Amsterdam Olympics 1928

ams21p1.jpg (6974 bytes) In 1928, the Olympic Games came to Amsterdam and all the women who competed there were under pressure to preserve their modesty. Clothing was an issue for them all. The British gymnastics team of 1928 were heavily criticised when they posed for their team photograph revealing too much of their shapely legs. On no account were they to show their knees, even in thick black stockings! They were required to dress modestly, and wore black stockings under gym tunics when they made their competitive Olympic debut in Amsterdam. Even the team photograph showing crossed legs was frowned upon!

It was not decent to show any contours or any womanly shape (a difficult problem as many of the 1928 gymnasts were married women and not, as today, prepubescent girls) and so the women had to bind their breasts with wide bandages while competing. Blouses underneath their tunics and ties helped the British women to conceal their bodies even more. This probably didn’t help their movement and may explain why the gymnasts at this time were not performing somersaults!

The first Gold medal for team gymnastics in 1928 was won by the Netherlands, with Italy taking silver and Great Britain bronze. Ethel Seymour of Great Britain became the oldest gymnastic medallist winning her bronze at the age of 46 years and 6 months. A distinction unlikely to be seen today!

Despite the old concerns about women preserving their modesty and not showing too much of their bodies they all found creative solutions!

German athlete Leni Junker:

"We had to bring with us our own shoes and stockings and a shovel to dig foot holes for the start. We secretly cut our shorts which we thought were too long."

Australian Edith Robinson:

"My uniform was white top and black bloomers to the knee and long black stockings. I cut the bottom of my bloomers on the ship over to Amsterdam."

Dutch 800 metres athlete Mien Duchataeu said about the Dutch kit:

"We wore orange woollen shorts that we knitted ourselves....Old gents said how outrageous it was - a woman in shorts!"

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Edie wanted to be able to move in her restrictive athletics clothing and Mien was fully aware of the shock she was causing by her dress - but it is worth bearing in mind that women running in shorts is still unacceptable in many cultures today.

Sweden’s Maud Sundberg’s recollections of Amsterdam are a little different. It seems she had her mind on other things!

"I’m a bit ashamed to tell you that my greatest memory from Amsterdam was that the men from the Mexican team followed the blue eyed girls from Sweden everywhere, and threw roses over them!"