Wednesday 24 March 2021

Sporty Gels

 On this day 100 years ago, the first Women's Olympiad got under way in the gardens of the Monte Carlo Casino. A hundred ladies from France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway and Switzerland took part in a range of running and jumping events, javelin and shot put. There were demonstration events too, including rhythmic gymnastics and, rather wonderfully, pushball, a variant of football in which a 50lb, six-foot-diameter ball is pushed by two teams towards each other's goals. The Olympiad sounds like a charming occasion, and the participants bore little resemblance to today's female athletes. They were fine, milk-fed girls*, decorously dressed, with full bosoms, sturdy legs and not a six-pack or a five o-clock shadow in sight. They were, indeed, the kind of sporty gels who appealed to Betjeman, who even wrote a poem titled 'The Olympic Girl' (not one of his better efforts) –

The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose
And wrinkles her retroussé nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown,
So furious and freckled, down
On an unhealthy worm like me?
Or am I what she likes to see?
I do not know, though much I care,
xxxxxxxx.....would I were
(Forgive me, shade of Rupert Brooke)
An object fit to claim her look.
Oh! would I were her racket press'd
With hard excitement to her breast
And swished into the sunlit air
Arm-high above her tousled hair,
And banged against the bounding ball
"Oh! Plung!" my tauten'd strings would call,
"Oh! Plung! my darling, break my strings
For you I will do brilliant things."
And when the match is over, I
Would flop beside you, hear you sigh;
And then with what supreme caress,
You'd tuck me up into my press.
Fair tigress of the tennis courts,
So short in sleeve and strong in shorts,
Little, alas, to you I mean,
For I am bald and old and green.

Well, quite...  Above, in the bloomers, is the United Kingdom's Mary Lines, who won several running medals and the long jump. At the top, wearing a fetching headband and a saucy look, is French high jumper Frédérique Kussel, and below, sporting a stylish beret and necklace, is her compatriot, runner Lucie Bréard.  

* I'm sure the phrase 'fine, milk-fed girl' occurs somewhere in Wodehouse, but I can't trace it. One for you, Dave Lull...?


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