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Making Debrouillards: the modern pentathlon and the pursuit of completeness.

Workmen who operate a bending and punching press to produce a piece of metal twenty-three centimeters in length; scholars who exclusively concentrate on the investigation of oil palms in West Africa; athletes who since childhood have trained in the 100 meter sprint without ever throwing a javelin or playing soccer: in the early 20th century specialization gained ground in different social areas of continental Europe. (1) The rationalization of skills was seen as human progress and modern sports developed into "a prime example of what Max Weber called Zweckrationalitat (instrumental rationality)." (2) Being an expert in one area and assuming that nobody on earth was better in this domain, was considered to be the highest aim of human achievement. In the sports world our heroes, more often than not, are athletes who exhibit extraordinary talent for a single sport, honoured as the "fastest," the "strongest," the most adept athletes who have ever been. (3)

Astonishingly enough, given this trend, a new combined sport exercise was integrated into the Olympic program of the Stockholm Games in 1912. It was called the Modern Pentathlon; it was composed of shooting, fencing, swimming, horse-riding, and running; it required all-round instead of one-sided sport performance abilities, that is, diversity instead of specialization. It remains a part of the Modern Olympic program to this very day. Whereas other sports increasingly concentrated on the enhancement of specific skills which were needed to bring performance to perfection, Modern Pentathlon did not fit this trend. Created at the beginning of the 20th century and embodying values of a many-sided education, Modern Pentathlon stood out against contemporary developments towards specialization. This dichotomy, "specialization vs. completeness," evokes the question: How did such a sport discipline distinguished by versatility evolve and endure in times that have been strenuously underscored and characterized by specialization?

A glance at the events of the Modern Pentathlon tells us that all five sub-disciplines were part of the Olympic program before 1912. (4) World rankings of their individual performances existed. (5) It was also obvious that the modern pentathlete, as an all-round sportsman, was not capable of the performance standard of the sport discipline's top-ranked specialized athlete. Thus, the motives for the establishment of this new multi-sport discipline must be sought "beyond" the ostensible pursuit of statistics.

We know that Pierre de Coubertin and the Olympic host city of Stockholm were especially involved in implementing the Modern Pentathlon, but so, too, were other members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Beyond that analysis, this essay and its research focuses geographically on continental Europe, where the wave of industrialization and specialization arrived at the beginning of the 20th century, thus later than it did in England and America. In continental Europe the evolution of industrialization temporally coincided with the first discussions of, and competitions in, what became known as the Modern Pentathlon. More precisely, the time period covered by this study lies between 1894, when the idea of a new form of Olympic pentathlon was mentioned for the first time, and 1913, one year after the fifth Olympic Games, when a first analysis of the Modern Pentathlon's debut was possible. Hence, this essay explores whether in a time of increasing specialization the skills developed through Modern Pentathlon were able to function as a contemporary ideal of human achievement.

The dominant goal ascribed to Modern Pentathlon by its devotees was "completeness." The modern lineage of the complete athlete leads the historian back into the 19th century, when diversified skills were still acknowledged in different parts of social life. Whereas this attitude fits perfectly well to the diversified talents required by a modern pentathlete, its implementation took place in a later period, when all-round skills were perceived less important. Usually, the nature of sports shifts according to the time change--"Tempora mutantur, mutantur ludi in illis" (6) --however, in the case of Modern Pentathlon things developed differently.

This research investigates a modern sport which unlike most others did not correspond to the contemporary system of values, a sport whose philosophical background seemed to be separated from its implementation by a time gap. Giving this framework, Pierre de Coubertin's concept to establish a sport opposed to contemporary developments is the focus of the analyses. Whether the image of "completeness" achieved by modern pentathletes still served as a model of ideal athleticism in the early 20th century, or whether Modern Pentathlon failed to take on this role, supports the thesis that the roots of the activity are uninvestigated. We do know one thing for certain: from the start the Modern Pentathlon was designed as the legitimization of a sport for "complete" athletes.

Completeness: From the Most Valued Asset to a Marginal Phenomenon

In the 19th century various social domains internalized the concept of "completeness," whereas with the beginning of the 20th century the ideal underwent quite decisive changes. Glancing at the industrial and sport development portraits in vogue then reveals a general shift in the social perception of an ideal. At the end of the 19th century consumers appreciated the work of highly skilled craftsmen, when, for instance, carpenters built tables and chairs and blacksmiths produced knives and other steel-manufactured materials. These two examples represent the wide range of working areas which allowed a clear allocation of responsibilities and featured a direct connection between producer and product. When, for instance, one man carried out several steps in the process of goods production, in sport, correspondingly, there was little doubt that only a versatile physical training could lead to human achievement. Thus, in the early 20th century sportsmen were used to training and competing in several different exercises. Favoring multifaceted abilities, young men tried to develop different talents and avoided one-sided activities. As Georges Hebert put it: "Like man, his teeth prove that he can eat everything, the diversity of his muscles and their possible positions prove that he can be omni-sportive. Nothing is worse for him than muscular specialization (and no movement at all)." (7) Sport should contribute towards the individual reaching a "completeness," clearly commissioned to create benefits beyond pure leisure--besides the enhancement of health and fitness, training was directed to develop skills feasible in everyday life. The educational reformer Baron Pierre de Coubertin expressed quite plainly what he considered:
   If it is close to one's heart that the son is prepared for the
   conditions of modern life, it is necessary to educate him well and
   let him be turned into a man who always knows how to help himself
   (make him 'debrouillard'). There is no other recipe.... In truth,
   the so-educated and capable man will also today and tomorrow still
   prevail." (8)

The baron concluded: "Debrouillardism was supposed to be the only possible way to succeed in the struggle of life." (9)

In order to attract young men to train their skills, in 1906 Baron de Coubertin implemented a special award (sponsored by his Societe des Sports Populaires) called the Dipldme des Debrouillards. The award was based on a test of twelve different physical exercises. (10) The Societe des Sports Populaires award initiative was partly inspired from the practice of its predecessor, the Comite de Gymnastique Utilitaire, which had categorized exercises into three dimensions: rescue, defense and locomotion. Each were viewed as necessities of life. (11) Together, their inculcation aimed to develop people required by the era to "cope with every situation." (12) The interpretation of physical training was educationally oriented as a preparation for society, directed to contemporary needs. In Coubertin's words: "The debrouillard needed nowadays will be neither a clown nor an arriviste but simply a boy who is hand-skilled, quickly ready to make effort, flexible in the muscles, resistant against tiring, good in decision-making, and trained in advance to move from one location to another, from one job to another, from one situation to another, from habits and ideas to others, like it is required by the useful instability of modern societies." (13) Whereas "completeness" emerged towards a generally accepted social value, the concentration on one sport alone lost favor, thereby eroding the long-lasting prejudice that training for multiple sports reduces performance in any one of them. Asserted Coubertin: "We already knew that sporting exercises did not contradict to each other as one long believed, even though were concerned that intense general learning could result in a dangerous overtiring. A long set of personal experiences proved to me that the elementary and simultaneous learning of most of the exercises being part of life saving, defense and locomotion can be used with neither difficulty nor danger...." (14) In the first year alone the statistics regarding the number of participants for the Debrouillard award--thousands of men achieved it--underlined the success and social acceptance of the concept. (15)

Pioneering the Debrouillard Movement was France, which not only owned a demonstrated record of entire books dealing with the question of "complete" athleticism, (16) but also had developed the necessary philosophical background to let the image of "completeness" grow. Before French educators such as Georges Hebert and Pierre de Coubertin inherited the concept, the philosopher Victor Cousin spread the idea of eclecticism in France, thereby paving the way for a general preference towards all-round abilities. (17) Thus, at the beginning of the 20th century, being a complete sportsman stood not only as an allegory for ideal athleticism, but moreover as a philosophy of life. An article in the French newspaper Le Matin described the kind of man who existed in every lady's dreams: "Who do you want to marry? The young modern girl answers: a complete athlete! The complete athlete is fashionable ... He put in his pocket, if I may say, the lieutenant of hussars, the tenor, the novelist, psychologist, the honest engineer, etc." (18) Published in 1913, this quotation still reflects a worship of "completeness," at a time when specialization gained ground rapidly and progressively threatened to supersede the former.

The process of rationalization which "transformed many traditional handcrafts into industries" (19) had already commenced by the beginning of the 20th century when "Taylorism" and "Fordism," (20) whose early basis can be found in Great Britain in the mid 18th century, spread to continental Europe. For several years, handcraft tradition and industrial production existed side by side, but "small family workshops" were in the end increasingly replaced by manufactories. (21) New forms of communication made the world move closer together and technological improvements immensely changed working conditions. As Matthew Mitchell opined: "When production was organized into large plants, jobs become routinized, favoring less-skilled workers." (22) "Specialization, division of labor, and the principle of standardization impliesd a standard product, a standardized production process, and the standardization of human labor," wrote Stephen Margin. (23) Further, Bob Stewart stated that specialization "aimed to reach technological efficiency and the maximisation of performance and productivity." (24) The words "efficiency," "performance," and "productivity" became headwords of a general movement towards rationalization. (25) These developments, acknowledged in the economic sector, arrived with general ideological changes. In sport, for instance, a greater differentiation between single disciplines and a higher demand for excellence required a new kind of sportsman, one who concentrated on a single sport only.

A comparison between the characteristics of modern sport (26) and those of industrialized work yields structural similarities which contribute to explain why the ideological transfer from "completeness" to specialization happened so broadly and relatively fast. First, both areas contained "a strong performance dimension" (27) which exemplified a goal directive and a pursuit of excellence. The "emphasis on quantification" (28) was also typical and led to several rankings and a preference of measurable performances and related output statistics. According to the Taylorist and Fordist models, specialization was considered an important mechanism for productivity and success; hence, athletes concentrated on "an increasingly narrow band of activities" (29) instead of "wasting" their talents on many things. Sportsmen acted rationally, (30) according to economic principles, and tried to reach the maximum of performance. Historian and anthropologist Jacques Gleyse writes about a "Taylorisation of the body" and links the economic and physical developments of the early 20th century by showing semantic relationships between them. (31) Pioneer Marxist sport sociologist Jean-Marie Brohm underlines the instrumentalization of the body that the two social domains, sport and labor, had in common during that time. (32)

Taylorist features generally differed from the old ideal of "complete" athleticism. The "separation of thinking from doing," (33) for instance, did not correspond to all-round abilities which included both body and mind. Furthermore, athletic achievement in many sports was "increasingly incompatible with top-level performance in any one of them." (34) Finally, specialization became an "inevitable" (35) characteristic of modern sport. Behind quantifications like the first sub-ten-second 100 yard dash man, or the world's strongest wrestler, athletes developed into commodities, without personality. The rationalization of modern sport was especially feared by devotees of the ideal of "completeness", spurring counteraction such as that spearheaded by Pierre de Coubertin.

Pierre de Coubertin and the Modern Pentathlon: Attempts to Revive the 'Complete' Athlete

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, popularly perceived as the inventor of the modern Olympic Games, has received much scholarly attention. However, a void exists concerning the Baron and his "thought and action" enthusiasm in the implementation of the Modern Pentathlon into the Olympic program. Analyzing his aims to support the creation of a new multi-disciplinary sport explains much about an attempt to counterbalance contemporary developments towards specialization.

Modern sport as it gained ground in continental Europe at the beginning of the 20th century generally did not inherit the concepts of debrouillardism and "completeness." Rather, modern sport was often seen as an expression of "a ubiquitous and unique form of nonutilitarian physical contests". (36) The "complete" athlete was threatened with extinction because the concept of concentrating on one sport developed rapidly. Some contemporary educators, among them Georges Hebert, were still in favor of all-round training and continued defining their sportive hero: "The modern athlete, a Herculean colossus, with knotted muscles to the extreme [stands in opposition to] this 'complete' man, agile, skilful, sober, patient, energetic, capable of supporting only deprivation, pain, weather, and to resist the diseases that threaten." (37) Whereas Hebert underscored certain skills and the ability of resistance, Coubertin assigned particular positive benefits to certain sports which he frequently championed in the education young men: "It was always useful if he [a young man] could deal with a horse or a vessel, if he could handle a sword or a gun, if he understood how to place a punch or a kick, to swim or to run if the situation required, or even to dare a bold leap or a climbing tour, because all these skills give him a real superiority." (38) Most of the sports he mentioned--horse-riding, fencing, shooting, boxing, swimming, running, jumping, as well as climbing--generally longed for attention and pursuit of excellence in the competitive circles of the 20th century. Coubertin's influence was limited. He could not check the tendency of most individual sports towards specialization. For instance, he was not able to make shooters equally train in swimming and vice versa. Nevertheless, in order to spread complete education in athletic circles, he supported the idea of a new Olympic combined event which required men well trained in several sport disciplines. Indeed, Coubertin sought to attract a diversified kind of athlete.

Aiming to put his idea into practice, the Baron used his powerful position as President of the IOC, a position he held since the closing of the 1896 Games, to convince his colleagues that the establishment of a new all-around sport was essential in terms of sportive education. In Paris in 1894, at its charter meetings, the IOC had underlined the importance of including a pentathlon in the Olympic program. (39) The first President of the IOC, the Greek Demetrius Vikelas, recommended the allocation of a special pentathlon prize and stressed the ancient Greek's pursuit of a harmonic development in contrast to contemporary athletes who rather took after "jongleurs in the manege." (40) Coubertin highlighted the similarity between the pentathlon and existing contemporary allaround championships (41) held from the 1880s onwards in Great Britain as well as in America. (42) At the end of their very first Session, IOC members, in accord, "expressed the wish that a general athletic competition should be established in the Olympics, under the name 'pentathle'." (43) Two years later, at the Second IOC Session in Athens, held during the first modern Olympic Games, General Aleksey Dimitrievic de Boutowski revived the pentathlon question by voicing his opinion against the specialization in sport and expressing his deep regrets that no pentathlon, as yet, had been implemented in the Olympic program. (44) As his colleagues in the IOC shared his opinion, plans became more precise at the meetings in Le Havre a year later, in 1897. At that time, the IOC decided that a pentathlete had to "start and finish in all of the 5 events in order to be awarded a prize," (45) a regulation that clearly honored the achievement of all-around sportsmen. Swedish IOC members were especially keen on the subject of the pentathlon, suggesting thirteen different points to the Committee, among them the claim that "a new type of pentathlon must [had to] be created as experience shows[ed] that the old form is [was] not good." (46) Bearing in mind that the program of 1896 did not include any combined event, it is obvious that the reference to the "old form" related to the pentathlon in antiquity (running, javelin, long jump, discus throw, and wrestling). Though the pentathlon continued to garner some attention from IOC members following the Le Havre meetings, (47) other topics sublimated it to the background of Committee business. A semi-breakthrough occurred in 1904 at the Olympic Games organized in St. Louis, when a men's decathlon called the "all-around event" (48) took place on the program as an unofficial event. The 1906 Intercalated Games, which the Greeks organized to Coubertin's annoyance, presented flavors of the ancient Greek Olympic tradition. One such flavor was a track-and-field-oriented pentathlon, the first Olympic pentathlon competition of the modern era. (49) To Coubertin's mind, it was obvious that the classic pentathlon was not able to serve as a sufficient test of "completeness" because for him it "was nothing more than a connection of footraces, leaps and shots." (50) Coubertin thought that because conditions and requirements in the 20th century had changed, the modern Olympics should reflect those changes through a pentathlon with a new combination of disciplines which corresponded to contemporary needs.

During the 1909 IOC Session in Berlin, Stockholm was chosen as host city for the 1912 Games. Coubertin's enthusiasm embraced a Swedish ideal that was generally "opposed to specialization," (51) thereby laying a seedbed that offered opportunities for the invention of "various kinds of all-around events." (52) Thus, the implementation of Olympic combined sports was considered when the subject of the future Olympic program was raised. The pentathlon question was revisited. "Two different pentathlons were discussed: one in track and field (running, javelin, long and high jump, swimming and wrestling); one modern pentathlon (suggested by the IOC President) with riding, running, jumping, swimming and wrestling. Fencing or shooting could replace wrestling." (53) The issue of the five individual events was broached at the IOC Session in Luxembourg in 1910. (54) In Luxembourg the modern pentathlon was presented to include fencing instead of wrestling. (55) IOC member Brunetta d'Usseaux furthermore suggested replacing jumping with shooting. M.A. Brunialti proposed running through an obstacle course instead of a normal flat course. (56) Fencing, horseback riding, and shooting, of course, were characteristic of military cavalry disciplines, whereas an obstacle course increased not only the difficulty for the athletes but also concerns for the organizers. All in all, it was obvious that these suggestions rose from the aristocratic folks who championed their favored disciplines, no matter what the consequences were for members of other social classes or the organizers. In Budapest in 1911 the two Swedish IOC members, Viktor Gustaf Balck and Clarence von Rosen, finally presented a preliminary program of the plans for the Stockholm Games. The program included three combined events: (1) a pentathlon--composed of long jump, javelin throw, 200 meter sprint, a discus throw, and a 1500 meter run, (57) (2) a decathlon--composed of a 100 meters sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, a 400 meters run, 110 meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and a 1500 meters run, (58) and (3) a Modern Pentathlon. (59) Whereas the first two concentrated on track and field sports only, the Modern Pentathlon enlarged the scope of the all-around championships by including "a foot-race, a horse race, a swimming race, a fencing match and, finally, a shooting contest." (60) The individual sports chosen for the first Modern Pentathlon elicited little controversy, but regulations for carrying them out, especially for the horse-riding event, caused heated discussions. Coubertin, who felt responsible for the Modern Pentathlon's institution, was furious, especially when he feared that his idea would not be fully implemented. (61) His wish to realize the event as part of the 1912 Olympics was at the end so strong that he accepted compromises, simply to insure that the Modern Pentathlon became a part of the Olympic program. For instance, he would actually have preferred rowing instead of shooting but agreed to the Swedish preference which advocated shooting on the basis of organizational issues rather than for educational reasons. (62) In the end, the Baron was happy to see his wish generally realized, despite the matter of regulative details. In his Olympic Memoirs he described the moment of the inclusion of "his" sport into the Olympic program as a great personal achievement: "I had already submitted the idea to the IOC on two previous occasions, and my proposal had always been greeted with a lack of understanding and almost hostility. I had not insisted. This time however the grace of the Holy Sporting Ghost enlightened my colleagues and they accepted an event to which I attached great importance: a veritable consecration of the complete athlete...." (63)

The Swedish organizing committee concurred, proclaiming that the discipline's sub-events have "equivalent value, in order to make the Modern Pentathlon a competition of really all-round importance." (64) The athlete resulting should be "a man who is [was] really in perfect physical and psychical condition, and who is [was] expert in the branches of sport in question." (65) During the official opening ceremony of the 1912 Olympic Games, Crown Prince Adolf, President of the Organizing Committee, confirming the Swedish point of view, proclaimed athletics as a "counterpoise to the often greatly specialized, one-sided work of our days." (66) Moreover, in tune with the Baron de Coubertin's attitude, the Crown Prince stated that "an all-around system of athletics is [was], of course, what should be strongly recommended, and the importance of such a system has [had] always been powerfully advocated here in Sweden." (67) Before the competitions were held, Coubertin cast an optimistic glance at the future of modern pentathlon: "This pentathlon is certainly destined to play a major role, perhaps even of becoming the predominant event in Olympiads to come. The man capable of taking part, even if he does not come out the winner, is a true athlete, a complete athlete." (68) The importance that the Baron directed to the Modern Pentathlon was furthermore reflected in the award he planned to donate to the winner, (69) as well as in the way he later on described himself as the "father" of the event: "There are two pentathlons: the 'modern1 one, mine ... and the 'classic'". (70)

The Modern Pentathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games: A Competition between "Complete" Athletes?

The social perception of the Modern Pentathlon after its Olympic debut in Stockholm in 1912 indicates whether the sport remained simply a short revival of past ideals or whether it managed to reinforce the value of "complete" athleticism within the 20th century.

First, we hear from Pierre de Coubertin himself. In his Memoires olympiques he reflected on the Stockholm competition and evaluated its "greater consequence." He stated that Modern Pentathlon indeed "had a brilliant start" (71) and was, in his opinion, "one of the most interesting innovations at the 1912 Olympic Games." (72) It served as a model to raise "all sides of imitations." (73) Nevertheless, the Baron was not entirely satisfied. "The modern pentathlon," he said, "has met with growing success ever since, without my real intentions ever being carried out." (74) In fact, he mourned the absence of some regulations which in his mind would make modern pentathletes even more diversified, and which "would give the whole a first-rate educational character," (75) for instance, unknown instead of known courses for the competitors, events quickly following one after the other instead of organizing them on different days, and horses provided by the organizing country and drawn by lot at the last moment. (76) In 1912 those sportsmen who could afford to bring their own horses were allowed to do so, even though from the outset opposition based on class was perpetually raised against this conception of the event. Modern pentathletes competing in Stockholm were exclusively members of military circles. (77) The competitors' social background caused a problem with regard to the creation of a general pursuit of human achievement being that becoming a modern pentathlete was only reachable for men, and among them, only for a few. (78) Military officers, many of them represented in the Swedish Olympic Organizing Committee, and further, as members of the Swedish Modern Pentathlon team, played a strong influence, finally managing, as Coubertin regretted, "to make the present organizers ... forget completely the principles laid down by the creator of the pentathlon." (79) Despite this point of criticism, Coubertin interpreted the implementation of Modern Pentathlon as part of a general positive "movement toward athletic eclecticism," (80) since people were "becoming mired in particularly fruitless specialization, as far as manly improvement is [was] concerned." (81) Despite all, the Baron anticipated a great future for the new combined sport: "This innovation will be long-lasting. because it has met with universal support." (82) Among the twenty-nine competitors of the Modern Pentathlon event in 1912 (83) were twelve Swedish modern pentathletes, five Russian, four Danish, three British, two French, and one German, Austrian and American. (84)

How was the implementation of the first Modern Pentathlon perceived by the participating countries? During the Olympic Games of Stockholm the Swedish press frequently reported on the implementation of the new combined sport. (85) Besides the fact that Stockholm hosted the Olympics, two main reasons explain the high media coverage of the phenomenon. First, the Modern Pentathlon was new and caused curiosity. Second, the Swedes mounted a large team of pentathletes; expectations were high that they would fare in the event. In the cross-country-run, Swedish officers took all three medals. Sweden's elation was notable. The Stockholms Dagblad reported the event "as one of the most popular and festive moments during this sensational stadium week." (86) The great number of spectators as well as the daily media coverage testified to a generally excellent acceptance of Modern Pentathlon in Sweden. Also, the Official Report reflected that "in consequence of the special character of this competition, it was watched with very great interest both at home and abroad." (87) Was it simply national pride that led to such an enthusiastic expression, or was the Modern Pentathlon indeed perceived as a new all-around test outside of Sweden?

From the moment of their official opening in Stockholm in May 1912, the Fifth Olympic Games received considerable attention in the French press. (88) Being familiar with the idea of "complete" athleticism through Georges Hebert's Methode Naturelle, the French perhaps embraced a better understanding and appreciation for the concept of a new combined sport. The resulting competitions in Stockholm confirmed to the French that Modern Pentathlon was "a true criterion of manhood and perfect athleticism." (89) As French sportsmen were generally not successful at the Games, the French press reported less frequently than the Swedes about the events. But when they did, the content focused on a French achievement or presented reasons for French failure. (90) The French participants in the Modern Pentathlon competition were largely unsuccessful. Therefore, not much was written about this sport. Whereas L'Ulustration and La Vie au Grand Air did not print a single line between June and September 1912 about the Modern Pentathlon, L'Auto published two short articles to inform about the results and to proclaim that the new sport was "of merit and should be maintained." (91) Commented Paul Champ in LAuto: "The Modern Pentathlon is a competition that all the lieutenants of the French army. should necessarily be required to perform once a year." (92)

While the French competitors finished all five sports, the single German participant, Carl Pauen, dropped out after completion of the first sub-discipline. Despite this somewhat less than auspicious performance, the German press nevertheless reported on the new competition. When the Deutsche Turnzeitung analyzed the three top-ranked athletes of the 1912 modern pentathlon, the conclusion was drawn that "only a serious preparation in all five exercises gives [gave] expectancy for modern pentathlon honors." (93) Julius Wagner, publisher of a German report on the Stockholm Olympics, expressed a negative view of the new event, stating that the Modern Pentathlon to some extent had not fulfilled expectations. (94) His criticism was directed at the organization of the athletic competitions and to the fact that the new sport had not yet been sufficiently introduced to sport circles. Wagner's criticism did not in principle condemn the idea of Modern Pentathlon as a new all-around sport. In fact, he confirmed the positive effects of a "diversified body culture," (95) and most of all, the possibility to bring more people in touch with different sports. This was reason enough for him to carp at the current military dominance of the sport and to conclude that the Modern Pentathlon should remain a part of the Olympic program. (96) The idea of "complete" athleticism had found its social confirmation. As Wagner wrote, "who wants to win in the Modern Pentathlon must be able to meet the physical demands of our time." (97)

Great Britain's poor performance in the 1912 Olympics was widely advertised in other countries as evidence of England's 'decadence.'" (98) Developing successful modern pentathletes through all-around training, on the other hand, was perceived as an international sign of national strength. Great Britain, taking issue with such an assessment, interpreted the poor accomplishments of its three competitors in the 1912 Modern Pentathlon--one gave up, the other two took ninth and thirteenth place--as a result of an unfair assignment of the horses rather than a lack of skill. (99) The British, however, were not condemnatory of the new event. It resolved to do better.

The American report on the Stockholm Olympics was generally favorable toward the new event. The Modern Pentathlon was a sport that "tested the ability of those who do several things well, and are [were] not expert in one to the exclusion of everything else." (100) George S. Patton, Jr., later a notable American military figure, was the only American entry in the Modern Pentathlon. To him, the discipline was a fitness test for "the perfect man-at-arms of the present day." (101)

In general, European and American press did not differ much in their perception of the new Olympic combined event. The idea to form "complete" athletes was generally accepted, even appreciated. But, the obvious social group limitation, a limitation that placed the best opportunities for pursuing the training of the skills required in the hands of the more wealthy and educated in society, was noted. However, besides the national comments on the 1912 competition, the inclusion of a Modern Pentathlon in the next Olympic program as well as into other noted sport festivals, such as the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Games in San Francisco in 1915, (102) was as least partial proof of its social acceptance.


Leo Tolstoi once remarked: "Life requires an ideal. An ideal, however, is only then an ideal, if it is completeness." (103) Seeking achievement is a natural human characteristic. However, what is perceived to be of worth has undergone decisive changes in history. This short essay concentrated on one ideal that was widespread at the end of the 19th century, an ideal, however, that began its journey towards oblivion in the early 20th century. In sport circles, at least, the ideal of "completeness" was not altogether abandoned. The Modern Pentathlon was created to aspire towards the complete athlete. In a world that increasingly concentrated on specialized and rationalized issues, the efforts of Pierre de Coubertin and his colleagues in the IOC in the implementation of the Modern Pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912 gave life to whether "completeness" functioned simply as a model for a few or whether it was powerful enough to reinvent the concept as an objective of human achievement.

The Modern Pentathlon, despite criticism, became recognized as a competition between "complete" athletes. To far greater extent than its two "sister events" the Athletic Pentathlon and the Decathlon, each of which took place at Stockholm in 1912, the Modern Pentathlon helped to underscore the value of a diversified training. Problematic was the restricted number of possible complete athletes who had the financial and organizational background to train for the Modern Pentathlon. Even though non-military people and women were excluded from taking part, the basic ideal remained as a model towards which to strive, irrespective of social class.

This early 20th century shift in values returns us to a quotation enunciated earlier in this essay: "Tempora mutantur, mutantur ludi in illis." (104) It was not exclusively the Modern Pentathlon that characterized a kind of counter-movement to increasing specialization, but rather the general change in times that preceded the multi-sport concept. Indeed, broad social changes, underscored largely by new methods of production, occurred from the beginning of the 20th century until 1912. In pre-World War I context there certainly existed a need for skillful and trained young men, ready to undertake military service and action. The Modern Pentathlon, with its combination of military disciplines and endurance sports perfectly fit into this perspective. Hence, the reason why the sport was born exactly in its early 20th century period is underscored by utility. Besides serving as an ideal with a special practical purpose, this interpretation also explains that the track-and-field-sports based pentathlon and decathlon were meanwhile considered only partly satisfactory and even insufficient.

After the First World War the rationale for training all-round men did not altogether vanish. First of all, Modern Pentathlon remained without interruption as part of the Olympic program. Neither did Avery Brundage, IOC President from 1952 to 1972, forget the ideal. One of his often-repeated statements was that "Coubertin reawakened in us the ideal of the complete, if not the perfect, man." (105) Finally, "completeness" as sportive model was extended to several other sports. (106) Sportsmen continue to seek diversified skills. Today, many different sports (also non-combined ones) invent their own definition of "completeness." Thus, the concept "towards the complete athlete" has actually never ceased. Here in the 21st century more and more people make sport the content of their personal human achievement.


(1) Gerold Ambrosius and William H. Hubbard, Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte Europas im 20. Jahrhundert (Munchen: Beck, 1986), 150.

(2) Allen Guttmann, Sports: The First Five Millennia (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), 5.

(3) See for instance, "Kolehmainen the fastest of them all," Outing LXIII, no. 2, November (1913).

(4) Whereas shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian sports and athletics were part of the Olympic program before 1912, the concrete events had different Olympic histories: the dueling pistol became Olympic in 1906, epee fencing in 1900, 300m swimming and 4000m cross-country running never and cross-country riding (max. 5000m) was not included until 1912 when it became part of the modern pentathlon as well as of the military riding (eventing).

(5) Allen Guttmann, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 47.

(6) Guttmann, Sports, 4.

(7) All translations used in this essay are mine; here, translated from the French; L'Opinion, 6 July 1912, quoted in Georges Hebert, L'education physique ou l'entrainement complet par la methode naturelle: historique documentaire (Paris: Vuibert, 1941), 131.

(8) Ernst Hoyer, ed., Schule, Sport, Erziehung: Gedanken zum offentlichen Erziehungswesen (Schorndorf: Hofmann, 1972); translated from the German. German translation of the French original by Pierre de Coubertin, Notes sur l'education publique (Paris: Hachette 1901), 132.

(9) Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Einundzwanzig Jahre Sportkampagne, 1887-1908 (Ratingen, Kastellaun, Dusseldorf: Henn, 1974). German translation of the French original by Pierre de Coubertin, Une campagne de vingt-et-un ans (Paris: Librairie d'education physique, 1909), 146.

(10) "Les premieres epreuves de gymnastique utilitaire," Revue Olympique 3 (March 1906); Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Einundzwanzig Jahre Sportkampagne, 150.

(11) Title of a book by Pierre de Coubertin, La Gymnastique Utilitaire: Sauvetage-Defense-Locomotion (Paris: Alcan, 1905).

(12) Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Einundzwanzig Jahre Sportkampagne, 146; translated from the German.

(13) "Olympisme et utilitarisme," Revue Olympique 89 (May 1913), 72; CarlDiem-Institut, ed., Olympische Erinnerungen (Wiesbaden: Limpert, 1996). Translation of the French original by Pierre de Coubertin, Memoires Olympiques (Lausanne: Bureau International de Pedagogie Sportive, 1931), 18.

(14) "Olympisme et utilitarisme," 72; translated from the French.

(15) Marie-Therese Eyquem, "Pierre de Coubertin et l'education physique," Revue EPS (Education Physique et Sport) 65 (May 1963), 56.

(16) Jules Troncay (pseud. Jean Dacay), Lathlete complet (Paris: Nilsson, 1913).

(17) For further information on eclecticism as a philosophical base for France's early development of physical education and sport, see, for instance, Claude Prevost, "Eloge de l'eclectisme", STAPS, special edition, CAPEPS, ecrit 1, Histoire et civilisation, November (1987), 35-64.

(18) Clement Vautel, "L'athlete complet, roi du jour," Le Matin, 1913, quoted in Jean-Michel Delaplace et Georges Hebert: Sculpteur du Corps (Paris: Vuibert, 2005), 75; translated from the French.

(19) Susan H. Myers, "Handcraft to Industry: Philadelphia Ceramics in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century," Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology 43 (1980), 1.

(20) Taylorism was named after American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), commonly referred to as the father of scientific management. See, for instance, Walter Hebeisen, "F. W. Taylor und der Taylorismus: Uber das Wirken und die Lehre Taylors und die Kritik am Taylorismus," Mensch, Technik, Organisation 24 (Zurich: vdf Hochschulverlag an der ETH, 1999) or "Frederick Taylor, Early Century Management Consultant," The Wall Street Journal, 13 June 1997. Fordism was named after Henry Ford (1863-1947), and refers to the invention of the automobile assembly line at the Ford plant at Highland Park, Michigan, USA in 1913. See, for instance, Henry Ford and Samuel Crowther, My Life and Work (New York: Cosimo Inc., 2005).

(21) Myers, Handcraft to Industry, 1.

(22) Matthew F. Mitchell, "Specialization and the Skill Premium in the 20th Century," International Economic Review 46, no. 3, August (2005), 935.

(23) Stephen Marglin, "What do Bosses Do? The Origins and Functions of Hierarchy in Capitalist Production," Review of Radical Political Economics 6, no. 2 (1974), 14; Ulrich Jurgens et al., Breaking from Taylorism: Changing forms of Work in the Automobile Industry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 2, 6.

(24) Stewart, "The Nature of Sport," 49.

(25) Krishan Kumar, From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society: New Theories of the Contemporary World (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 32.

(26) Guttmann, From Ritual to Record, 15-16.

(27) Stewart, "The Nature of Sport," 49.

(28) Ibid., 51.

(29) Ibid., 52.

(30) Ibid., 53-54.

(31) Jacques Gleyse et al., "Demeny et Taylor : Etude Comparee de Deux Discours de la Deuxieme Revolution Industrielle," Sport History Review 30, no. 2 (1999), 168-185; Jacques Gleyse, "Demeny: Taylor de l'Education Physique," in: Education physique, sports et arts. XIX-XX siecles, eds. Pierre Arnaud and Thierry Terret (Paris: Ed. du CTHS, 1996), 75-88.

(32) Jean-Marie Brohm, Corps et Politique (Paris: Delarge, 1975).

(33) Joseph A. Heim and W. Dale Compton, eds., Manufacturing Systems: Foundations of World-class Practice (Washington, D.C.: National Acad. Press, 1992), 153.

(34) Guttmann, From Ritual to Record, 39.

(35) Ibid.

(36) Ibid., 57.

(37) Grcecia, November 1913, quoted in Hebert, L'Education Physique, 138; translated from the French.

(38) Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Einundzwanzig Jahre Sportkampagne, 146; translated from the German.

(39) Commission des Jeux Olympiques, Proces-verbal de la Seance du 19 Juin 1894, Meeting Minutes, IOC Archives Lausanne, 6.

(40) Ibid., 1-2.

(41) Ibid., 3.

(42) Troncay, LAthlete Complet, 23-31; International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), ed., Scoring Tables for Combined Events, April (2004), 7. For instance, the American National Championships were instituted in 1884 and included eleven athletic-based events: 100 yards run; putting 16 lb shot; running high jump; half-mile walk; throwing 16 lb hammer; 120 yards hurdle race; pole vault; throwing 56 lb weight; one mile run; running broad jump; quarter-mile run. See The Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edition (1910-1911), Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/All-round_Athletics; Malcolm W. Ford, "All-round Athletic Championships," Outing XXXI, no. 1, October (1897).

(43) Commission des Jeux Olympiques, "Proces-verbal 1894," 6; translation from the French.

(44) Commission des Jeux Olympiques, "Proces-verbal 2e Session Athenes 1896, Seance du Samedi 4 Avril 1896--Seance du Mardi 14 Avril," 5.

(45) Wolf Lyberg, The IOC Sessions: 1894-1955, vol. 1 (Lausanne: Comite International Olympique, 1989), 17.

(46) Ibid.

(47) IOC member Jiff Guth, for instance, was in favor of a pentathlon at the session of Paris 1901; see Commission des Jeux Olympiques, "Proces-verbal 4e Session Paris 1901," 20.

(48) The 1904 decathlon included 100 yards, shot put, high jump, 880 yards walk, 16lb hammer throw, pole vault, 120 yards hurdles, 56lb weight throw, long jump and 1 mile run; see International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Scoring Tables for Combined Events, 7.

(49) For informaton on this first Modern Olympic pentathlon, see Bill Mallon, The 1906 Olympic Games: Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1999), 58-59; Carl Diem, "Die olympischen Spiele 1906," in: Die Olympischen Spiele 1906 in Athen, eds. Karl Lennartz and Walter Teutenberg (Kassel: Kasseler Sportverlag, 1992), 55-110; and Swedish Olympic Committee, ed., Sveriges Deltagande 1: Olympiska Spelen i Athen 1906 (Stockholm, 1906), 52.

(50) Arthur Mallwitz, ed., Sportliche Erziehung (Stuttgart: Dieck, 1928). German translation of the original by Pierre de Coubertin, Pedagogie sportive (Paris: Cres, 1922), 56.

(51) "Reunion du Comite International Olympique a Luxembourg," Revue Olympique 54 (June 1910), 86.

(52) Swedish Olympic Committee, ed., Olympic Games Stockholm 1912. Fifth Olympiad: The Official Report of the Olympic Games of Stockholm 1912 (Stockholm: Wahlstrom & Widstrand, 1913), 325.

(53) Lyberg, The IOC Sessions, 53.

(54) Ibid., 57.

(55) Comite International Olympique, ed., "La reunion du Comite International Olympique a Luxembourg," Revue Olympique 54 (June 1910), 86.

(56) Ibid.

(57) International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Scoring Tables for Combined Events, 7-8.

(58) Ibid.

(59) Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Olympische Erinnerungen, 116.

(60) Ibid.

(61) "Le Pentathlon Moderne," Revue Olympique 71 (November 1911), 164165; Lyberg, The IOC Sessions, 63-65; Commission des Jeux Olympiques, Seance d'Ouverture a l'Academie Hongroise des Sciences, 23 May 1911, 14.

(62) Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Olympische Erinnerungen, 116.

(63) Ibid., 116; translated from the German.

(64) Swedish Olympic Committee, Olympic Games Stockholm 1912, 640.

(65) Ibid., 641.

(66) Ibid., 309.

(67) Ibid., 309-310.

(68) "Le Pentathlon Moderne," 163; translated from the French.

(69) "Reunion du Comite International Olympique a Luxembourg," 86.

(70) Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Olympische Erinnerungen, 129; translated from the German.

(71) Ibid.

(72) "Les debuts du pentathlon moderne," Revue Olympique 82 (October 1912), 151; translated from the French.

(73) "Olympisme et utilitarisme," 72; translated from the French.

(74) Carl-Diem-Institut, ed., Olympische Erinnerungen, 116.

(75) Ibid., 117.

(76) Ibid., 116-117; Mallwitz, ed., Sportliche Erziehung, 56.

(77) Swedish Olympic Committee, Olympic Games Stockholm 1912, 646.

(78) The question of the social background of the participants is not discussed here. See: Sandra Heck, "When Workmen Shoot, Fence, and Ride--Modern Pentathlon and the Promise of Social Integration at the Beginning of the 20th Century," Stadion (forthcoming 2011).

(79) Carl-Diem-Institut, Olympische Erinnerungen, 117; translated from the German.

(80) Pierre de Coubertin: "Lettre olympique IX: Le Pentathlon Moderne," La Gazette de Lausanne 355 (28 December 1918), 1; translation from the French.

(81) Ibid.

(82) "Les debuts du pentathlon moderne," 151; translated from the French.

(83) Mallon and Widlund mention 29 competitors in total, whereas the official report and sources of the Modern Pentathlon Committee refer to 32 athletes; see Bill Mallon and Ture Widlund, The 1912 Olympic Games: Results for all Competitors in all Events, with Commentary (Jefferson N.C.: McFarland & Co, 2002), 233-234; Swedish Olympic Committee, Olympic Games Stockholm, 890; Kommitens for Modern Femkamp Handlingar (microfilm), in Stockholms-Olympiaden 1912 (SE/RA/730226), National Archives of Sweden.

(84) Mallon and Widlund, The 1912 Olympic Games, 233,-234.

(85) The research includes an analysis of the following Swedish contemporary newspapers: Aftonbladet, Svenska Dagbladed, Stockholms Dagblad (National Archives of Sweden).

(86) Stockholms Dagblad, 13 July 1912.

(87) Swedish Olympic Committee, Olympic Games Stockholm 1912, 646.

(88) Delaplace, Georges Hebert, 74. The research includes the three main contemporary French sport newspapers: LAuto, L'lllustration and La Vie au Grand Air (National Library of France).

(89) Ibid., 153; translated from the French.

(90) For instance, "Les Jeux Olympiques de Stockholm," L'lllustration 3620 (13 July 1912; Geo Lefevre: "Les Jeux Olympiques: que fera la France a Stockholm en 1912?," La Vie au Grand Air 718 (22 June 1912).

(91) Paul Champ: "Le Pentathlon Moderne: Une epreuve des Jeux Olympiques, nouvelle en programme, qui merite d'y etre maintenue," LAuto, 8 August 1912.

(92) Ibid., translated from the French.

(93) "Nachrichten und Vermischtes: Vom Modernen Funfkampf," Deutsche Turnzeitung: fur die Angelegenheiten des gesamten Turnwesens 65 (1920), 191; translated from the German.

(94) Julius Wagner, Olympische Spiele Stockholm 1912: 29. Juni bis 22. Juli (Zurich, Munchen: Verlag von Julius Wagner, 1912), 84; translated from the German.

(95) Ibid.; translated from the German.

(96) Ibid.

(97) Ibid., 85; translation from the German.

(98) The Times, Editorial, 18 August 1913; quoted in: Arnd Kruger, "Forgotten Decisions: The IOC and the Eve of World War I," Olympika. The International Journal of Olympic Studies VI (1997), 91.

(99) British Olympic Council, ed., Official Report of the Olympic Games of 1912 in Stockholm, London, 18 September 1912, 12.

(100) James E. Sullivan, "The Olympic Games Stockholm 1912," Spaldings Athletic Library 17 (New York: American Sports Publication, 1912), 21.

(101) George Smith Patton, 2nd Lieutenant, 15th Cavalry, Fort Myer, Va., Report on Modern Pentathlon, to the Adjutant General, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C., 19 September 1912, 1; quoted in Harold E. Wilson, "A Legend In His Own Mind: The Olympic Experience of General George S. Patton, Jr.," Olympika. The International Journal of Olympic Studies 6, (1997) 101.

(102) Panama-Pacific International Exposition Games in San Francisco in 1915; "Le Comite International a San Francisco," Bulletin du Comite International Olympique--Citius, Altius, Fortius 2 (1915); the article can also be found in the IOC Archives in Lausanne: JO 1912 S-CORR-Correspondance envoyee et recue par Coubertin au sujet des JO de 1912, 46580.

(103) Quotation by Leo Tolstoi, Tagebucher, 1910; translated from the German.

(104) See endnote 6.

(105) For instance, see "Speech by President Avery Brundage at the Opening Ceremonies of the 61st Session of the International Olympic Committee, Innsbruck, January 26th, 1964," Bulletin du Comite International des Jeux Olympiques 86 (May (1986).

(106) See for instance, Gloria Averbuch, The Woman Runner: Free to be the Complete Athlete (New York: Cornerstone Library, 1984).

Sandra Heck *

* Sandra Heck is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Sport Science, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Germany
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Date:Jan 1, 2010
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