Sunday, 13 March 2011

James Bond’s sporting life

In between his secret missions, James Bond has time for some sport. We know from his high-stakes match with Goldfinger that he is a keen golfer, but he also skis, which was very useful when he had to escape Blofeld’s clutches in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond is a strong swimmer, as we learn in Live and Let Die, and Bond reveals in Thunderball (chapter 22) that skin-diving is one of his hobbies. Bond was sporty in his youth as well. His obituary in You Only Live Twice (chapter 21) tells us that at school Bond was an athlete and a boxer, and that he also established a judo class.

As with so much of his biography, Bond enjoys the same sports practised by his creator, Ian Fleming. Fleming took up golf at an early age. He was introduced to the game aged 8 at his preparatory school at Durnford, although only learnt to play properly when he was 15. From then on he played frequently throughout his life. Fleming learnt to ski in his teens in Switzerland. By the age of 21 he was sufficiently proficient to ski competitively, and he took regular skiing holidays in Kitzbühel during the 1930s. Already a keen swimmer, Fleming discovered diving when he built his house, Goldeneye, in Jamaica after the war. He accompanied Jacques Cousteau on a dive to explore the wreck of an ancient Greek vessel in the Mediterranean in 1953, and his time at Goldeneye was often spent swimming in the waters close to his home.

Like Bond, Fleming excelled at athletics at school. At Eton, he won a long-jump competition and a hurdles title, and he achieved the very rare feat of becoming champion athlete or victor ludorum two years in a row.

It is a fair assumption that James Bond equalled Fleming in terms of his sporting abilities. But just how good is Bond? In his book, Bounce: How champions are made, Matthew Syed exposes the myth that the achievements of top sportsmen and women derive from innate ‘god-given’ talent. Instead, success at sport (and most other things) is a matter of practice – lots of it. It is estimated that champions are made after some 10,000 hours of practice. How close is Bond to this figure?

Like Fleming, Bond learnt to ski during his teens, though in Austria under Hannes Oberhauser, rather than Switzerland (see OHMSS). Let us assume that Bond was 13 when he learnt to ski, and that he spent two weeks of every winter holiday, plus a week during half term, skiing in Austria. We know from his obituary that Bond left school at 17. This gives us 21 days skiing a year for four years. If he spent five hours on the slopes each day, we have a figure of 420 hours. In Bond’s words, a pretty good skier, and had the war then his career not intruded, Bond might have been well on the way to becoming an expert (his musings in OHMSS suggest that he had not been skiing since the start of the war).

What about golf? James Bond was also introduced to golf in his youth. In Goldfinger (chapter 8) we learn that Bond ‘was quite useful when he was a boy’. In Diamonds are Forever (chapter 7), Bond reveals that he shoots a round in the mid eighties – a respectable score that would, I understand, win Bond some low-ranking club tournaments. If we assumed that Bond started playing aged 8 and spent four hours each week playing golf, then by the time he reached 35, he would have clocked up 5,616 hours. Half way there, and a figure that certainly explains his round score. The figure, however, is probably much less than this. A round of golf each week is optimistic (and unlikely during the war years), and in any case Bond may have only started to play seriously in his teens. If Bond’s mid-eighties score actually reflects Fleming’s own abilities, then it is reasonable to suggest that Bond’s claim is unrealistic. Give Bond another 10 years or so (Fleming was 48 when he wrote Diamonds are Forever), and after many more hours of practice, the score might be more accurate.

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: the man behind James Bond, Turner Publishing, Atlanta


  1. Great job. I'm going to use some information, mentioning the source, of course.

  2. Do he really practice fencing or that scene in die another day he entered a match in something he never practiced before

  3. Do he really practice fencing or that scene in die another day he entered a match in something he never practiced before

    1. Thanks for your comment. As far as we know, the Bond of the books isn't a fencer (and Blades isn't a fencing club), but in the films, Bond can usually turn his hand to most things, so it's unsurprising that he has some skills with the sword.