Nino Borsari

Olympic Cycling Champion  and sporting ambassador
Born: Cavazzo, Italy, December 14, 1911
Died: Melbourne,  Australia, March 31 1996, Aged 84
In an obituary published in the national daily, the Australian and written by Melbourne sport's writer Ron Carter the headline reads "Big Wheel of Sports World".

Carter opines that "When Nino Borsari was stranded in Australia in 1939 at the start of World War II, it was the start of an exciting and rewarding new life for the Italian. He was an Olympic cycling gold medallist and his fame, coupled with a dynamic personality, led him to become a vital part of Melbourne's rapidly growing Italian community from the 1940's."

"His willingness to help new arrivals during the height of immigration made him the King of Carlton, the unofficial mayor of Little Italy, centred on Lygon Street. The name Borsari is still prominent on the corner of Lygon and Grattan Streets, Borsari Cycles is no longer in the family, but it has become the Borsari Ristorante and Borsari's corner is a Melbourne landmark."

"Borsari was always outspoken in his pride of Melbourne and Australia, and played an important part in the city's history. In 1948, when the city was bidding for the 1956 Olympic Games, Borsari went to London to help put its case to his friends on international sporting committees. The city won the Games by one vote from Buenos Aires - without the influence of Borsari, it is doubtful that the Olympics would have come to Melbourne."

"His contribution to the wellbeing of Italian citizens and his role as sporting leader was recognised in his home country, and he was honoured with a papal title of Cavalier. The velodrom in the central Italian town of Cavazzo, where he was born, carries his name. "

"In the 1930s, aged in his 20s, he was a household name in Italy, where cycling is almost a religion. He won his Olympic gold as a member of the record-breaking Italian 4000m pursuit team at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. Besides being a brilliant cyclist, Borsari was a brilliant showman and crowds around the world loved him. He was extremely popular in the United States, where he often raced at Madison Square Gardens. His extraordinary reputation prompted an invitation to come to Australia and compete in the 1934 Victorian Centenary 1000-mile (1610km) cycling tour, which covered most of the State."

"As he was a sprint specialist, many of the locals and other overseas riders believed he lacked the endurance to last more than the first day of the gruelling tour. But he performed superbly. One of the race stages was a climb to the summit of Mount Hotham in the Alps. Not only did he reach the top first, well ahead of any other rider, he was there even before the officials." [Bill notes: well that was the 1930s!!!]

"During a return trip to compete in Australia in 1939, hostilities broke out in Europe. Borsari found himself stuck in Sydney. He sold his gold watch and cycle, hitchhiked to Melbourne and found a job cycling on rollers at the big Myer department store. Unlike many of his countrymen, he was not interned and in 1942 opened his cycle shop in the heart of Carlton. He was warned against using his Italian name because it was expected rocks would be thrown through the windows [Bill notes: we were at war with them at this time]. But the Borsari name went up over the shop - he believed the locals respected him as a sportsman and as a person, and understood that he had nothing to do with the war".

"He was right: there was no trouble and the shop remained open for 50 years. [Bill notes: aren't we a nice lot of people down here?] Besides being a well-known businessman in Melbourne, Borsari used his worldwide circle of friends to bring the best in sport to Australia. His impact on sport in Melbourne was far reaching as he became a roving sport's ambassador. He was able to negotiate the visits of almost every Italian Olympic and world cycling champion for almost two decades. He arranged for top boxers to fight in Australia; he was the founder, president, and patron of the Juventus Soccer Club; and he was prominent in motor racing."

"Borsari continued to cycle until a bike accident when he was 67 years old. He was found unconscious with a head injury beside the road on the way home to Eaglemont from his shop. He was in a coma when taken to the Austin Hospital and doctors did not believe he would pull through. The medical staff asked a long-time close friend, cycling identity Bill Long, to tell his family the sad news. But Long delayed making the call and prayed for a miracle. Remembering how Borsari rubbed his leg while resting, Long massaged the leg of his unconscious friend and pinched his muscle. There was a reflex movement. Doctors then decided to perform brain surgery, but still gave Borsari little chance of survival."

"His strength and stamina pulled him through, but it took him years to recover. Long was there to celebrate his friend's 84th birthday last December. Borsari suffered from cancer for the past 18 months. He is survived by his son Nino jnr, daughter, Diana Espino and four grandchildren. His wife, Fanny, died in 1988."