Athletics

Silver medal of 1904 Olympics

Silver medal, 1904 Olympics, with Greek imagery. Note obverse with Discobolos, reverse with Nike (goddess of victory) on globe

Around the time that the first version of Franklin Field was being built, America was waking up to the idea of organized athletic competition.  Penn was part of this athletic awakening.  The first modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896, were a huge success.  By 1904, the Olympics were to be held in the the United States.  Several American cities made bids to hold the 1904 Olympics, including Philadelphia, which was the first city to express interest.  Since Penn was the premier track and field power at the time, it seemed as though Philadelphia was a sound choice.  However, St. Louis ended up being the host city, perhaps because of the concurrent St. Louis World's Fair.

At the same time, the student-run Athletic Association, founded in 1873, was fighting for athletics to have a place in student life at Penn.  Athletic culture blossomed in the late 19th century at Penn and the other Ivy League schools, but the long history of athletics at Penn makes it different from the other ivy league schools.   Athletics at Penn can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin, the inspiration for the University, and his Proposals for the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania.  However, when we look even further back, Penn Athletics can be seen as the descendant of Greek and Roman athletics.  Like Penn’s principal athletic field, its entire athletic program has a classical structure, as is shown by the Latin phrase from Juvenal’s Satires which acts as the Athletic Association’s motto, mens sana in corpore sano, or a sound mind in a sound body.  In this section, we will examine the physical culture that developed at Penn and how it mimics the culture that developed in the ancient world, specifically in Greece.