Tri Sport History 1921
Features of Current Interest

More About the Petit Pavillon Swim Club Course des Trois Sports

The following are excerpts from the John Howard article in Triathlete Magazine in March 1993. The article was titled "The First Triathlon?" On page 43 there is a picture of triathlon pioneer Charles Secter and his grandson John McBride holding two pictures. One picture is of men and women in swim suits and street clothes on the steps of the Petit Pavillon Swim Club. The picture was on a postcard that was dated September 4, 1921. On the picture are the words "Course de Trois Sports Organisateurs et Concurents."

In 1992 John McBride was a computer analyst and triathlete from Austin, Texas.

"Some of McBride's earliest recollections are of his grandfather's love of cycling and swimming. Now, McBride considers the now deceased French immigrant as a patriarch of early cross-training in this country. Charles Secter...caught his grandson by surprise one day several years ago with a black and white French post card dated September 4, 1921. The original photo was taken on the stone steps of the swim club known as Petit Pavillon in Marseilles, France. The inscription read Course des Trois Sports, the race of three sports.

..."The card shows a suave and fit 19 year old Sector (sic) clad in a black tank suit that today would be called a tri-suit. He was standing among a crowd of people, several of them women, also wearing swimming apparel.

"When asked about the women's role, Secter said, "Oh yes, those women weren't there to cheer us. We gave them a short head start and they beat us all!"

First to finish was a "... young sportswoman named Lulu Helmet...


..."With only a little prodding and a vintage map of Marseilles, Secter reconstructed the past for McBride. 'My family owned a hotel in Marseilles called De Paris.' he said. 'It was just across the street from the train station, which was still damaged from World War I. We started the race at Place Castellane, south of the old Port, where we assembled at the big fountain in the center of town. I recall maybe 10 or 20 racers - the bicycle was the first event. Mine was an everyday model with no gear shift. We raced down Avenue du Prado, a beautiful tree-lined route, for five to seven kilometers around Point du Prado to a sign-in table. There we started our run along the Corniche Road, overlooking the ocean. We ran to the pool at Petit Pavillon, a distance of about five kilometers. From there we ran down a flight of steps to the beach and into the Mediterranean. We swam out to a buoy a hundred meters or so and then back to the shore for the finish.

"Marseilles is a marvelous old city, well-suited for outdoor activity of this type. The old harbor where we swam and the city of Marseilles were built by the Phoenicians long before my days. And, Alexander Dumas wrote about the Count of Monte Christo swimming in these waters to escape the prison of Chateau d'If.

"McBride remembers asking, 'Where (sic) you the top man?'

" 'No, not me, ' he replied.

"Asked if this was the first triathlon ever, Charles Secter hadn't a clue, but he smiled broadly and said. 'It was our first.' "