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‘We have every reason for failure but not a single excuse’: British Field Athletics in the early Twentieth Century

Day, DJ (2016) ‘We have every reason for failure but not a single excuse’: British Field Athletics in the early Twentieth Century. In: British Society of Sports History annual conference 2016, 01 September 2016 - 02 September 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The aristocratic and educated middle-class men involved in the formation of the British Olympic Association (BOA) in 1905 typified the class of man administering British sport in this period. They were wedded to the concept of amateurism and their class attitudes were reflected in the way in which the athletic body was presented. The amateur's emphasis on elegance and style, and a suspicion of training methods that produced muscular, specialized sporting bodies, rather than all-rounders, were important principles of an ethos that drew some of its rationale from the classical world. Amateurism normalized and standardized a bodily performance as the middle-class amateur athlete selectively used classical precedents, science and clothing to reinforce the distinctions between their own bodies and those of the professionals. Although historians have discussed the English amateur body, there has been little consideration of the impact of this aesthetic on athletic preferences and this paper links amateur views of the athletic body to ongoing weaknesses in British field events. As Table 1 shows, this has been a feature of British Olympic performances since 1896 despite occasional efforts to resolve the problem. Using press reports, family records and organisational archives, the paper uncovers some of these initiatives immediately prior to and following the First World War.

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