Sir Cosmo and Olympic games


Vitezslav Ivicic

Could somebody say me anything about Cosmo and Olympic games in London in 1908? He was in a english team of fencers and I think he does not win. Am I right? Has he been in any other competitions?
You are correct. Sir Cosmo didn't win anything in 1908. In 1906 he won a silver medal at the Athens games, which were held to keep the Olympic movement alive between the main games. The 1906 Athens games are now not recognised by the IOC.

Dave is right about the 1906 games. However it was a well-received and reported event at the time, with Cosmo getting considerable attention as "the finest dueler" in England, "England’s most famous fencer," etc, etc. He was a very able and popular athlete, active in the highest sporting circles. He was quite a fisherman and hunter as well, and I’m indebted to his great nephew for some really excellent photos of Cosmo engaged in various sports up on his land in Scotland (these will be used in my forthcoming book on Lucile)..

A photo of Cosmo with other members of the 1908 fencing team is featured on his biography page here on ET. By the way, Cosmo’s achievements are included in several old epee-play books and he was also mentioned in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica for his leadership in English amateur fencing. His "Who’s Who" entry gave him short shrift —— he was much more active in civic and club work than he was credited with.

Does anyone know where Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon placed in 1908? I checked the International Olympic Committee website for results. The only British Fencing medal in 1908 came in Men's Team Epee; they won the Silver Medal. The IOC website does not list results outside of Bronze medal position. Does anyone know where he placed?
As far as I can see from The Complete Book of the Olympics, Sir Cosmo must have been out of form in 1908. He didn't make the team for the team epee, in which he won silver in 1906. He finished worse than eighth in whatever individual event he contested.

He did his fencing with one eye, following an accident with a gun, so he did rather well to get a medal of any sort.
Thank you Dave. I would imagine he contested in either Sabre or Foil as team members in epee would have also competed in the individual event. Thank you again for your information.
Sir Cosmo wasn’t really "out of form" in 1908. Cosmo was made captain of the British team after its success in Athens in ’06, being appointed by Lord Desborough who founded the group. Cosmo still held that position until just prior to the ’08 games, at which time, following the lead of Desborough, who had since become head of the British Olympic Association, he removed himself from participation in individual and team competition, joining the reserve team as captain. A "Sporting and Dramatic News" article stated that the decision was "administrative," and another report said that it was to avoid a "conflict of interest," implying that Cosmo held some position within the Olympic Association. I haven’t been able to verify that yet but it’s clear that Cosmo remained an active member of the team for some time.

He was also a director of the London Fencing Club and was tournament coordinator for the International Fencing League. Today the Duff Gordon family still has some of his games’ score sheets as well as his medal, according to one relative, and I know from my own interviews with his great nephew that the family took much pride in his accomplishments as an athlete. He was an expert fly fisherman and hunter, but not a great horseman. He admitted to this in one account, saying "a Scotsman has to leave something for the English to do."
Randy, are you saying that Sir Cosmo didn't compete in 1908? Was he just a reserve?
Hi, Dave:

I’m sorry for not being clearer. No, Cosmo (as far as I can tell, looking at published lists and online data) was not one of the individual duelers, or in the team fencing competition, at the 1908 Olympics. This was supposedly due to an "administrative" reason that remains unclear. He was involved in the games as captain of the reserves, as a coordinator, and also as a "representative" of the home team in some official capacity, though to what extent I’m not sure. I believe he was a social "host" of sorts, probably appointed by his friend, Lord Desborough, president of the British Olympic Association, but I haven’t proved this yet. Whatever Cosmo was doing by 1908, it was in an organizational or diplomatic capacity which, depending on how you look at it, was more (or less!) important than being an athletic participant.

The confusion has been (for me at least) that some 1908 news reports referred to Cosmo as a "star member" of the British fencing team. Was this a mix-up of biographical information from the 1906 Athens games? Also photos of Cosmo were published at the time of the London games, showing him holding his saber, etc. In the group photos of him, however, he’s standing with men I’ve been able to identify as members of the reserve team. I suppose it’s possible Cosmo was pulled from the reserves at the last minute to replace an absentee member in the individual competitions, but (as you point out) he must have placed below 8th place.

If someone can definitely prove Cosmo was a dueler in the 1908 Olympics, I’ll be glad to have it confirmed but nothing I’ve seen so far shows he participated beyond the status of a high-profile auxiliary member. I’m still looking for substantiation that he was one of the Olympic committee’s "hosts" in 1908; it’s also quite possible he was involved on the finance end of the games, as he was an investor in a number of businesses besides his wife’s.

Best wishes,
Hi Randy!

Sir Cosmo would have been 44 years old in 1906 correct? Wouldn't that be a bit old to compete? or were things different then compared to todays much younger Olympic athletes?

Perhaps that is why he was in an administrative capacity in 1908.
Hi, David:

I guess age could have had something to do with it but I doubt it personally, since Cosmo did compete in 1906 and won a medal. He was still active in fencing circles for several years (at least as late as 1918). Except for the loss of his right eye, which really doesn’t seem to have slowed him down any, he was in top physical shape until after 1912, when he started to put on a little weight.

Cosmo was on the reserves in 1908, so obviously he was prepared to compete, and he was still officially part of the team, despite his new "non-competition" duties. Also, some of the men in the pictures with him look older than he was, and one in particular was obese, so the conditioning we’d expect today was also apparently not a requirement then.

You’re probably right that age would be an issue in most types of athletics but fencing must not have been one.

In 1908 it was still the era of the 'gentleman amateur', particularly in Britain, and standards in many sports were low. Quite possibly men of Sir Cosmo's age could be competitive. I've come across British complaints about the Olympics being taken too seriously. Overseas competitors were actually training hard! Somebody suggested that Britain should boost its chances by competing as the British Empire, so the Aussies and the rest of the empire could help. Others suggested Britain should not compete at all.

The 1908 games were fairly successful, though marred by disputes between Britain and the USA. They were nothing like the modern games. For one thing, they ran from 27 April to 31 October. Only 23 nations took part. The games didn't look like the games we know until 1932 and particularly 1936.
Thanks Randy!

I hope he didn't lose that eye while Fencing! Regardless, quite the achievement to continue with that handicap and compete no less!
Randy, I've just been digging in The Times. I think we are safe in saying that Sir Cosmo didn't compete in 1908.

On page 16 of 8 July, he's reported as observing a practice match against a French team. On page 9 of 18 July he's listed as one of the organisers of the fencing at the games. I can see no trace of him in the results, which are rather complete.

You might like to read about the Olympic fencing in The Times. There are interesting thoughts about fencing and its traditions, which were being challenged in new century.