Reference : Making Débrouillards: The Modern Pentathlon and the Pursuit of Completeness
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Making Débrouillards: The Modern Pentathlon and the Pursuit of Completeness
Heck, Sandra mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Education, Culture, Cognition and Society (ECCS) >]
Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies
[en] completeness ; versatility ; specialization ; multiple sports skills ; modern pentathlon ; Olympic Games ; 1912 ; all-around athlete ; Coubertin ; human achievement ; ideal
[en] Whereas 18th and 19th century developments in efficient labor production called for versatility and wide-ranging skills, that is, qualities of “completeness,” 20th century means of efficient production ushered in a general shift towards Taylorism, or specialization. This shift impacted on the field of sport. Thus, by the early 20th century more and more athletes turned towards concentrating their training on a single sport. This, of course, consequently led to a decrease in multiple sports skills. Astonishingly, in the midst of this accelerating trend, a new combined sport, the Modern Pentathlon, was introduced into the Olympic program in 1912. The Modern Pentathlon, composed of shooting, fencing, swimming, horse-riding, and running required all-around instead of one-dimensional abilities, diversity instead of specialization. Pierre de Coubertin promoted the sport as a tool for an individual to reach “completeness,” thereby emphasizing the possibility of enriching human lives through multidimensional practices.
By investigating sources in the IOC Archives in Lausanne, the National and Military Archives of Sweden in Stockholm, and the National Library of France in Paris, this essay aims to analyze the history of the ideal of “completeness” related to the Modern Pentathlon. It explores whether in a time of increasing specialization the skills developed through Modern Pentathlon functioned as a contemporary ideal of human achievement.

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