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Derby legend whose legacy is ‘vast and great’

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The Bermuda Day Half-Marathon Derby has lost one of its most charismatic and talented runners.

Neville Virgil, who won Bermuda's biggest race twice in the 1960s, died yesterday aged 70 after a long illness.

Mr Virgil grew up playing football for Somerset Colts with his twin brother Neil before the siblings shifted their focus to road running.

In the 1964 Derby, the pair, nephews of legendary cricketer Nigel “Chopper” Hazel, made history by becoming the only twins to finish first and second in the race.

Then 19, the twins entered the race as firm favourites in the absence of legend Ed Sherlock, who was semi-retired at the time with a thigh injury, and they subsequently lived up to expectations.

Neville finished first, crossing the finish line at Wellington Oval in 1hr 23 min, followed by Neil 35 seconds later.

The third-placed runner Wilfred Smith finished more than seven minutes behind the Virgil twins.

“That was a remarkable achievement and after the race I congratulated both of them,” Conrad Symonds, who coached the Virgil twins at the time, told The Royal Gazette. “I had both of them and when you have twins you don't want to be one-sided about any situation. But Neville was the better runner and was a little stronger than Neil and I think Neil accepted the fact that Neville was a little faster than he was.”

Neville successfully defended his title the next year, the first time the race started in St George's, to prove that his victory 12 months earlier was no fluke.

He beat Mr Sherlock, who is in the Bermuda Sports Hall of Fame, by 38 seconds to retain his crown, with twin Neil rounding off the podium in third. That occasion was the first time the Virgil twins sported the distinctive white gloves that they would become known for.

Mr Virgil took the lead at Flatts Village after nearest rival Max Smith withdrew and managed to hold off the charging Mr Sherlock, a six-times Half-Marathon Derby winner, including five on the trot between 1956 and 1962.

A third successive victory in 1966 would have earned Mr Virgil £100 and the coveted Frith's Cup. But he was denied the hat-trick, finishing third behind college student Tommy Smith and Mr Sherlock.

“Neville was an outstanding runner who did well running up hills and on the flat,” Mr Symonds added.

“He had good endurance and a good following that encouraged others to come out and run the May 24 race.

“Neville's passing is a big loss to the community and road running in particular.”

Mr Virgil, a well-known taxi driver, passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning, just weeks after celebrating his birthday, leaving many to mourn his passing.

Gina Tucker, the Appleby Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby committee president, said: “The committee definitely extends its condolences.

“Surely his legacy is vast and great, and not just as a participant but as a supporter of the Derby. It's definitely a legacy that's left and Bermuda will miss that spirit.”

The Progressive Labour Party extended its condolences to Mr Virgil's family. “The Progressive Labour Party would like to offer our sincerest condolences to the family of marathon runner Neville Virgil, who passed away earlier today,” the Opposition said in a statement.

“We send our best wishes to the family and friends of Mr Virgil and pray that the memories of their time together may sustain them through these difficult times.”

Premier Michael Dunkley echoed the PLP's sentiments. “On behalf of the Government, I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Neville Virgil,” he said.

“This loss will be felt widely in the Island, especially throughout the running community.

“Mr Virgil was also very well known throughout the hospitality industry and he will certainly be missed.

“Bermuda has lost a great athlete and a true legend. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”

Neville Virgil winning the Bermuda Day Half-Marathon Derby in 1964
Neville Virgil, left, and twin brother Neil at St George's Cricket Club in the Sixties

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Published April 25, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated April 26, 2015 at 4:09 pm)

Derby legend whose legacy is ‘vast and great’

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