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Romanticising the classical: the nineteenth-century amateur athlete.

Day, Dave (2012) Romanticising the classical: the nineteenth-century amateur athlete. [Conference or Workshop Item] (Unpublished)

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Abstract

During the late nineteenth century there was a repositioning of the concept of ‘gentleman’ which became defined by education rather than by birth or wealth, thereby benefiting members of the liberal professions, for whom sport became an important tool in differentiating themselves from other societal groups. Educated in the public schools and universities, these ‘super-proletarians’ justified their social position by their mastery of mental activity and generally saw no need for specialized training. The Clarendon Commission reports celebrated an educational model that focussed on classical studies and moulded the characters of the English gentlemen who, individually and collectively, developed the principles of amateurism and refined them into a sporting philosophy that harkened back to classical models of sports and the athletic body. However, the romantic image of the late Victorian amateur athlete as the inheritor of an Olympic tradition that rejected specialization and professionalization represented a selective reading of a society in which the aristocratic participants of the early years had gradually been replaced by fulltime, expertly coached athletes. This paper explores briefly some of these later training practices, which were mirrored much more closely by nineteenth-century professionals than by their amateur counterparts, and then discusses the formation of an amateur ideal in which ‘moderation’ both in training and in body shapes became the class mantra. Drawing on contemporary medical and athletic texts the paper delineates the acceptable parameters of late Victorian sporting bodies and highlights the continuing emphasis on the all-rounder, the man who played sport with elegance and style.

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