1902 Encyclopedia > Athletic Sports

Athletic Sports

ATHLETIC SPORTS. Although this term is un-doubtedly derived from the ancient _____, the derivation does not exactly indicate its present meaning, inasmuch as our modern athletes are distinctly defined to be amateurs, in contradistinction to professionals. In fact, the former pursue the agonistic art, and should be styled " agonistics," if we may be allowed to invent such a word, rather than athletes. How the pastime came to be thus named in Britain some fifteen years ago it is hard to say. Till about 1860, all exercises wherein the feet played the principal part were rightly styled " pedestrianism." Up to that period all prizes, whether contended for by amateurs or professionals, were invariably in money. As the practice of the pastime, however, rapidly spread amongst the former, it was naturally found they were loth to compete on the same terms with, and for similar trophies as, the latter. Hence arose the modern definition of an amateur athlete, viz., " Any person who has never competed in an open competition, or for public money, or for admission money, or with professionals for a prize, public money, or admission money ; nor has ever at any period of his life, taught, or assisted in the pursuit of athletic exercises as a means of livelihood ; nor is a mechanic, artisan, or labourer." The moment this defini-tion was brought into force a wide barrier arose between the two classes, and amateurs ceased to compete for money prizes amongst themselves, or against professionals, on any terms, unless they were willing to forfeit their status. A generic term was required for the new pastime, and in lieu of a better it was entitled " athletic sports," and its votaries "athletes." Hence the haphazard origin of the name. The birthplace of the modern pastime was undoubtedly the great universities and the military and public schools. Cricket has always been justly considered the national game of Great Britain during the summer months, and football fills the same position in the winter. For a month or six weeks in spring and autumn the weather and condition of the ground are in a transition state, and fit for neither of these pastimes, and athletic sports step in and appropriately fill the vacuum. About the year 1812 the Royal Military College at Sandhurst inaugurated modern athletic sports; but the example was not followed till about 1840, when Rugby School, Eton College, Harrow School, Shrewsbury Royal School, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, came to the front. Fifteen years later college meetings had become pretty general both at Oxford and Cambridge. Kensington Grammar School had founded the first annual series of gatherings held in London, whilst Cheltenham College led the van amongst English public schools. After a few months' negotiations the first Oxford v. Cambridge annual meeting was held in 1864, and is justly considered the premier reunion of the whole year, the interest shown and the attendance of spectators being little, if anything, less than at the annual boat race between the same two seats of learning. Two years later the annual amateur cham-pionship meeting was founded in London, when the Oxford and Cambridge victors meet representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom, and contend for the " blue ribands" of the various events. The principal athletic society at present in existence is undoubtedly the " London Athletic Club," which takes the lead in all matters per-taining to athletics throughout the United Kingdom. In

England, moreover, there is now scarcely a country town, sea-side watering-place, cricket, rowing, or football club of importance, and probably not a single university or school, which does not hold its annual gathering for athletic pur-poses. Across the border the professional still far eclipses the amateur element, and there is no meeting of amateurs which can by any means be compared with the autumn Highland gatherings at Braemar and elsewhere. Until recently the two classes contended indiscriminately together, and the prowess displayed by such amateurs as the late Professor Wilson affords ample testimony that gentlemen were quite capable of holding their own against profes-sionals. The number of annual amateur gatherings held in Scotland is, however, extremely limited, and scarcely extends beyond the universities and chief schools connected with Edinburgh, St Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. In Ireland the origin of the pastime is again attributable to the leading university, viz., Trinity College, Dublin, where the decision of isolated events, from about the year 1845, has given rise to the meetings now annually held in the picturesque College Park at Dublin. The Irish civil service meeting was inaugurated in 1867, since which time the pastime has made marvellous strides in the island, as is testified by important meetings now held annually in Belfast, Cork, and Galway; whilst the recently formed Irish Champion Athletic Club takes the lead, and stands in the same relation to Ireland as the London Athletic Club does to the whole of Great Britain. Athletic sports are also now extending on the Continent, at many great watering-places where Englishmen are in the habit of con-gregating. Our great colonies of India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, too, as well as the United States of America, Buenos Ayres, China, and even Japan, are not without their annual gatherings for competitors of the Anglo-Saxon race. The contests now classified under the name " athletic sports" are, walking, running, leaping, throwing the hammer, and putting the weight. Leaping and running are respectively identical with the ak/j.a and Spofios of the ancient pentathlon; whereas throwing the hammer and putting the weight bear some resemblance to throwing the 8IO-KOS. Spear-hurling, OKOVTIOV, is never practised but by a few gymnastic societies; and wrestling, irdXri, between amateurs is rarely witnessed. Running and leaping, however, are nearly always combined on every occasion in two descriptions of contests, viz., steeplechasing and hurdle-racing. Race-walking finds most votaries in London, the northern counties of England, and in Ireland, all distances, from 1 mile to 7, being in vogue amongst amateurs. Running comprises all distances from 100 yards up to 4 miles. Leaping may be divided into three principal heads, viz., running high-leaping, running wide-leaping, and running pole-leaping, which are found to be included in nearly every athletic programme. Adjuncts to these are the running hop-step-and-jump, standing high-leaping, and standing wide-leaping, all of which are favourite pastimes in the northern and midland counties of England. Vault-ing, too, is sometimes practised, but belongs rather to the gymnasium than outdoor athletic arena. Steeplechasing proper can only be practised over natural courses across country. Its home is to be found at Rugby School, and amongst members of hare-and-hounds' clubs, who keep themselves in exercise thereby during the winter months. Artificial steeplechase courses are often made on athletic grounds; but the leaps are generally far too sensational, and constructed rather to afford merriment to the spec-tators than a fair test of the competitors' leaping powers. A prettier sight than a well-contested hurdle race can scarcely be imagined; but few first class hurdle racers are met with outside the universities and public schools. Scot-land is undoubtedly the birthplace both of hammer throw-ing and putting the weight, yet they are now practised at nearly every English and Irish meeting. 16 lb is the usual weight of the missile except in Ireland, where a 42-fl>, and sometimes a 56-lb weight are put, though in a very unsatisfactory fashion. Athletic sports may be practised in a well-rolled grass field, but the best arena is an enclosure, with a regularly laid down running track, the foundation made of clinkers and rubble, and the surface of well-rolled fine cinder ashes. (H. F. W.)

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