Monadnock Profiles: Dublin man looks back at competing in Summer Olympics

  • John Allis of Dublin competed as a member of the U.S. cycling team in three Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich. Staff photos by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Allis of Dublin competed as a member of the U.S. cycling team in three Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich. Staff photos by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Allis of Dublin competed as a member of the U.S. cycling team in three Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich. Staff photos by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Allis of Dublin competed as a member of the U.S. cycling team in three Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich. Staff photos by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Allis of Dublin competed as a member of the U.S. cycling team in three Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich. Staff photos by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Allis of Dublin. Staff photos by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/21/2021 4:26:46 PM

If not for a promise, a little bit of convincing and pressure to keep up with other Ivy League schools, John Allis may never have competed at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Allis had qualified to represent the United States as a member of the cycling team during the trials held earlier that year in New York’s Central Park, but he was on academic probation – something Allis attributed to “too much bike riding.” With the games set to take place in October, Allis was initially denied his request to leave campus to compete. Then the powers that be at Princeton learned that Yale was sending two student athletes to Tokyo and with only Bill Bradley, the future U.S. Senator and professional basketball player, set to represent Princeton, Allis was given the go-ahead to attend the games on one condition: that he brought his books to study.

“I had to go to various people asking if I could go,” Allis said.

So when the first full day of competition kicks off for the delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics on Saturday, Allis will likely feel a bit of nostalgia as cyclists from around the world take to the course just outside of the host city for a grueling 234-kilometer race toward gold. Fifty-seven years ago, Allis was one of four riders representing the United States at the first summer games held in Japan’s capital.

Allis was the top U.S. Olympian in the event at the 1964 games, finishing 70th out of the 126 riders in what then was a 194-kilometer ride. He also competed as part of the four-person squad in the team trials.

“We were out of our element,” Allis said of the U.S. team. “The guys from other countries were semi-pros and we were collegiate riders. We were in there, but we weren’t winning anything.”

Allis remembers marching in the opening ceremonies and the festive atmosphere around the city of Tokyo fondly, but laments not placing higher.

“It was a big thing,” he said. “It was a very well-produced Olympics and I think my fondest memories are from that first Olympics in Tokyo.”

And as it turns out, when Allis returned to school, he’d upped his game in the classroom as well.

“I got the best grades I ever got at Princeton,” Allis said of that school year.

For many athletes, making it to one Olympics is a pinnacle achievement, but for Allis the 1964 games were just the beginning of what resulted in a hall of fame cycling career. Allis went on to compete in two more Summer Olympics – in both the individual race and team trials at the Mexico City games in 1968 and in Munich four years later, where he garnered his best finish taking 63rd place. But his final two trips to the Olympics were marred by tragedy with the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City, where Mexican armed forces opened fire on protesters, killing hundreds, and the Munich Massacre, where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by members of the terrorist group Black September.

“You had to try and put it out of your mind,” he said. “But it came to a point for me where it just turned into ‘let’s get this over with.’”

Allis was born and raised in the Boston area. He remembers his father riding his bike to work every morning and was introduced to riding at a young age. His first big trip on a bike came when he was 10 years old when his family went to France after the passing of his grandfather. The family did a tour of the Alpes Maratimes and while he was on a much slower cycle, the experience stuck with him.

The Dublin property he now calls home has been in his family for years. His grandfather purchased it while he was living in France because “he needed something to maintain his U.S. citizenship,” Allis said. He has vivid memories of climbing the American Elm that stands in front of the house.

Allis moved to the family property after living in Massachusetts all of his adult life. After retiring, the country life beckoned him and it’s been the perfect spot to spend his days.

The large barn that acts as a connector between the larger main home and the smaller cottage that Allis lives in with his wife Kim, who he first met at an Olympic games and has two daughters with, is a homage to his cycling career. There are a number of bikes hanging from the ceiling above the main floor, including the one he first began competing on during his Princeton days and another that was gifted to him upon his retirement from Raleigh Bikes. There are trophies from his many wins and in the main house there’s a picture of Allis and Kim after his win in the 1974 U.S. national road championship. The two are standing in front of his VW Bus that Kim had painted like the American flag to honor his victory.

Allis first got into cycling thanks to a fellow Princeton student by the name of Leif Thorne-Thomsen. It was his freshman year and Allis had gone into town to explore. He happened upon Kopp’s Cycle, where Thorne-Thomsen worked. Thorne-Thomsen had started a bike group and was looking for others to join. Allis hadn’t done any racing but decided to go out for a ride. It was quickly evident that he was gifted on his fixed gear road bike.

“I realized I could do it,” Allis said. “It was sort of fun.”

He started going to Central Park on Sundays for races, which were anywhere from 20 to 50 miles in loops around the park. At the time cycling wasn’t that big, but Allis enjoyed it and excelled.

“Everyone else was riding in these fancy shift gear bikes,” Allis said, but he stuck to his single speed for the time being. “My thing was endurance, long distances and big hills.” He credits his abilities to stay steady on a bike for large amounts of time to the long hikes he took as a kid.

“I was used to that endurance type of thing,” he said.

Allis never turned professional, but his accomplishments in the sport are nevertheless impressive. In addition to the three Olympic games and the win in the national road race, he was also victorious in the 175-mile Quebec-Montreal race in 1973. Allis took part in the inaugural Mount Washington Hill Climb, coming out on top with a record-setting time of one hour, 15 minutes and 5 seconds. But his record didn’t last long, as Allis topped his first attempt the following year by nearly 14 minutes, which stood as the benchmark until 1979. All of it led to his induction into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1993.

After school, Allis went to work for Raleigh, out of the British company’s Boston office. He continued to train and compete, put together training groups and rode his bike into Boston for work. He also enlisted in the Army, becoming an officer, but avoided being sent to Vietnam due to his Olympic involvement.

Allis eventually became a partner in several bike shops, including Belmont Wheelworks and Ace Wheelworks, in the Boston area. He was the longtime coach of the Harvard cycling team.

He still rides to this day, going out each morning to get the paper at what is still referred to by many as Carr’s Store in Dublin. Allis also likes to hike and cross-country ski, but being on a bike is where Allis feels most at home. And with the Olympics set to return to Tokyo, the memories of those games 57 years ago, where all that hard work paid off, will most certainly be looked back on fondly.


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