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Delineating professional and amateur athletic bodies in Victorian England

Day, Dave and Oldfield, Samantha-Jayne (2014) Delineating professional and amateur athletic bodies in Victorian England. Sport in history, 35 (1). pp. 19-45. ISSN 1746-0263

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Abstract

By 1837, the sporting landscape of England was populated by a number of professional pedestrians who competed in a range of events that were extensively covered in the sporting press. These men distinguished themselves from their competitors through their use of ‘colours’ and a range of different athletic clothing. In the later stages of the nineteenth century, the dominance of the professional athlete was challenged through the formation of clubs and associations by a public-school- and university-educated middle class. The somatotype and clothing strategies of the Victorian athlete altered as a result. Their assumption of an innate physical superiority, allied to a preference for the all-rounder with his elegance and style, rather than the muscular, specialized sporting bodies of working-class professionals, were important features of an amateur ethos which drew much of its references from the Classical world. Through a discussion of how middle-class amateur athletes used Classical precedents, science and clothing to create the ‘university athlete’ and the ‘university costume’, in order to reinforce the distinctions between their own bodies and those of the professionals, this paper explores the transition from pedestrianism to organized athletics.

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