“A Possibility of a Lady Competitor:” Helen Preece and the 1912 Olympic Modern Pentathlon

Journal of Olympic History.

Abstract: On July 7, 1912, the Louisville Herald printed the story of Helen Preece, a teenaged English girl set to be the first and only woman to compete in the Modern Pentathlon at the upcoming Olympic Games in Stockholm. She’d been training for months and attracted international attention. The Modern Pentathlon competition started that same day; however, Preece was not there. Olympic organizers refused to allow women to compete. The erroneous story points to the uncertainties of publishing and the press in the early 20th century, and also to a national and international fascination with the prospect of a woman participating in an event rooted in male-dominated events. In the aftermath of her failed Olympic venture, Preece lived a long and prosperous life, where she continued to challenge gender norms in a variety of ways. Until now, historians have largely overlooked Preece and her life story. This article sheds new light on the life and legacy of this would-be Olympic pioneer through the benefits of previously undiscovered documents and articles, Preece’s unpublished memoir, and interviews and material shared by members of her family.

Kyser Lough 

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