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Making the Transition: Empire, Amateurism and Reggie Walker, the ‘Little Natalian’ Sprinter.

Pitchford, Deborah Marie (2013) Making the Transition: Empire, Amateurism and Reggie Walker, the ‘Little Natalian’ Sprinter. Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis utilizes a narrative approach by presenting a biography of Reggie Walker, the South African 1908 Olympic sprint champion to illustrate the interactions between nationalism and Empire during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods and to explore the ongoing tensions between amateurism and professionalism. At the start of the twentieth century, nationalism was often extended to include countries like South Africa, which consisted of four British colonies at the time of the 1908 London Games, despite recent wars (1880-81 and 1899-1902) between Britain and the two Boer republics. Walker’s colonial triumph appealed to the Britons present, especially since he defeated Britain’s main rivals, the North Americans, and he was subsequently celebrated in the British media as being from British native stock. Athletic distinction also became valued in the selection of troops in the Empire with those men from public schools, who were more likely to have taken up the British sports that became a feature of colonial life, being seen as promoting the power of British masculinity. Walker himself displayed specific forms of masculinity, both in his athletic and military career, and this was reflected in depictions of his muscular appearance. As an amateur and professional, Reggie was assisted by a number of individuals, some, like Sam Wisdom, professional advisors and others, like Herbert Keartland, Rufe Naylor and James Wallace, who came from different occupational backgrounds. The collective biographies of those who interacted with Walker help explain his own biography and illuminate some of the intersections between athletes, trainers and the sport during this period. Reggie’s transition between his athletic career as an amateur and as a professional occurred during the decolonization of the British Empire and the thesis draws attention to the suggestion that the decline of amateur sport could be seen as a metaphor for the decline of the British Empire. The author draws some tentative conclusions about the implications of this research and proposes that Walker’s athletic biography can be seen as representative, in some respects, of the way that nationalism and imperialism intersected during this period.

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