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Athletics at the 1908 London Summer Games:

Men's Marathon

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Host City: London, Great Britain
Venue(s): White City Stadium, London; White City Stadium, London
Date Started: July 24, 1908
Date Finished: July 24, 1908
Format: 42,195 metres (26 miles, 385 yards) point-to-point.

Gold: USA Johnny Hayes
Silver: RSA Charles Hefferon
Bronze: USA Joe Forshaw

Summary

At the request of Princess Mary, the race, which was started by Lord Desborough, began under the windows of the nursery by the East Terrace at Windsor Castle so that the young Princes could have a good view of the runners. The distance to the finish in front of the Royal Box in the White City Stadium was precisely 26 miles, 385 yards (42,195 metres) and this rather arbitrary distance, which had no particular historical or athletic significance, eventually (1924) became the internationally accepted distance for the marathon footrace.

With a field of 55 runners from 16 nations this was by far the most international field yet assembled for a marathon and the British, quite unrealistically, entertained hopes of considerable success but eight of the 12 British starters failed to finish the race. Another fancied runner who also dropped out was the Canadian, Tom Longboat, who was competing in the face of American protests. The Americans claimed that Longboat was a professional but the Organizing Committee eventually allowed Longboat to compete. Other starters included Georg Lind (19th), a London-based Russian from Estonia who became the first Russian to compete in an Olympic track & field event, and the English-born Canadian, George Goulding (22nd), who would win the 10 km. walk at the 1912 Games. All of the runners were accompanied by two attendants on bicycles, many of them Olympic cycling competitors, who met them at the Crooked Billet Inn at the six-mile mark.

It was a very warm day for long-distance running, the temperature eventually reaching 78° F. (26° C.). Scotsman Thomas Jack led for the first five miles, but dropped out shortly thereafter. Fred Lord and Jack Price, both British, then ran together in the lead through 10 miles. At that mark Price pulled away, closely followed by the English-born South African, Charles Hefferon, who had always been near the lead. Tom Longboat was in second as far out as 17 miles, but he withdrew by 20 miles. After the excessive heat had taken its toll, the race came down to three runners by the 20 mile mark: Hefferon, the American Johnny Hayes, and Italy's Dorando Pietri. Hefferon had control of the race from 15 through 25 miles, leading Pietri by over 3 minutes at 20 miles.

A little more than one mile from the finish Pietri moved into the lead, passing Hefferon. However, the effort cost him dearly and Pietri entered the White City Stadium in an advanced state of exhaustion. He stumbled and fell, but doctors and attendants revived him, administering stimulants, and helping him to his feet. He then fell four more times over the final lap, each time being helped by his handlers. He eventually staggered across the finish line, while surrounded by officials, doctors, and attendants. John Hayes crossed the line, unaided, more than 30 seconds later and, after Pietri had been disqualified for receiving assistance, the American was rightly declared the Olympic champion.

The official statement read, "That, in the opinion of the judges, M. P. Dorando would have been unable to finish the race without the assistance rendered on the track, and so, therefore, the protest of the U.S.A. is upheld, and the second man, Mr. J. Hayes, is the winner, the protest being made by the South African team being withdrawn." Pietri quickly recovered from his ordeal and returned to the Stadium the next day to receive a special award from the Queen.

Gynn and Martin described the assistance given Pietri, "The assistance given to Pietri was primarily by Jack Andrew, the Honorary General Secretary of the Polytechnic Harriers and the key organizer of the race. He followed instructions of the medical officer for the race, Doctor Bulger. He [Andrew] reported, in the August, 1908, issue of The Polytechnic Magazine, ‘As regards the actual finish, most of the reports of same are absolutely erroneous regards my assisting the winner - the doctor's instructions were emphatic, carrying them out caused disqualification; as the animated photographs show, I only caught Dorando as he was falling at the tape. What I did then I would do again under similar circumstances.'"

After the Olympic Games both Hayes and Pietri turned professional and Pietri won each of their four subsequent encounters in New York and San Francisco. To this day, Dorando Pietri is bettered remembered than the Olympic champion, John Hayes. Born 16 October 1885 in Mandrio, Reggio Emilia, Italy, Dorando Pietri is the most famous loser in Olympic history. But he had an excellent career as a marathon runner. He won his first marathon in 1906 in Rome, but failed to finish the 1906 Olympic marathon a month later. He had won a 40 km. marathon in Carpi, Italy only 17 days before the Olympic marathon. As a professional marathoner he won 7 of 12 of his professional races. He retired in 1911, having won 38 of 59 amateur races and 50 of 69 professional races.

Although the 1908 Olympic marathon is best remembered for the disqualification of Pietri, this does less than justice to John Hayes, who was correctly determined to be the champion, and was an excellent marathon runner in his own right. He had been born in America soon after his parents emigrated from Ireland, and his initial success came when he took third place in the 1907 Boston Marathon. Later in the season he won the Yonkers Marathon then, by finishing second in the 1908 Boston race, Hayes won a spot on the Olympic team.

After his Olympic victory, Hayes paid a brief visit to his grandparents in Ireland and then returned to New York where Bloomingdale's had plastered their department store with photographs of Hayes and announced that their employee, who had been rumored to train on the store track on the roof, had been promoted to manager of sporting goods. Years later, Hayes laid to rest this oft-repeated bit of Olympic lore. He never did actually work at Bloomingdale's, or train on the roof. He drew a salary from Bloomingdale's but most of his time was spent training at a track outside Manhattan.

Hayes was interviewed on the night of the race, "I took nothing to eat or drink on the journey. I think to do so is a great mistake. Before starting I partook of a light lunch, consisting of two ounces of beef, two slices of toast and a sup of tea. During the race I merely bathed my face with Florida water and gargled my throat with brandy.

"I ran my own race throughout, covering in almost mechanical fashion the first five or six miles at a rate of six minutes a mile. After that I went as hard as I could to the finish. Ten miles from home I was ten minutes behind the leader, and then I began to go through the field. I passed Hefferon on nearing the Stadium, but saw nothing of Dorando until I entered the arena. I do not smoke and I drink only in moderation."

Hefferon also commented, "The conditions of the race - weather, roads, &c. - suited me exactly, and I should have won the event. Two miles from home, however, I accepted a draught of champagne and this mistake cost me the race. The drink gave me a cramp a mile from the finish and then I lost my lead."

The tragic sight of Dorando Pietri attempting to finish the 1908 marathon race, despite a body that had betrayed him, touched many people. One of those people was a young, aspiring songwriter who wrote a song about Pietri. Entitled simply "Dorando," it was one of the first of many hits for Irving Berlin.

Final Standings

Rank Athlete Age Team NOC Medal T
1 Johnny Hayes 22 United States USA Gold 2-55:18.4 OB
2 Charles Hefferon 30 South Africa RSA Silver 2-56:06.0
3 Joe Forshaw 26 United States USA Bronze 2-57:10.4
4 Alton Welton 22 United States USA 2-59:44.4
5 William Wood 27 Canada CAN 3-01:44.0
6 Fred Simpson Canada CAN 3-04:28.2
7 Harry Lawson Canada CAN 3-06:47.2
8 John Svanberg 26 Sweden SWE 3-07:50.8
9 Lewis Tewanima United States USA 3-09:15.0
10 Kalle Nieminen 30 Finland FIN 3-09:50.8
11 Jack Caffery 28 Canada CAN 3-12:46.0
12 Billy Clarke 34 Great Britain GBR 3-16:08.6
13 Ernest Barnes Great Britain GBR 3-17:30.8
14 Sidney Hatch 24 United States USA 3-17:52.4
15 Fred Lord 29 Great Britain GBR 3-19:08.8
16 William Goldsboro Canada CAN 3-20:07.0
17 James Beale 27 Great Britain GBR 3-20:14.0
18 Arnošt Nejedlý 24 Bohemia BOH 3-26:26.2
19 Georg Lind Russia RUS 3-26:38.8
20 Willem Wakker 28 Netherlands NED 3-28:49.0
21 Gustaf Törnros 21 Sweden SWE 3-30:20.8
22 George Goulding 22 Canada CAN 3-33:26.4
23 Julius Jørgensen 27 Denmark DEN 3-47:44.0
24 Arthur Burn Canada CAN 3-50:17.0
25 Emmerich Rath 24 Austria AUT 3-50:30.4
26 Rudy Hansen 19 Denmark DEN 3-53:15.0
27 George Lister 21 Canada CAN 4-22:45.0
AC Dorando Pietri 22 Italy ITA [2-54:46.4] DQ
AC Victor Aitken 19 Australasia ANZ DNF [21½ miles]
AC Tom Longboat 20 Canada CAN DNF [20 miles]
AC Fred Appleby 28 Great Britain GBR DNF [20 miles]
AC Jack Price Great Britain GBR DNF [17½ miles]
AC Jack Tait 19 Canada CAN DNF [15 miles]
AC Bertie Thompson 27 Great Britain GBR DNF [15 miles]
AC Harry Barrett 28 Great Britain GBR DNF [12 miles]
AC Fritz Reiser Germany GER DNF [12 miles]
AC Alex Duncan 24 Great Britain GBR DNF [10 miles]
AC Umberto Blasi 21 Italy ITA DNF [8 miles]
AC Thomas Jack 27 Great Britain GBR DNF [7 miles]
AC George Blake 29 Australasia ANZ DNF [5+ miles]
AC Joseph Lynch 30 Australasia ANZ DNF [5 miles]
AC Wilhelmus Braams 21 Netherlands NED DNF [4¼ miles]
AC Albert Wyatt Great Britain GBR DNF [3 miles]
AC François Celis Belgium BEL DNF
AC Eddie Cotter 20 Canada CAN DNF
AC Fred Noseworthy Canada CAN DNF
AC Nikolaos Kouloumberdas Greece GRE DNF
AC Anastasios Koutoulakis Greece GRE DNF
AC George Buff 33 Netherlands NED DNF
AC Arie Vosbergen 25 Netherlands NED DNF
AC James Mitchell Baker 30 South Africa RSA DNF
AC Johan Lindqvist 25 Sweden SWE DNF
AC Seth Landqvist 25 Sweden SWE DNF
AC Tom Morrissey 19 United States USA DNF
AC Mike Ryan 19 United States USA DNF