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Success in Athletics and how to obtain it

F[rederick] A[nnesley] M[ichael] Webster; T.J. Pryce Jenkins, and R[obert] Vivian [W] Mostyn. “Success in Athletics and How to Obtain It”, 1919.

The authors:

F.A.M. Webster is one of the most important names in the history of athletics in the 20th century in Britain.  His significance does not lie merely in the fact that he wrote more than thirty books on athletics, the Olympic Games and related topics, nor in the Amateur Field Events Association and the Loughborough Summer School, both of which he created, nor because he wrote about, taught and generally championed the field-events in Britain at a time when others didn’t, but because he is an enduring example of how one person, by the power of his own enthusiasm, energy, commitment and persistence, and in the face of the indifference and even hostility of “official” bodies, can inform, motivate and inspire others, and so leave behind a legacy that lasts long after his own day.

T.J. Pryce Jenkins was born in Carmarthen in1864, and became a medical doctor who played Rugby as a three-quarter for Wales.  He started his Rugby playing career at Llandovery College, and later played for Newport RFC, Blackheath and London Welsh.  He played for Wales at home against Scotland in February 1888, and away against Ireland the following month.  He scored a try against Scotland that was said to be “remarkable in that a goodly part of its course was in touch. Some of the Scottish defenders allowed him to go, and although his tracks were quite discernible, he got his try.”  Jenkins was much the oldest of this writing trio, and he was no newcomer to publishing and had already written The Rugby Guide and How to Play Rugby

Dr Jenkins was also a playwright and was actively involved in amateur and semi-professional theatre.  His one-act comedy, Give and Take, played at the Assembly Rooms Theatre in Neath in November 1894.  Webster recruited Jenkins for his knowledge of anatomy and diet, and he probably contributed Chapter 1; and also wrote about muscular development and appropriate training exercises throughout the book.

Robert Vivian Mostyn was born in London in 1881, with Irish parents.  His father (also Robert) was a successful engineer and Robert junior followed his father and also became an engineer.  He served in the British Air Services during World War I.  He has been described as “a well know Irish high jumper and Middlesex cricketer,” but no record has been found of his High Jump results, and he is not listed as playing First-Class cricket for Middlesex.  But he did have other strings to his bow, and he wrote the words to a song - I gathered a Rose - with music by Kathleen Doyle, which was published for 2/6 in August 1914, just as war broke out.  Webster asked Mostyn to join his writing team because of his knowledge of mechanics and mathematics. 

A full biography of FAM Webster, written by his grandson Michael, can be found here.


The place of Webster, Jenkins, and Mostyns “Success in Athletics and How to Obtain It” in the history of Athletics literature:

Robert Vivian Mostyn’s contribution of mechanical analysis of the running and walking stride, analysis of the take-off for the jumps, trajectory of the body in the jumps, and of implements in the throws, are new elements in the study of athletics, and they mark the beginning of a new chapter in the sport sciences. 

Published soon after the cessation of World War I hostilities, Success in Athletics gives us a unique insight into the mood before sport started up again in 1919.  Webster’s preface begins -

When the first great athletic sports meeting of peace time is held it will, it is believed, be one of the most solemn and splendid of the athletic festivals of all time, for it will be a great reunion and a fitting tribute to those who have fallen in the heat of conflict, steadfast and indomitable to the end of service just as we knew them, lion-hearted and unafraid, in the days of high endeavours on track or field. This Sports Festival will be the AAA English Championships, which will be held on July 5th at Queen's Club, and one can well imagine the athletes of the pre-war generation, whether whole or maimed, flocking to the ground, which has witnessed so many “Battles of the Blues,” from every part of Great Britain. It will be a great reunion, but, more even than that, it will be a solemn communion with those of our comrades who have fallen or who are still missing.

The text:

We normally get our first sight of a book when it is published, and after the author and publisher have worked hard behind the scenes to perfect it; we seldom see anything of the processes before this.  But we do with Success in Athletics and How to Obtain It, for Webster, Jenkins and Mostyn had got together and written their first versions of their chapters as early as July 1914 (i.e. 5 years before publication).  They were so pleased with it that copies had been circulated and seen by those in the publishing world.  It was even endorsed as becoming “the book on training for English ’Varsity and other sports,” and predicted that it would “remain so for a long time.”  But war intervened and it was not published until September 1919.  Internal evidence suggests that very little was done to update or modify any of the chapters, which, consequently, have to be read as pre-War (i.e. pre World War I) material.  The Preface, the Dedication, and a final chapter on how to organise an athletics meeting, however, are entirely different matters.

World War I had a profound effect on those involved in it, and Success in Athletics and How to Obtain It opens in a sombre mood and is dedicated to “those gallant sportsmen who went forth upon the great adventure, and did not return.”  The Frontispiece is of A.E. Flaxman flexing his muscle, or rather, the late 2nd Lt. A.E. Flaxman, of the South Staffordshire Regt., for he was killed at Gommecourt/ Somme on 1st July 1916.  He was 36, and his body was never found.  Flaxman had been a remarkable athlete; Webster describes him as “probably the best man of his inches the world has ever seen at the heavy-weight field events” and lists his achievements as follows - English, and Northern Counties Hammer Throwing champion, English Pole Vault Champion, and three times runner-up for the English Discus Throwing championship.  “He was so great,” writes Webster, “just because of his indomitable spirit and unflagging courage, both of which he carried with him into the greater arena of war.”  Success in Athletics opens as a sort of lament to the fallen of the First World War, and for A.E. Flaxman in particular (there are no few than 21 images of him in the text, plus a series of 14 rapid-sequence shots of him throwing the hammer), which is followed by the pre-war text.  And it produces a book with a strange split personality: the 1919, post-war Dedication, Foreword, and the final chapter on how to organise an athletics meeting, all written by Webster, and the 1914, pre-war text written by Webster, Jenkins, and Mostyn, and each with a totally different mood. 

Dr Jenkins’ text, in which he brings his anatomical knowledge to illuminate athletics, is not particularly successful, and fails to meet the standards set by the Luptons’ Pedestrian’s Record of 1890, for example (see, Athlos: James Irvine Lupton and James Money Kyrle Lupton’s, The Pedestrian’s Record; to Which is Added a Description of the External Human Form.”).  Mostyn’s contribution, however, does break new ground, and provides Webster with a theme that he would develop over the next 30 years, and which would then be taken up by Geoff Dyson; we would call it bio-mechanics.  From this point, athletics coaches start to learn a new vocabulary - acceleration, velocity, force, power, impulse, mass, work, etc., - and begin to understand how they apply to the athletic events. 

Athletics coaches needed to go back to school.  “Force”, writes Mostyn, “is that which changes or tends to change the state of rest or uniform motion of a body.  Kinetic energy is the energy due to the motion of a body, and is increased by the amount of work that the body can perform against the impressed forces before its velocity is destroyed.”  This was just what Webster wanted to convert the “muddling through” mentality prevalent in British sport, or worse, “brute force and ignorance”, to the informed, scientific approach of the Americans that had brought them so much success in 1912.

This is one of Webster's favourite themes, and we were to hear it often over the next 30 years.  Put simply, it was that the British way was old fashioned and ineffective, and Britain had been overtaken by other nations who were more forward looking, more scientific in their approach, and more professional.  On pages 89-90 he writes -

How is it that in the United States of America to-day they are able to produce men who clear such a stupendous height as 6ft. 7 in., and look upon 6 feet as an ordinary jump? How is it that Mr. Hjertberg taught a number of Swedes to jump round about 6 feet in quite a short time? Yet here in England, where our athletes have been jumping for centuries, we consider it first class if a man does 5 ft. 9 in., 5 ft. 10 in., or 6 feet, and our best can only get a little over the latter height. It is because in America (where incidentally Hjertberg studied) they have reduced jumping to a fine art, and know all about the anatomical side of the game at any rate, even if they don't know all about the mathematical equation. . . there is no reason why English athletes should not do things in the right way just as well as those of any other nation.

He sees a sort of national malaise in almost all aspects of athletics in England; the English just aren’t up to it!  He even sees it in the wider world beyond athletics.  About cinematography he writes (p. 225) -

In England, no matter how good a thing may be, we never seem to take it up until all the peoples of the world have had the use of it for years!

So far as America, at all events, is concerned, the coming of rapid photography, and later the cinematograph, marked a distinctly new epoch in the history of athletics, for by the aid of the camera all the multitudinous events which go to make up an athletic sports programme were raised to the level of exact sciences.

When one reads a lot of Webster, it can seem as if he is a lone voice railing against the inadequacies of the British (English) and, in particular, perceived British attitudes that he characterised as “amateurish”, and of the inadequacies of the athletics establishment; but we need to be careful.  Webster was not a lone voice speaking out, it was a very common attitude, heard everywhere.  (See for example, Athlos: "The Olympic Games and the Duke of Westminster's Appeal for £100,000: A historical survey of the movement for better organisation in the British preparations for the Berlin Games of 1916,"published 1913.)  Indeed, it is hard to find any other opinion being expressed at all.  Take E.H. Ryle, for example; in 1912, he published a book entitled “Athletics” as part of the National Library of Sports and Pastimes, and although it is a book focussing on technique and basic advice for young athletes, Ryle, too, cannot resist making comments about the state of athletics in England.  On page 16 he wrote -

During the past twenty years, . . . many new ideas have come into existence, and one of them, the plan of submitting picked men for special events to a course of scientific training, has already done much to revolutionise the old conceptions of what the limit of an athlete's powers.  In America the conventional and casual methods of training, still extant in England, were quickly swept away. 

So, not only does he make the same point as Webster, he comments on a possible solution; identifying athletic talent and putting the chosen athletes through an intensive, scientific programme.  Ryle, was interesting - he was an ex-400m runner, winner of the Inter-Varsity Quarter Mile, a British competitor in the 1908 Olympic Games, and ex-president of Cambridge University A.C.; his father was Bishop of Winchester, and his grandfather was Bishop of Liverpool.  E. H Ryle was the very embodiment of the establishment.  Despite what we read in Webster, there does not seem to have been a clash of ideas between those with forward-looking ideas and those in the conservative establishment, or even those in the athletics establishment, for all parties seem to have held the same opinion; the AAA had even appointed Fred Parker as Chief Athletic Advisor in 1912 to look into the problem and find a solution.  The problem was knowing what to do about it.  Comments about the state of athletics in England, and the supremacy of the USA were more a lament that, by and large, the English seemed uninterested in Field Events.  In 1912, the Rev. Robert de Courcy Laffan (Member of the IOC, and founder member of the BOA) stated that “the average British spectator does not care two straws about them [the Field Events].  I think we shall have to subsidise those sports in some way or other, so as to make them independent of the ‘gate’.” In other words, accept the fact and find some way around it.  These were troubled times for the sport of athletics in Britain, and by 1919, when this book was published, vastly more troubled.

In “Success in Athletics and How to Obtain It”, Mostyn tells us that Hammer Throwers throwing a 16lb hammer 150ft have to resist 366lbs of centrifugal force pulling through their arms; that a man raising his body 5feet in a Standing High Jump would have to generate 709 ft-lbs of force; and 831.6 ft-lbs of kinetic energy in the Standing Long Jump.  This was a new level of information for athletics coaches.  Mostyn also created diagrams to help explain the mechanics of the walking and running stride, take-off in the jumps, trajectory, etc.  His writing, however, is not in complete chapters, but in inserts into chapters written by Webster; it is easy to spot them, such as the paragraph starting “No matter whether . . .” (p. 86), and the longer insert on pages 116-7.

The short chapter on diet was written by Jenkins and is not particularly noteworthy in terms of content, but he does have a colourful turn of phrase -

“To feel fit is to be altruistic in the highest degree; no morose competitor ever won an event.”

“Remember that there are fish in the sea and poultry in the yard which can be brought on to the table.”

“The principal drawback of vegetarian foods is the possibility of flatulence.”

“Sad to relate, there is little nutritive value in cocoa; it is regretted that a severe shock will be given to many.”


Illustrations are usually an important part of Webster's book, and the cover of “Success in Athletics” declares -


Success in Athletics And how to obtain it


F. A. M. Webster . T. J. Pryce Jenkins & R. Vivian Mostyn



The List of Illustration, however, numbers only 108.  The difference is made up by 39 line-drawn diagrams and 46 drawings of athletes in action in the field events and hurdles, and several multiple cinematographic images in a single figure - 8 for the Running High Jump, 14 for the Hammer Throw, 4 for the Discus Throw, 10 for the Shot Putt and 18 for the Javelin Throw.  Cinematography was an important topic and an illustration for Webster of how the Americans were ahead in their use of science in coaching.  Webster wrote a chapter (Chapter XXIV) on “The Camera and the Cinematograph in Relation to Athletics,” (written in 1914) in which he comments that the USA had already taken up cinematography and it had marked the beginning of a new epoch for them; so, by 1919, cinematography was certainly not new, but we can get a sense of just how excited Webster was by it by reading his comments about cinematography in his 1914 chapter on the standing high jumping in which he describes what he had seen on film, and writes -

to the spectator watching the jump it would of course be impossible to detect these details from the whole rapid movement; also it sounds incredible that the evolutions are carried out in this way; but at the same time it shows the great value of the cinematograph and the camera in the study of athletics.

There are also chapters on, “General Hints for Training and Competition,” “Massage and Rubbing,” and an appendix giving 18 exercises for the feet, legs and hips; all of which contain information and advice typical of the time. There is also a short chapter on “Throwing the 56-lb Weight,” because of its “greatest importance, as it now forms a part of the standardised programme at the modern Olympic Games,” not knowing, of course, that it would not appear in the Olympic games after 1920. 

There is an oddity about the way he describes Walter Knox.  On p.82 Webster describes him as “chief Olympic coach to the English Amateur Athletic Association subsequent to 1912”, and under Figure 42 he describes him as “Chief Olympic Coach to Great Britain subsequent to 1912,” but as far as we know, the British Olympic Council only appointed Knox to take charge of the British team for the 1916 Berlin Olympic Games, in February 1914, a post he only held for eight months (i.e., until war broke out).  However, when Webster wrote on p.165 that “W. R. Knox [was] chief Olympic coach to the English AAA.,” we know that Webster must have written that during that eight month period in 1914. 

The book finishes with Chapter XXV, “The Management of an Athletic Meeting.”  At first sight this seems surprising, and more typical of the writing from one or two generations earlier (see Athlos: Henry Fazakerley Wilkinson, “Modern Athletics”, 1868, and Montague Shearman, “Athletics and Football,”1887), but perhaps, with the very great loss of life during World War I, Webster felt that so much know-how had been lost that something was needed to re-establish a knowledge-base that had previously been there; and it also gave him an opportunity to finish on a positive, forward-looking note -

Special attention is drawn to these few suggestions, as it is felt that a new epoch of athleticism in Great Britain is about to commence - that an entirely new breed of athletes will arise or be recruited from the ranks of those who through four and a half years of war have learned the true meaning of discipline and the importance of close attention to the least little detail of instruction.


Peter Radford/May 2017

Bibliographic details:


Success in Athletics and how to obtain it


Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd.

Place of Publication:


Date of Publication:


BL Catalogue:

General Reference Collection 07911.eee.13.

"An Athletics Compendium" Reference:

E51, p. 99


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