Jan. 21, 1927 – Jan. 31, 2014
Thomas Ronald Montemage, an Olympic cyclist who also rode his bike to his job as a Buffalo firefighter, died Friday in Williamsville. He was 87.
A Kensington High School graduate, Mr. Montemage started bicycle racing as a teen at what is now Martin Luther King Park. After getting drafted to the Army in 1945, at the end of World War II, Mr. Montemage won a cycling competition representing Fort Dix at Crystal Beach, Ont.
The Olympics followed. He tried out for five Olympiads and made the U.S. team three times: the London games in 1948, Helsinki in 1952 and Tokyo in 1964.
“He was just a low-key hardworking individual,” said Mary Flanigan, his daughter. “He always said, ‘It’s not the bike that wins the race, it’s the person riding.’ ”
In the Olympics, he competed in “team pursuit,” a track cycling event, and long distance contests. He held a half-mile “flat track” record of 1 minute and 4.2 seconds, a time taken at the Connecticut Street Armory before cycling race tracks were banked.
Mr. Montemage was proud of winning gold medals as a senior and master cyclist in the Empire State Games in the 1980s. “There was always a shelf full of trophies,” Flanigan said.
He came from a cycling family; his father was also a champion racer. His brothers tried racing for one year but only Thomas stuck with it.
He was featured on the front page of the New York Times in July 2012 and on the cover of The Buffalo News for stories about the 1948 Olympics.
“There’s fun in competition,” he told The News in 2012. “Believe me, that’s all it was. Fun. I didn’t make no money. I beat the best in the country. But it didn’t matter. I just had fun. That was the best time to ride. My time.”
Mr. Montemage rode to work and then for exercise through his late 70s.
“He just had a lot of energy ... I think bike riding fulfilled that,” Flanigan said. “He would purposely ride out to the Boston Hills, out by Kissing Bridge, to purposely ride up and down the hills to practice.”
His son Jon Scott died in 1980.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Montemage is survived by his wife of 61 years, Lois Powell Montemage; two sons, Thomas and Jeffrey; and seven grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at SS. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, 5480 Main St., Williamsville.