Iconic Photos

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Dorando Pietri’s Marathon Run

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Despite being considered a successful Olympiad that set standards for subsequent games, the original London Olympics in 1908 were mired in controversy from the beginning– the American team refused to dip the flag before King Edward VII at the opening ceremony; their top runner was disqualified for obstructing the path of British runner Wyndham Halswelle, and for a re-run, the US track team walked out.

The games were never to be at London. It was passed from Rome to London after the 1906 eruption of Vesuvius forced Italy to relocate Olympic funds to rebuilding Naples. A stadium had to be hastily built at White City in west London for £44,000 next to the 1908 Franco-Britannic Exhibition. Everything was dismal — the lack of competitors meant the host nation taking a clean sweep in many sports, a medal record Britain would never match again. Swimming was conducted in muddy, murky outdoor waters. Less than remarkable games like tug-of-war and bicycle polo were introduced.

However, no match garnered more media attention than the notorious marathon. At the request of the King, the marathon started at Windsor Castle and ended right in front of a royal viewing box, adding additional 385 yards to the Classical marathon distance of 26 miles, and permanently altering the Olympic marathon distance. Its literal frontrunner was Italian confectioner named Dorando Pietri; Staggering through total exhaustion, Pietri won but was soon disqualified for receiving generous but misplaced assistance from two umpires, J.M. Andrew and M.J. Bulger seen above guiding him to the finishing line.

The games were already marred by the British referees, turning blind eye to many such infractions in the name of nonchalance, bonhomie, and amateur good fun. The American Olympic Committee once again complained loudly and their boy John Hayes indeed took home the gold medal. Widespread public sympathy however went to the Italian, who was presented with a specially commissioned Gold Trophy by Queen Alexandra. Arthur Conan Doyle took up his cause and raised money for Pietri to open his own pastry shop; Irving Berlin wrote an ode to him. In a rematch in Madison Square Garden, Pietri later beat Hayes. (See Telegraph)

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 22, 2009 at 12:56 am

Posted in Sports

Tagged with , ,

8 Responses

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  1. […] won the race. Four years later, the gold medal was defaulted to American Johnny Hayes after the first person to cross the line was disqualified for receiving a misplaced assistance from the o…. Only in 1984, Joan Benoit Samuelson would become the first American to cross the marathon line […]

    • My Grandfather James P. Sullivan, winner of the first heat in the 1500 meters was in the same club as Johnny Hayes, the Irish American Athletic Club,responsible for 59 of the U.S.’s team’s 78 points in the 1908 Games. Hayes received the gold medal at the Games and Dorando Pietri got a cup from the Queen, not the medal. You could look it up!

      Terry Sullivan

      March 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      • John Hayes I believed hailed from Nenagh,co Tipp in Ireland ,where i believe a statue in his honour was erected a few years ago.

        Rory Hayes

        December 12, 2012 at 9:23 pm

  2. Cool post man!


    July 7, 2010 at 5:53 am

  3. Allegedly, Queen Alexandra’s upper lip was stiffer than ever that year.


    March 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm

  4. […] detailed articles, go to: Black Power salute; Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz; Greg Louganis; Dorando Pietri; American basketball team’s controversial loss; Jesse Owens gets cheers; Antonio Rebollo […]

  5. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and
    I find It really useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give something back and help others like you
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  6. […] above, clockwise from top-left: Black Power salute; Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz; Greg Louganis; Dorando Pietri; American basketball team’s controversial loss; Jesse Owens gets cheers; Antonio Rebollo […]

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