Friday, August 3, 2012

A Look Back in Time: The Victorians and Their Sports

The world has been consumed with the Olympics for the past week, especially because the London games marks what is being called the most social Olympics ever. Here at the Hotel Boulderado, which is more than 4,600 miles from London, we are also gearing up for the USA ProCycling Challenge later this month that will literally race by us on Spruce Street. All these sporting events made me think about the Victorians, and what sports they enjoyed. Several Olympic events can trace their popularity back to the Victorian era, including tennis, cycling, and football (that's soccer to us in the U.S.).

Lawn tennis became a popular past time for middle-class women in the Victorian era, who enjoyed the simple act of paddling the ball back and forth across a lawn. The game became far more competitive when men got caught up in the new craze and started keeping score. It wasn't long before summer resorts began offering the activity and magazines were spotted detailing the proper clothes to wear while playing.

Football had been around for centuries by the time the Victorians started playing, but they made it a point to establish official rules of play. The first Football Association Cup was played in 1871 and inspired many to start their own local football clubs. Initially, football was meant to keep people healthy and encourage a sense of fair play, but this latter goal apparently wasn't being observed enough as free kicks and penalty kicks had to be introduced in 1877 and 1891, respectively, to discourage foul play.

Cycling is something very near and dear to the hearts of many in Boulder, but few of them realize that they have the Victorians to thank for inventing the bicycle in the 1880's. None of them probably think about the bicycle's initial reception into society, which ranged from ministers decrying it as a "diabolical device of the demon of darkness . . . imbued with a wild and Satanic nature" to being lauded as the cure-all for humanity's ills. The first bicycles featured the big wheel in front with the tiny one in back, as seen in this photo.
This model became difficult for women to ride on because of their long skirts. After trying tricycles for women and shorter riding skirts (which were deemed too threatening to ladies' morals and reputation), the current incarnation of the bicycle with two same-sized wheels were introduced.

The reason so many sports took off during the Victorian era was because of the sudden creation of the middle class. Their new wealth and leisure time meant people could have a sporting hobby, something that up until then had been solely the joy of the super wealthy. While watching the rest of the Olympic games this summer, think about how different they would be without the sports made popular by the Victorians.