By this Year's end, the amiably agile if somewhat emaciated little characters cavorting around the borders of this page may well have sparked a new enthusiasm for sport in an ancient European nation. They are the official symbols of a modern decathlon organized last December by the National Sports Committee of France to get more Frenchmen and Frenchwomen to take up sport "in a permanent, if moderate, way."
With characteristic lack of sentiment, the promoters of the decathlon, a group operating independent of the government but under its blessing, have aimed their effort not at youngsters (who already have both urge and opportunity aplenty for play) but at young adults standing uncertainly at the brink of a sedentary future of middle-age spread. With Gallic élan, they have offered a wide choice of events ranging from such basic endeavors as hiking, swimming and jumping to mechanized complexities like parachuting, gliding and flying helicopters.
To qualify at year's end for the gold, silver or bronze badge of participation, every decathloner (except those over 40) must turn in minimal performances at hiking (15 kilos for women; 30 for men), running (five kilos in 27 minutes for men; 1.5 kilos in nine minutes for women) and swimming (one kilo in 30 minutes for men, one kilo in 35 for women). He may then choose any other seven sports to complete the course, the value of his medal depending on the difficulty and variety of the choice. The brave men and women over 40 who join the program may choose any 10 sports they like and all of their medals will be gold, provided they last the distance.
Every sport will be supervised by local experts; every entrant must pass a medical exam. And at the end of it all, the French committee hopes, there will be special prizes for some and vastly increased health and enjoyment for everyone.