Graeme Obree (born 11 September 1965), nicknamed The Flying Scotsman, is a Scottish racing cyclist who twice broke the world hour record, in July 1993 and April 1994, and was the individual pursuit world champion in 1993 and 1995. Obree rode his hour records as an amateur. He took a professional licence only after winning his first world championship.
Obree was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire but has lived almost all his life in Scotland and considers himself Scottish. An individual time triallist, his first race was a 10-mile time trial to which he turned up, however, in true English eccentric fashion wearing shorts, anorak and Doc Marten boots. He thought the start and finish were at the same place and stopped where he had started, 100 metres short of the end. He had started to change his clothes when officials told him to continue. He still finished in "about 30 minutes."
Graeme suffers from bipolar disorder and has attempted suicide three times. He attempted suicide in his teens by gassing himself and was saved by his father. Obree's brother, Gordon, died in a car crash in October 1994, and Graeme Obree again slid in and out of depression. In 2001 he was found unconscious at Bellsland Farm in Kilmaurs, 12 km from his Ayrshire home. The Obree family horse was stabled there, and he was discovered by a woman checking a barn. He had tried to hang himself. Each time he has been saved by people being there just at the right time. It appears that the Good Lord is trying to tell him he isn’t wanted yet in heaven!
His wife, Anne, a nurse, has until recently been a rock upon which Graeme has built his life and career. They have two sons. But living with a manic depressive is not at all easy and when in January 2011, Obree stated in an interview with the Scottish Sun that he was gay, I suspect the writing was on the wall. Manics are not known for telling the truth, they fantasise and often do not know fact from reality [if such a thing exists]. They are also often amoral, which requires a great deal of patience and understanding from any partner.
Graeme’s autobiography was published in 2003 entitled The Flying Scotsman.
His life and exploits have been dramatised in the 2006 film The Flying Scotsman and more recently in the documentary film Battle Mountain: Graeme Obree's Story, which follows his journey to Battle Mountain, Nevada to compete in the 2013 World Human Powered Speed Championships.
In December 2009, he was inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame while in March 2010, he was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.
On innovation, drugs and corruption in cycling
Obree is eccentric and innovative, an inventor and a person who is able to think out of the box. He is known for his unusual riding positions, his radical innovations in bicycle design and cycling position, and for the Old Faithful bicycle he built which included parts from a washing machine. It goes without saying that he has had had problems with the cycling ‘authorities’, [notably the world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale] who have been somewhat miffed that an amateur on his own designed and built bike, refusing all the drugs with which the sport was awash, and rejecting the corruption with which it was also awash - has beaten authority approved bikes and people.
In a petulant display of toys and prams, the Union Cycliste Internationale attempted to remove him by banning the bikes and the positions he designed, but were only made to look very foolish by doing so. Thus Graeme has also come away with a very significant moral victory too, having beaten people fairly without drugs, and despite the unfair tactics of the self-appointed ‘cycling authorities’.
The magazine Cycling Weekly put it down to "petty-minded officialdom," but actually there is a lot of money at stake in this area and Obree with his honesty, innocence and amateur approach really upset the apple cart – and it really needed to be upset. His web site says:
Obree said of his short professional career:
In 1996, he told the magazine L'Équipe:
It is actually worse than sad. Erythropoietin (EPO, is a glycoprotein cytokine secreted by the kidney in response to cellular hypoxia; it stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow. BUT, exogenous erythropoietin, recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) is produced by recombinant DNA technology in cell culture. It is rhEPO which is used illicitly as a performance-enhancing drug and it can often be detected in blood, due to slight differences from the endogenous protein.
Risks of therapy in sick patients include death, myocardial infarction, stroke, venous thromboembolism, and tumour recurrence. Risk increases when a person is not sick. And there is no evidence that it actually improves performance.
Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Jun;75(6):1406-21. doi: 10.1111/bcp.12034. Erythropoietin doping in cycling: lack of evidence for efficacy and a negative risk-benefit. Heuberger JA et al
Imagine a medicine that is expected to have very limited effects based upon knowledge of its pharmacology and (patho)physiology and that is studied in the wrong population, with low-quality studies that use a surrogate end-point that relates to the clinical end-point in a partial manner at most. Such a medicine would surely not be recommended. The use of recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) to enhance performance in cycling is very common. A qualitative systematic review of the available literature was performed to examine the evidence for the ergogenic properties of this drug, which is normally used to treat anaemia in chronic renal failure patients. The results of this literature search show that there is no scientific basis from which to conclude that rHuEPO has performance-enhancing properties in elite cyclists. …. The use of rHuEPO in cycling is rife but scientifically unsupported by evidence, and its use in sports is medical malpractice. PMID: 23216370
The compassion and disorganisation of the manic
Many manic depressives in their manic phases are disorganised, kindly, compassionate, and often feel ‘guided’ – saved from themselves by their guardian angel or higher spirit. John Custance elsewhere on the site had this to say
John Custance – Adventure into the Unconscious
In my manic or elated phases, Powers – I call them Powers, though often I can put names to them too – take complete charge of me and I act almost entirely on impulse…… my guardian angel, whom.... I have christened Tyche after the Greek Goddess of Fortune, intervenes to save me at the last moment. Thus at a later date when Tyche seemed to tell me to have a manic attack in conditions of freedom and led me to Berlin, the city between the worlds, I let her have her way and took the risk……………..I once listened to a very interesting lecture at Oxford by the late Dr William Brown, in which he declared that the sense of guidance was a most dangerous thing. It came direct from the Unconscious, from the vast instinctive forces which civilisation has dammed up. Its insidious power was derived from the release of those forces, but we must always remember that the Unconscious is beyond good and evil.
In one of Grame’s apparently manic phases, he was supposed to have joined Le Groupement, a French team, but did not attend a meeting, flew to the wrong airport, and was fired for "lack of professionalism." Obree had explained his reasons: "I was too ill to attend the get-together and had no success when I attempted to contact team officials on 1 January. My wife, Anne, who is a nurse, insisted I was not well enough to travel to France."
But, the team manager, Patrick Valcke, said: "If a rider has that attitude, it's best to stop working together as soon as possible”
But maybe his guardian angel was looking after him.
The Le Groupement team fell apart after a short time, when the sponsoring company was involved in scandal, with accusations that it was nothing but a pyramid selling scheme. Some of the team members claimed that they were owed money, and their wages were not paid.
Obree continues to race occasionally in individual time trials for Ayrshire-based Fullarton Wheelers cycling club. In May 2005, he crashed in the rain in the national 10-mile time trial championship near Nantwich in Cheshire. He was a member of the winning three-man club squad that took the team title in the Scottish 10-mile championship in May 2006. In December 2006, he competed in the track event, Revolution 15, in a four kilometre pursuit challenge.
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