For the past 20 years, he has served as a doorman in the House of Commons, providing security for MPs in his traditional uniform, consisting of a black long coat, white bow tie and a silver gilt badge at the waist. On Thursday, Chris Symonds, a 48-year-old British-Ghanaian who trains by walking the 12 miles every day from his North London home to Westminster on his hybrid bike, walked shoulder to shoulder with Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas.
Symonds finished more than 16 minutes behind the Welshman who took bronze in the men’s Commonwealth Games time trial. But that’s no surprise considering he’s almost 50 and had to save up for his own bike.
“It was about £2,000 for the frame, about £500-600 for the front wheels and almost £1,000 for the rear,” Symonds, whose father is English and his mother is Ghana, told reporters at the finish line. “My wife Lucia tolerates me. She is from Slovakia. She is a tough woman.”
Symonds’ story is one of those colorful tales that you only really get to know at the Commonwealth Games, where experienced amateurs from the far corners of the globe can mix it with the best in the world.
Thursday’s time trial, which began and ended at Wolverhampton’s West Park, also featured an immigration officer from the Falkland Islands who hails from Walsall.
Symonds has worked as a doorman at the Houses of Parliament “since the days of Gordon Brown”. The role of gatekeepers dates back to the 1300s when the Palace of Westminster also served as a court and they served as prison guards.
Smirking, Symonds told reporters that his job was “to make sure people like you don’t get in.” “I have banned several famous people from entering, but it is better not to tell who,” he added.
He considers several deputies friends. “Mike Freer, MP for Finchley, traveled with me several times, and I received several good luck messages from MPs, including Stuart Anderson, MP for this area,” Symonds said. “He met me before and wished me the best.”
Asked which MP was the best, Symonds laughed. “No comment – I could make a few enemies if I’m wrong.”
Birmingham 2020 is actually far from Symonds’ first competitive match for Ghana. He represented the West African nation for the first time at the 2006 Triathlon Commonwealth Games. Four years later, he switched to cycling in Delhi. “Basically, they told me I was too old for a triathlon,” he recalled. “So I decided to focus on time trials.”
With varied success. At last year’s World Time Trial Championship in Flanders, Belgium, Symonds finished last, 18 minutes behind winner Filippo Ganna of Italy.
In his defense, he was the oldest driver ever to compete in the championships and paid £800 out of his own pocket to be there.
He admitted that the training was difficult given his day job. “We work long hours,” he added. – Sometimes you can work 50 hours a week, and still train. It can be hard.”
Symonds commutes to work every day and travels to Hertfordshire on weekends. “The little Alps, as we call them,” he said. “The commute to work is about 12 miles. I use a hybrid commuter bike – Boris’s bikes are too heavy.
“You’re trying to gain momentum, but with all the traffic lights it’s not easy.”
Symonds, who joked that he prefers to park his bike outside the House of Lords because it’s “safer” there, said he loves his job, including his uniform. “Yes, if you see Downton Abbey, this is what we should be wearing. One of the evening dresses of the era of King Edward.
He may have finished well down the pecking order – 47th out of 54 finishers – but Symonds has hit back at those who say amateurs don’t belong in the Commonwealth, arguing that it’s vital for smaller countries to gain experience at the big championships.
And he added that he is already eyeing another picnic in four years, possibly with eldest son Jakub, 12, who has been in Wolverhampton supporting his father along with younger brother Lucas, aged eight.
“Jakub is passionate about cycling and rides at the LeeValley youth club. Currently engaged in mountain biking. I’m preparing him so he can do some damage.”