Dreams of Olympics Past–Victor Hopkins

Victor Hopkins was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on July 19, 1904 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by a single mother and was adopted at a very young age by Mr. and Mrs. Jakob Hopkins, an older couple who died when he was nine. The 1915 Iowa State Census places a ten-year-old Victor at the Iowa Soldier’s Orphans’ Home (later called the Annie Wittenmyer Home) in Davenport, where he stayed until at least his sixteenth birthday—in 1920, the Federal Census lists him with a Frank and Anna Coffin.

According to a letter written by Harry Hopkins, Victor’s son, Victor joined the Davenport Cycling Club while he was still very young—the story goes that Worth Mitten, the founder of the Club, was out with his group of cyclists one day and they were all left in the dust by this kid who was out delivering newspapers. Encouraged by his fellow members, Victor set a new Amateur World Record for cycling his first year with the Club: 5 miles in 11 minutes, 22 seconds.

In 1924, Victor set his sights on the Olympics in Paris, France. He biked from Davenport up to Milwaukee for the 116-mile time trial, placed second, then went home again—all on his one-speed bicycle. When he qualified for the final 117-mile trial three weeks later, he pedaled the thousand or so miles up to Paterson, New Jersey—and won the trial by 20 seconds.

Unfortunately, Victor’s extraordinary skills couldn’t overcome sheer bad luck. During the 117-mile road race in Paris, he had breezed his way to third place when he hit a poorly-marked railroad-crossing gate and bent his rear wheel. By the time he fixed the damage and re-entered the race, it was too late to regain his position. His son states that he came in 58th, though most newspaper accounts have Victor in 59th place.

Regardless, Victor did not let this disappointment stop him once he returned home. He continued cycling, but also began racing Motorpace bikes. He trained by riding from Davenport to Dewitt, over to Clinton, and back to Davenport, a circuit of over 70 miles. Victor won the 1926 American Professional Motorpace Title after competing in only 24 or the 36 races, some with a broken collarbone!

According to an article in the Quad-City Times (October 1, 2006) He returned to Paris in 1932, supposedly to enter the Tour De France, which would have made him the first American to do so. Victor did get a racing license, but he isn’t in the official race roster, and there is no documentation or other evidence that he participated in any part of the Tour. It is speculated that he might have been an alternate on stand by, or that he decided to compete in one or more of the other, shorter races that were going on at the same time.

Victor retired from both cycling and pace racing in 1934 and moved to Nutley, New Jersey where he passed away in December of 1969. In October of 2006, Victor Hopkins was inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame–and about time, too!

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One Response to Dreams of Olympics Past–Victor Hopkins

  1. Adrian says:

    Wow, what an awesome story! Who knew that famous sportspeople came from Davenport?

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