Rather than wearing skintight pants and jogging around a silly diamond, athletes in the 1870s would walk hundreds of miles as a nail-biting, bet-placing American public looked on. That’s right: Pedestrians were the original sports heroes.
That’s the subject of the new book Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport. Author Matthew Algeo dishes about how athletes would walk 500 miles’ worth of loops around what’s now Madison Square Garden, only stopping on Sundays. A cheering crowd would bet on who’d drop out or hit 100 miles first.
Gizmodo’s Alissa Walker has the dirt:
Pedestrianism had celebrity athletes and lucrative sponsorship agreements — this is where corporate sponsorship began! — and even doping scandals. Athletes got high on coca leaves and champagne, just like today.
As Algeo told NPR, competitors were even pressured to fix races. I haven’t read his book yet, but one can only hope there’s a 1874 version of Lance Armstrong making a post-career confession to Old-Timey Oprah about his moral failings as a professional walker. (“Your gummy bracelets mean nothing,” she’ll snarl. “But my thighs were chafing by mile 473!” he’ll say. “I couldn’t think straight!”)
The halcyon days of sport-walking were curtailed by those spindly two-wheeled demons — BICYCLES. But just for a second, imagine if pedestrianism had lived on.