Harlem’s Nelson Vails, The First African-American Cyclist To Win An Olympic Medal 1960 – (Video)

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Nelson Beasley Vails, born October 13, 1960 – , retired cyclist came from Harlem bike messenger to the podium of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, CA.

He rode as a professional from 1988 to 1995 representing the USA at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California, where he won the silver medal in the sprint, behind countryman Mark Gorski. Vails was the first African-American cyclist to win an Olympic medal and he was inducted to the US Bicycle Hall of Fame in 2009.

Vails was also seen as a New York bicycle messenger in the film Quicksilver. He didn’t just play a bicycle messenger in “Quicksilver,” he worked as one in New York City. His nickname was “The Cheetah.” After his sporting career he has worked as a cycling commentator for major TV networks and taken part in cycling safety programs.

Watch The Cheetah of Harlem from 1984::


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Vails entered the Lehigh Valley Velodrome Cycling Hall of Fame.

He is now retired.

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