For a long time, a victory at the Games was crowned with a gold medal - this is still the case today - and a jersey with Olympic rings. But that Olympic jersey was not allowed to be used during competitions. Until 1996. Then, for the first time, the Olympic road race is contested by professionals instead of amateurs. The Swiss Pascal Richard is the first professional cyclist to become Olympic champion. Afterwards, his team manager has a special shirt made with the characteristic rings. This was the first time an Olympic jersey appeared in a race. In 2000, however, Richard was officially banned from racing with such a jersey. Today, Olympic champions can be recognised - for those who look closely - by elements that refer to gold or the Olympic rings. Just think of the golden helmet or bike of Greg Van Avermaet, winner in 2016 or the golden sleeves on the jersey of Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (2008).
The 1952 Olympic Games were drawing to a close, but Belgium had failed to achieve any great success. The rowers Robert Baetens and Michel Knuysen saved the Netherlands' honour temporarily by taking silver medals. Until, on the last day but one, the cyclists were let off the leash. The Olympic road race began in a sombre mood for the Belgians. The leading man Rik Van Looy took a fall and ended up riding with a flat tyre, so his chances of winning went up in smoke. But halfway through the competition, the three remaining Belgian amateurs found themselves in a leading group of five. The three worked well together, constantly going on the attack to outride the swift German rider Edi Ziegler. Their strategy paid off so well that André Noyelle stormed his way to gold, while Robert Grondelaers took silver. Lucien Victor finished fourth and Belgium also took gold in the country standings, based on the individual performances. The cyclists' three medals lifted the Olympic curse for Belgium.
Patrick Sercu was 20 years old when he was allowed to pull on this magnificent jersey. He carried the day at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when he won the one-kilometre time trial. At 1'09''59 Sercu stayed 50 hundredths of a second ahead of the Italian Giovanni Pettenella. The gold medal was an early milestone in Patrick Sercu's particularly impressive career. He came to world attention the year before, when he won the world title in the amateur sprint on the Rocourt cycling track. Patrick Sercu's victorious journey did not end in Tokyo. He went on to claim 88 six-day victories, world records, Belgian, European and world titles in track cycling. But Patrick Sercu was also a talented road rider, winning 13 Giro d'Italia races, six stages and the green jersey in the Tour de France and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
During the 1996 Games, the Olympic road race was open to professional cyclists for the first time, whereas road racing had previously been the preserve of amateur riders. Switzerland's Pascal Richard became the first professional to capture the Olympic title. Richard started his career as a cyclocross cyclist - and even became world champion in 1988 - and after a few years made the switch to road racing. The Swiss rider excelled in climbs, won stage races such as the Tour of Switzerland and the Tour de Romandie and triumphed in stages in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. 1996 was a top year for him. Apart from Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he also was also declared Olympic champion. This jersey from Noël Grégoire's collection is a reminder of that extraordinary victory.