Obituary: Norman Hill, Bernard Tapie and Heiko Salzwedel were three very different men and were important to cycling in different ways. Ed Hood looks back at their lives through the words of people who knew them well.
In recent weeks we’ve lost three important figures within our King of Sports. Two you’ll have heard of and one name is perhaps not so familiar to you, albeit his words have graced our pages. That man was Norman Hill, never a big star but a man who did it all, road, the Belgian Kermis scene, track – including the six days, following the big motors, even cyclo-cross. We interviewed Norman a time or two.
Norman kept in touch and we always welcomed the views of a man who; ‘had the T-shirt.’ We thought it would be nice to hear what people who knew him well had to say. Former US professional and six day man, Tim Mountford who partnered Norman in the six days said:
- “Sadly, the family of Norman Hill has informed me that Norman passed away on Friday morning, October 1, 2021, of heart failure at the age of 82 in their current home town of Vancouver, Canada.
Norman was loved by many throughout Europe, England and North America; we all appreciated his ever-present smile and positive attitude. I met Norman in Rotterdam, Holland in 1971 where he then lived and was well known in the press for his bicycling racing achievements and popularity. Norman originally moved from England to Switzerland in the 60’s to work as a mechanical engineer for a building elevator company and to pursue his love for bicycle racing. He became fluent in German and later Dutch languages and had many friends in countries throughout Europe while traveling and competing in professional bicycle racing. As many of us know, Norman’s favourite events were Six Day and Motor Paced (Staher) track events and the summer Dutch 100km town criteriums.
He began his pro Six Day racing in 1967 with races in London, Zurich, Rotterdam, and Montreal where he was teamed with Bill Laurie of Australia. His Six Day career continued until 1974 with the Detroit Six Day. I rode two Six Day races with Norman in Rotterdam and Zurich, and we travelled together to many races throughout Europe. Norman met his wife to be, Harma in the winter of 1972-73 during the Groningen Six Day race in the north of Holland. Harma was the official Queen of the race honouring riders with flowers for their victory lap each evening of the race. Norman informed all of us riders in the race that he was instantly attracted to Harma from the moment he saw her, and he made every effort to win various events each evening during the six days of racing just so he could take a victory lap with her sitting in front of him on his bicycle. She was a good sport about it and seemed to relish Norman’s attention. One evening while taking a victory lap on Norman’s bike Harma’s shoe fell off. Norbert Seeuws and a few other riders couldn’t resist and proceeded to nail her shoe up on the banking of the track. Harma, showing her strong business personality, ‘Ok boys, enough is enough’ and proceeded to direct the riders to retrieve her shoe so the race could proceed.
The following months Norman made many trips from Rotterdam to Groningen to visit with Harma.
At the time he was living at my home on the Rodenrijsstraat in north Rotterdam, and he never stopped smiling upon returning from Groningen. Several months later after racing in the Six Day Race of Los Angeles Norman and Harma married and moved to Vancouver, Canada where Norman opened a bicycle store and later started an elevator consulting business whilst Harma pursued a successful career in interior decorating in North America and Asia. They had a beautiful daughter who they named Michelle who currently is in business with her mother. Norman and Harma were married for 47 years.
R.I.P. my friend. We all will miss you dearly.”
Christian Kemper, son of former top six day rider and world champion behind the big motors, Dieter Kemper said;
- “I met Norman, his wife Harma and their daughter Michelle in 1995 when they visited us in Germany because Norman and my father were close friends. Norman invited me for the next year to visit him in Vancouver and so I went. I was 21 years-old and he treated me like a son. I never met anybody so caring, nice and clear-minded. He became something like my ‘second father’ and whenever I had a problem or was in despair I called Norman and Harma because they were always so rational, saw the big picture and gave me good advice. I already miss him greatly and his death leaves a void inside of me. The world is a colder place without Norman. He admired my father and later helped me gather Information for my book about my late father. Thinking of Norman makes me smile and I will treasure the memories forever.”
The second loss the sport has suffered in recent days is that of French entrepreneur, Bernard Tapie, the man responsible for riders beginning to get paid what they were worth and introducing the avant-garde into team clothing.
PEZ reader and cycling commentator, Keith Lambourne paid tribute to Monsieur Tapie thus:
- “We learned this morning of the sad passing of Bernard Tapie, he died peacefully surrounded by his family at the age of 78 years. The ‘Extravagant’ business man, government minister, sometime race car driver, singer, TV host and actor from the Paris suburbs, had been diagnosed with stomach cancer four years ago. Among his business interests he owned sporting clothing giant Adidas for three years. His football club Olympique de Marseille won the French Championship four times in a row and the Champions League in 1993. [Neither of the above ventures came without controversy, we must add.]
He also owned the health chain La Vie Claire and after Bernard Hinault fell out with Cyrille Guimard his erstwhile Boss at Renault Elf Gitane, Hinault and Tapie created the La Vie Claire racing team which would go on to be one of the strongest Professional Cycling teams of all time. The team won the Tour de France in 1985 and ‘86.”
- “Today we say goodbye to my team owner, the charismatic, Bernard Tapie. He was a man larger than life who made his grand entrances like no one else I have ever met. I thank him for allowing me the opportunity to be on the most powerful team of the era in the men’s pro peloton. And I thank Bernard in allowing riders to negotiate salaries that they truly deserved. On several occasions in our team’s service course Monsieur Tapie came racing through, a million miles per hour.
He owned the organic health food chain called La Vie Claire, one of my team’s sponsors. One day, he stopped to kiss me and chat for a moment which was always so much fun. On this day he was telling me what a good job I was doing, of all things, as I was distributing team clothing into 25 open suitcases for my riders, while simultaneously loading team cars and camions for the next races at the loading dock. He sat on a suitcase and had a drink break with me. He asked me about my family…what my folks did for work. I told him my Dad was a plumber and that I am of Greek origin. He told me his Dad was a plumber too, which of course I didn’t ever believe. He said that this answered why I was such a hard worker which made me laugh!
Another day, he whisked me aside in the hotel after a stage to tell me that if I was going to wear a bikini top at the finish line to put team stickers on it. Again, quick kisses and off he went. He arrived in his helicopter to see the riders before the Tour de France start in Berlin. He was in 007 mode as he had to get back to Marseilles in time for the start of the football match. He was the President of Olympique du Marseilles football club.
In our lifetime, we might not run across very many people like Bernard Tapie. I am not only grateful that I worked for him, I can say my life was very, very exciting whenever he was around.
May God bless his wife and family, and may his memory be Eternal. Merci Bernard, ton ami Shelley”
Finally we come to another man who we’ve lost and whose words graced our pages, Heiko Salzwedel.
PEZ editor, Alastair Hamilton has already written a fine tribute to Heiko, but knowing the man as I did from interviewing him and meeting him many times at the six days I felt I should contribute.
First the words of his former charge, 2000 Olympic Madison Champion, not to mention top line six day man, Australia’s Scott McGrory who said:
- “I’m very saddened to hear that Heiko Salzwedel has passed away. A Coach for the ages, he built successful programs (and people) in East Germany, Australia, Great Britain, Russia, Denmark and Switzerland. It was always a pleasure to see him at the various major events around the world where our paths crossed. He was one person that I would always make time to search out and say hello to. Heiko’s journey through cycling is quite extraordinary, he played a big role in the careers of riders like, Brad Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, Pat Jonker, Henk Vogels, Robbie McEwen, Jens Voigt and so many more.
Here are two quotes he was famous for back in the day. ‘If it doesn’t kill you it only makes you stronger’. ‘There is no bad weather, just bad clothing’. He had been in a coma since having a pulmonary embolism four weeks ago. He will be sadly missed.”
Whilst former World Champion and Olympic medallist, Alex Rasmussen of Denmark, another man coached by Heiko said;
- “When we started our Olympic 4000 meter team pursuit project we were riding around 4:15 for the four kilometres. After working with Heiko for four years we rode 3:53. More than a decade later Denmark is now at 3:42 following pretty much the same recipe that Heiko set up for us back then.
# With thanks to all of the above contributors for allowing us to use their words; the world of cycling is the poorer for the passing of these men.
Rest in peace, Norman, Bernard and Heiko. #