Vegetarian athletes for the Olympics?
Mr Eustace Miles, well known vegetarian athlete and author of numerous books on the subject Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Vegetarian athletes for the Olympics?

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Published: 5 December 1913

It has been reported that a team of vegetarian athletes may be set to participate in the next Olympic Games, which are scheduled for Berlin in the summer of 1916.

The very prospect is sure to re-enliven discussion around the various claims of food reformers and a creditable performance by vegetarian athletes may go some way to countering a general scepticism about the benefits of a diet of nuts, tomatoes, and the like. The prevailing wisdom remains that half-cooked beef-steak - and plenty of it - is best suited to athletic performance demanding strength and endurance.

Of course, vegetarian athletes are not entirely unheard of, with Mr Eustace Miles, the ex-tennis and croquet champion, being perhaps the best known among them.  Mr Miles is a former English and World real tennis champion who, at the age of 39, won a silver medal for tennis at the 1908 Olympics in London. Miles has been advocate of food reform and has written extensively on the relationship between diet, fitness and physical exercise.

A selection of vegetables taken from Illustrated Handbook: Rawson's Begetable & Flower Seeds. Image: The Internet Archive (www.archive.org)

But Mr Miles and others like him are, an Irish Times editorial has observed, still regarded as ‘strange freaks of nature, who have succeeded, in spite of their diet, not on account of it.’

So can a successful vegetarian athletic team change what we eat and how we think about food? According to The Irish Times, the answer is yes and no. A good showing by vegetarian athletes might indeed strengthen the argument against the eating of meat and lead some athletes to forsake it while in training.

‘But they would not persuade the general public to banish roast beef from its dinner tables, however clearly they might demonstrate the dietary superiority of nuts. We all know that tobacco is strictly forbidden to athletes who are in strict training, yet the great majority of men in those countries continue to smoke. They do so because they enjoy it, and they are even prepared to sacrifice 'fitness' to it to a certain extent.'

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