Anyone for tennis, croquet, football…

It’s Olympic season, so it seemed like the perfect time to look through our Victorian songs collection, and see what the Sporting Victorian might be playing. Some are firmly established Olympic favourites, while others have had their moment, only to disappear again from Olympic venues.

Celebrating Captain Webb’s Channel swim. A1876.78.

Swimming – has featured in every modern Olympics. The nearest to Captain Webb’s cross-Channel swim is the Marathon Swimming event (10 km), which has been included in the Olympics since 2008. Brits have won 2 silvers and a bronze for the 10 km open water event. Early swimming events also included Underwater swimming, and the 200m obstacle course! The British seem to have fared particularly well on the 200m obstacle course winning a gold and a bronze.

Croquet – has only been at the Olympics once, at the 1900 Paris Olympics. The French won all the medals, although it’s not clear whether they had any competition.

Spot the little dog, who appears to be waiting for his turn. A1871.6470.

Cricket – along with croquet only featured at the 1900 Olympics. There were just two teams with the Devon and Somerset Wanderers representing the UK, who won the gold medal. The French (now not generally known as a cricketing nation) won the silver medal.

The lost Olympic sport of cricket. A1871.5332.

Archery – first introduced at the 1900 games, was dropped for a long period, before being re-introduced at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The UK’s only gold medals came in 1908, when the games were held in London.

Cycling – recently cycling events have been enormously successful for the British team. Both road and track cycling events have been an integral part of the games from the beginning of the modern event, with the Greeks and French dominating early events. Mountain biking was introduced in 1996, with BMX joining in 2008. I’m not sure which event our penny-farthing wielding friend might have entered, though it certainly scared the horses!

Which cycling event has our friend entered? You decide… A1884.1608

Sailing – was first introduced in 1900, having been cancelled at the previous games. Sailing until 1988 was largely gender neutral. The very first female gold medallist was American, Helene de Pourtales, who represented Switzerland crewing Lerina. Fittingly this yachting waltz has a female composer.


Football (Soccer) – was also introduced in 1900. It has been a part of the games at every event since, except for 1932, when issues of professionalism in the game and a potential Football World League caused it to be dropped from the itinerary. The top goal scorer at an Olympics is Hungarian, Ferenc Bene, who scored 12 goals at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

A surprisingly common Olympic sport, although issues around professionalism have made entries difficult for some countries. A1886.239.

Rowing – another sport in which Britain has excelled, though these two rowers seem to be having a much more leisurely time. Several Cambridge rowers were selected for this year’s Olympics.

Come on Cambridge!

Good luck to all the competitors in the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics.



About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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