Ken Farnum, Olympian and folk hero, dies at age 89 of COVID-19

Ken Farnum at the 1952 Olympic Games
Ken Farnum at the 1952 Olympic Games (Image credit: Ken Farnum, Jr)

Ken Farnum, an Olympian and three-time New York state cycling champion whose racing elevated him to folk hero status in the 1950s, died April 4 at age 89 in New York City from complications brought on by COVID-19, according to Andrea Lockett, a family friend.

Born on the Caribbean island of Barbados, Farnum began racing there at age 10. He developed in pack races on circuits laid out on the grass of flat cricket fields. Farnum grew to a little over six feet tall and a trim 180 pounds. Tactical savvy and a capacity for powering big gears earned him victories in Barbados and in venues around the Caribbean, including Jamaica and Trinidad. He collected eight West Indies sprint titles. 

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Peter Joffre Nye is author of the updated second edition of Hearts of Lions: The History of American Bicycle Racing (University of Nebraska Press).