The Millennial Velodrome in Budapest is one of the oldest arena for track cycling in Europe: it was built in 1896 as part of the developments celebrating the 1000 year old Hungarian state. Little wonder, many of the famous buildings in Budapest were built in 1896, like the Millennial Velodrome, the Millennial Monument on Heroes’ Square, or the romantic Castle Vajdahunyad. Would you think that not so long ago, there were plans to demolish this fantastic facility? Luckily many bikers, architects and locals joined their forces and achieved a certain protection for the athletic national monument of the Budapest Velodrome.
These days, you will see bike polo players. Join them on Wed afternoons & Saturday mornings on the Millenáris Velodrome. It is fun and they are totally open to have foreign players. See this short video to get an idea:
In 1896 the first few sporting competitions included shot putting, javelin throwing, jumping, etc. The then gold-medalist weight-lifter (Horvath) lifted a 33 kg (!) weight in the air fifty-five times (sounds funny now, I know). And then, there was of course, cycling. The winners of the first Velodrome cycling race were the Belgian Emile Huet and Raymond Depage, plus the French Fournier. By the end of the year though, the later European champion Ferenc Gerger gathered the most medals in cycling. It was a novelty at that time that ladies also took part in the contest: yes, on tandems, and their partners on tandem were male competitors.
There were competitions for every weekend in 1896, the king was sitting in the Royal Pavilion, sportsmen were enjoying the modern facilities, spectators saw unknown sports: Velodrome meant a new chapter in the Hungarian sports life. The snag was that several millennial buildings were originally planned to be make-shift temporary structures with a short life: the Velodrome, for instance, was planned to get demolished and cleared away in Oct 31 in 1896, in the same year that it was constructed. All the sports clubs came together to lobby for the Velodrome, and many locals were against the makeshift Velodrome – then made of wood, meaning fire hazard to neighbouring houses. Locals also feared that homeless people would move into the wooden structures, etc. etc. The main point is that the clubs won the right to use the facilities for another 3 years. More and more football players came to the Velodrome arena, and in 1901 the Hungarian Football Association and the first National League was founded, played on the premises of the Millennial Velodrome. The athletics competition in the same year attracted 4000 athletes, and tickets could only be bought if one had multiple connections.
But back to cycling: in 1899 the city made the decision to make cyclists pay a pretty nice amount of annual tax. The result? Fewer cyclists. The taxation was canceled in 1911, and by that time football became by far the most popular sport, pushing behind the budding cycling in Hungary. From 1905, Wiegand started to organize cycling races as a sort of gambling. In 1902, the first few steher motorcycles arrived (soon banned due to locals’ complaints about the noise). In 1906 Woody Headspeth won the cycling race, which was sensational and disheartening at the same time. But even such sensations did not reach the profit of football matches.
In 1915 – when the Millennial Velodrome or Sports Center has become too small for professional football (although earlier hosting Southampton, Tottenham, Woolwich and Celtic – the arena got taken over by the capital again and gave place to thousands of schoolchildren as a regular sports facility. After WWI, the Velodrome was totally renewed, new structures, new lawn, and a fabulous new cycling track based on the Dresdan Velodrome. The Cycling track was now built from reinforced iron.
In 1925 the modern Velodrome was ready to attract thousands of spectators: 450 metre (0.27 miles) , 12–42° leaning, over 100 kmh (62 mph). Further rebuildings were carried out by Alfred Hajos & Aladar Mattyok sports architects. Cycling became fashionable again in the 20’s in Hungary. And at last, Cycling World Race, 1929: Budapest (after some tug of war with the Dutch). In the 30’s one name jumps out: Laszlo Orczan. Swimming and football also came back to the Millennial Centre. But WW2 meant first less and less rubber & then bombardments. During the war the arena turned into a supply centre, the changing rooms were haunted by cyclists who did not want to go to war or deserted the army. The Millie (nickname of the Millennial Velodrome) was heavily damaged in the WW2, but enthusiasm brought the Sports Centre back to life by May 1945! At least, there was a race already.
The 1950’s reconstruction changed the parameters of the cycling racing track. the length is now 412 metre (0.25 mile), which is not in line with the international standards, so world races gradually disappeared from the site (also for political reasons & the iron curtain). The 1970’s had several track races called Golden Mocca (Arany Mokka), but then the new media, TV primarily, meant the end of sports life in a sense. However, the last couple of years show a new revival. If you like bike polo, join the guys on the track!
See the green bike icon in the middle for the Budapest Velodrome. Look for the green bike signs on the map for further bikers’ tips in Budapest, e.g. Bike Rentals.