Six Degrees


My story starts a little under 80 years ago, in 1936. It was the year that King George V died, and King Edward VIII both ascended to the throne, and then abdicated. It was also the year in which the controversial Summer Olympics took place in Berlin and was used by Nazi Germany to impress it’s ideas of racial supremacy. Now largely viewed as a strong pre-cursor to the Second World War, it is also lesser known as the first sporting event to be televised live.

In an age where many of the modern electronic forms of entertainment we are so attached to today were the stuff of science fiction, sporting pursuits were extremely popular and well attended. Neither were sports as highly regulated as they are today, with the line between “amateur” and “professional” was blurred, meaning any individual with a talent had the chance of reaching a championship pinnacle. Maybe this is the reason why they were also a little more relaxed about preparing for the Olympics than we are today. There was nothing like selecting, preparing and training individuals for the next Olympics as soon as the previous had ended. More like selection via a competitive process a few months beforehand, reminiscent of the Ancient Greek origins of the games.

With this in mind, Leslie F. Male was assisting to officiate a series of time trial races in order to select who would represent Great Britain for the sport of cycling. Leslie (or “Les” as he was known) was a veteran cyclist himself, having won the title of Midlands Champion for track cycling earlier in his career. He’d always loved cycling, and was strictly anti-motor car. Taking part in the same race was new talent Luke Youll. He was from the North, although less is known about him. The record shows he was “retired” from the selection race, most likely meaning his bike was damaged in some way – an issue not easily solvable as it would be today. Although we may never know the exact reason why Luke couldn’t participate in the race and whether this was the reason why he didn’t represent Great Britain in the Olympics, the very fact that we know this at all is because Les kept excellent records.

Fast forward to the modern day and Les’ granddaughter (that would be me) likes to think she’s inherited that trait. A chance conversation with a colleague who sits next to me at work uncovered that her Great Uncle was also a champion track cyclist. Her Great Uncle just happens to be Luke Youll. Another 80 years hence, technology will probably mean that knowledge of such occurrences are commonplace. But, hundreds of miles, eighty years, and lots of luck…what are the chances of that happening?

It’s strange because when I first met my colleague around nine months ago, people actually commented that, although we don’t look alike, they thought there was something similar about us. Now we can say that two work colleagues actually share an unbelievable history and connection. They say there’s only six degrees of separation – that everyone knows someone who knows someone times six  who knows you. I think I’m going to have to start believing that’s actually true.

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