thurgood was a member of the South Australian Payneham Cycling Club where he also lived by.
As cycling gained popularity in the 1940’s so did the crowds at racing events, it showcased Australia’s finest cyclists thrilling the crowds with suspense, newspapers featured many advertisements with his winnings and the Super Elliott team members.
At the broken Hill Cycling Club Carnival, Thurgood’s birthplace an almighty crowd of 7000 witnessed the local rider narrowly win the event from Bill Moritz, second followed by Deane Toseland.
Super Elliott cycles also marketed the “Thurgood” track and road model bikes.
The track was called the “Thurgood Super” and came with the option of Endrick 27” or wooden wheels and the road model was called the “Thurgood Special” with Cyclo 3-speed gearing, both models were Built by Tom Robinson (Super Elliott master frame builder) and were handsomely enamelled by Les Hall (Super Elliott enameller) with contrasting lines and panels.
As World War broke out Thurgood enlisted for Military Service and in 1945 was discharged and made a return to competition cycling. He staged a credible comeback to win the 100-mile cycling championships at Mount Gambier (S.A) and followed with an abundance of other victories. Thurgood continued with more success locally and interstate.
In 1946 he defeated Frank Spears and won the mile championship at Appila sports carnival (S.A) and also added the A-grade scratch “Aces” race held at Payneham (S.A) and the year after the 5-mile race held at Berri (S.A). Thurgood also broke the record at the 100-mile Burra-Adelaide road race.
By 1950 Thurgood was riding as a veteran, he won the Payneham (S.A) Club road race and was still very much in competition.
He proved that age was no barrier and rode a convincingly smoothly finish and there were talks of a featured event at the Christmas cycling carnival of a race between champion pacing mare Nevamald and Keith Thurgood.
In 1953, Thurgood announced his retirement from competitive cycling however in September of that year he came out of temporary retirement with Jack Conyers to ride at the BHAS picnic and sports meeting at Crystal Brook (S.A), the ride would coincide with the opening of the professional track racing season. The following month saw him win the Sedan Wheelrace (S.A) and receiving a remarkable ovation for his ample paced effort.
In November, Thurgood suffered a fractured collarbone during a bad smash; his injury kept him off the bike and many were convinced that this would end his career however 3 months later he was back on the bike and convincingly held off the leading cyclists for a win at the Murray Bridge (S.A) Wheelrace.
Thurgood by 1957 had an amazing achievement with 2114 events recording 539 firsts, 279 seconds, 159 thirds and a number of fastest times.
Thurgood continued to race in his later years in veteran races and won the 1967 Burra-Adelaide 100-miles road race aged in his mid-50’s, in a great display of riding tactics and fitness he made history winning this event twice and recording the fastest times on eight occasions of having entered this event, he rode into a headwind for most of the race but was always well positioned to take honors.
Thurgood was ever so helpful to upcoming younger riders and was awarded the Australian Sports medal and also named Broken Hill’s “Sporting Hero of the Century”.
His winning list reads like a record of all cycling races held in Australia with little or no events of importance which do not include his name.
Keith Thurgood died at age 89 in 2002; the Keith Thurgood classic is run in his honor.