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Cycling great Major Taylor gets tribute during Super Bowl ad

A mural featuring Major Taylor near the Major Taylor bike path in Chicago. | Keith Hale/Sun-Times

Major Taylor, a champion cyclist and sprinter who became one of the world’s most successful athletes in the late 19th century and early 20th century, was the focus of a Super Bowl ad from liquor maker Hennessy on Sunday night.

Taylor lived part of his life in Chicago, where he died in 1932 at the age of 53. The 30-second spot shows him racing through various scenes with a voiceover noting that by 1901, he was one of the best athletes on the planet.

Taylor, born in Indianapolis in 1878, overcame racial prejudice throughout his career to become a pioneer in athletics. He was the first black athlete to win world championships in sprinting and cycling and the second black athlete to win a world championship in any sport. By the time he retired in 1910, he held numerous records in different sports. He spent the final two years of his life in Chicago before dying after suffering a heart attack.

The legacy of Taylor can still be seen in Chicago, where the Major Taylor Trail bike path honors his name and the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago promotes cycling as a healthy recreational activity.