1908 Summer Olympics

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Games of the IV Olympiad
Olympic games 1908 London.jpg
Programme for the 1908 Summer Olympics
Host city London, United Kingdom
Athletes2,008 (1,971 men, 37 women)
Events110 in 22 sports (24 disciplines)
Opening27 April
Closing31 October
Opened by
Stadium White City Stadium
St. Louis 1904 Stockholm 1912

The 1908 Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the IV Olympiad, and commonly known as London 1908, was an international multi-sport event held in London, United Kingdom, from 27 April to 31 October 1908. [2]


The 1908 Games were originally scheduled to be held in Rome, but were relocated on financial grounds following the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906 which claimed more than 100 lives. Rome eventually hosted the 1960 Summer Olympics. [3] These were the fourth chronological modern Summer Olympics in keeping with the now-accepted four-year cycle as opposed to the alternate four-year cycle of the proposed Intercalated Games. The IOC president for these Games was Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Lasting a total of 187 days, or 6 months and 4 days, these Games were the longest in modern Olympics history; since 1996, the Games have ordinarily lasted 17 days.


There were four bids for the 1908 Summer Olympics. Rome was selected ahead of London, Berlin and Milan. The selection was made at the 6th IOC Session in London in 1904. [4]

Italian authorities were preparing to stage the games when Mount Vesuvius erupted on 7 April 1906, devastating the city of Naples. Funds were diverted to the reconstruction of Naples, so a new host country was required. London was selected for the first time to hold the Games which were held at White City alongside the Franco-British Exhibition, at the time the more noteworthy event.

The White City Stadium, built in short time for the games, held 68,000, although only 65,000 people turned up to watch the games. The stadium track was three laps to the mile (536 metres), not the current standard of 400 metres, with a pool for swimming and diving and platforms for wrestling and gymnastics in the middle. [5]

The distance from the start of the marathon to the finish at the stadium was established at these games. The original distance of 25 miles was changed to 26 miles so the marathon could start at Windsor Castle and then changed again at the request of Princess Mary so the start would be beneath the windows of the Royal Nursery. [6] To ensure that the race would finish in front of the King, the finish line was moved by British officials who "felt compelled to restore the importance of the monarchy." As a result of these changes, the marathon covered a distance of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km), which became the standard length starting with the 1924 Summer Olympics. [7]

The Games

There were controversies at the games. On the opening day, following the practice introduced at the Intercalated Games of 1906, teams paraded behind national flags. However, the arrangement caused complications:

American refusal of flag dipping

The United States' flag bearer, Ralph Rose, refused to dip the flag to King-Emperor Edward VII in the royal box. His fellow athlete Martin Sheridan allegedly declared that "this flag dips to no earthly King." The quote is held as an example of Irish and American defiance of the British monarchy, though its historicity is disputed. [8] [9]


Dorando Pietri finishes the marathon. Dorando Pietri 1908.jpg
Dorando Pietri finishes the marathon.
Original caption: "One of the most curious contests at the Olympic Games is the duelling with wax bullets. The combatants are as elaborately protected as a German student duellist, and even the revolver has a large hand-guard. The helmet has a plate-glass window." 1908 Olympics wax duel field.png
Original caption: "One of the most curious contests at the Olympic Games is the duelling with wax bullets. The combatants are as elaborately protected as a German student duellist, and even the revolver has a large hand-guard. The helmet has a plate-glass window."
Shooting at the 1908 Summer Olympics: the revolver and pistol competition at Bisley, Surrey London 1908 Shooting.jpg
Shooting at the 1908 Summer Olympics: the revolver and pistol competition at Bisley, Surrey
The gold medal-winning British tug of war team from the City of London Police 1908 British tug of war team.jpg
The gold medal-winning British tug of war team from the City of London Police

The 1908 Olympics also prompted establishment of standard rules for sports, and selection of judges from different countries rather than just the host. One reason was the 400 metre race, in which a US runner, John Carpenter, was accused by the British officials of interfering with a British runner. Part of the problem was the different definition of interference under British and international rules (the events were held under British rules by the decision of the Organising Committee). The officials decided to disqualify Carpenter and ordered a second final race without him. British Halswelle was to face the other two finalists. These athletes, William Robbins and John Taylor, were both Americans and decided not to participate in the repeat of the final to protest against the judges' decision. Halswelle was thus the only medallist in the 400 metres.

The most famous incident of the games came at the end of the marathon. Dorando Pietri, Italy, began his race at a rather slow pace, but in the second half of the course began a powerful surge moving him into second position by the 32 km (20 mi) mark, four minutes behind South African Charles Hefferon. When he knew that Hefferon was in crisis, Pietri further increased his pace, overtaking him at the 39 km (24 mi) mark.

The effort took its toll and with only two kilometres to go, Pietri began to feel the effects of extreme fatigue and dehydration. When he entered the stadium, he took the wrong path and when umpires redirected him, he fell down for the first time. He got up with their help, in front of 75,000 spectators.

He fell four more times, and each time the umpires helped him up. In the end, though totally exhausted, he managed to finish the race in first place. Of his total time of 2h 54min 46s, ten minutes were needed for that last 340 metres. Second was American Johnny Hayes. The American team immediately lodged a complaint against the help Pietri received from the umpires. The complaint was accepted and Pietri was disqualified and removed from the final standings of the race. Since he had not been responsible for his disqualification, Queen Alexandra awarded him a gilded silver cup the next day.

These Games were the first to include winter events, as had originally been proposed for the Games. There were four figure skating events, although held on 28 and 29 October, months after most of the other events.

Oscar Swahn from Sweden, who won the gold medal for running deer shooting, became the oldest Olympic champion of all time, and set another age record by being 72 years and 279 days old during his triumph at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. One of the more unusual shooting events in 1908 was Olympic dueling. The discipline, which was an associate event (i.e. not official), was performed by facing opponents wearing protective clothing and masks and firing wax bullets. [10]

American John Taylor was a member of the winning medley relay team, making him the first African-American athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. [11] Times for the winning team were United States (3:29.4): William Hamilton-200 metres (22.0), Nathaniel Cartmell-200 metres (22.2), John Taylor-400 metres (49.8), and Melvin Sheppard-800 metres (1:55.4). [12]

Less than five months after returning from the Olympic Games in London, Taylor died of typhoid fever on 2 December 1908 at the age of 26. [13]

The budget of the organising committee showed a cost of £15,000; over one-third was labelled "entertainment expense". Donations were the major source of revenue; only 28% of income derived from ticket sales. Total receipts of £21,378 resulted in organisers claiming a profit. Construction of the White City Stadium, which cost the government about £60,000, was not counted. [14]


22 sports, representing 110 events in 24 sporting disciplines, were contested. Swimming, diving and water polo are considered three disciplines of the same sport, aquatics. At the time, tug-of-war was part of athletics and the two different football codes (association and rugby (union)) were listed together. The International Olympic Committee now considers tug-of-war a separate sport, as well as referring to association football as simply "football" and to rugby union as "rugby". [15] In one of seven cycling events (cycling sprint) no medals were awarded. The sailing program was open for a total of five sailing classes, but actually only four sailing events were contested. The number of events in each discipline is noted in parentheses.


Thirteen sports venues were used for the 1908 Summer Olympics. The first winter sports took place at Prince's Skating Club in Knightsbridge. White City Stadium served as a precursor to modern stadiums.[ citation needed ] The figure skating events were not held at the next Olympics in Stockholm, but returned for the 1920 Games in Antwerp, heralding the first Winter Olympics that took place in Chamonix in 1924. White City was the main venue for the 1934 British Empire Games (known as the Commonwealth Games since 1978) and, before its demolition in 1985, also served as a venue for the 1966 FIFA World Cup. The All England Lawn Tennis Club continues to host the Wimbledon championships and is the only venue of the 1908 Games that was used for the 2012 Summer Olympics. [16]

Bisley and Henley served as venues in the 1948 Games when the Olympics returned to London forty years later. [17]

All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Tennis Not listed [18]
Bisley Ranges, Surrey Shooting (pistol/rifle)Not listed [19]
Franco-British Exhibition Fencing Grounds, Shepherd's Bush Fencing Not listed [20]
Henley Royal Regatta, Oxfordshire Rowing Not listed [21]
Hunters Quay, Scotland Sailing Not listed [22]
The Hurlingham Club Polo Not listed [23]
Northampton Institute, Islington Boxing Not listed [24]
Prince's Skating Club Figure skating Not listed [25]
Queen's Club Jeu de paume, Rackets Not listed [26] [27]
Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Ryde SailingNot listed [28]
Southampton Water Water motorsports Not listed [29]
Uxendon Shooting School Club Shooting (shotgun)Not listed [30]
White City Stadium Archery, Athletics, Cycling (track), Diving, Field hockey, Football, Gymnastics, Lacrosse, Rugby union, Swimming, Tug of war, Water polo (final), Wrestling 68,000 [31]

Participating nations

Participants of the 1908 Games 1908 Summer Olympics teams.png
Participants of the 1908 Games
Number of participating athletes per country 1908 Summer Olympics numbers of athletes.png
Number of participating athletes per country

The 1908 Games featured athletes representing 22 National Olympic Committees. Finland, Turkey and New Zealand (as part of the team from Australasia) made their first appearance at the Olympic Games. The fact that the United Kingdom competed as a single team was upsetting to some Irish competitors, who felt that Ireland should compete on its own, despite being part of the UK at the time. Fearing an Irish boycott, the authorities changed the name of the team to Great Britain/Ireland, and in two sports, field hockey and polo, Ireland participated as a separate country, winning silver medals in both. [32] Irish athletes in the United States were not affected by this controversy, and many Irish immigrants to the United States competed for the U.S. Olympic team as members of the Irish American Athletic Club. Members of the Irish American Athletic Club won ten of the U.S. Olympic team's total 23 gold medals, or as many as the nations of France, Germany and Italy combined.

Participating National Olympic Committees

Number of athletes by National Olympic Committees

Medal count

The medal of the 1908 British Olympic Council 1908 Olympic medal.jpg
The medal of the 1908 British Olympic Council

These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1908 Games.

  *   Host nation (Great Britain)

1Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  Great Britain  (GBR)*565139146
2US flag 45 stars.svg  United States  (USA)23121247
3Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden  (SWE)861125
4Flag of France.svg  France  (FRA)55919
5Flag of the German Empire.svg  Germany  (GER)35513
6Flag of Hungary (1867-1918).svg  Hungary  (HUN)3429
7Canadian Red Ensign (1868-1921).svg  Canada  (CAN)331016
8Flag of Norway.svg  Norway  (NOR)2338
9Flag of Italy (1861-1946).svg  Italy  (ITA)2204
10Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium  (BEL)1528
Totals (10 nations)1069693295

See also

Related Research Articles

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Johnny Hayes American athlete

John Joseph "Johnny" Hayes was an American athlete, a member of the Irish American Athletic Club, and winner of the marathon race at the 1908 Summer Olympics. Hayes' Olympic victory contributed to the early growth of long-distance running and marathoning in the United States. He was also the first man to win a marathon at the now official standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards when Olympic officials lengthened the distance to put the finish line in front of the Royal Box.

1908 Summer Olympics medal table

The 1908 Summer Olympics was an international multi-sport event held from 27 April to 31 October 1908, in London, United Kingdom, coinciding with the Franco-British Exhibition. A total of 2,008 athletes representing 22 nations participated in 110 events in 18 sports. Diving, field hockey, and figure skating were contested for the first time at these Games. Argentina, Switzerland and Turkey were the only nations that did not earn any medals.

Athletics at the 1908 Summer Olympics – Mens marathon Athletics at the Olympics

The men's marathon race of the 1908 Summer Olympics took place in London on 24 July 1908. Johnny Hayes won after Dorando Pietri was disqualified for having received assistance before the finish line. For the first time in an Olympic marathon, the distance was 26 mi 385 yd (42.195 km), which would become the standard distance in 1921. 75 competitors entered the race, of whom 55 from 16 nations started, with 27 from 11 nations finishing. NOCs could enter up to 12 athletes. The United States and South Africa each won their first Olympic marathon medals.

Athletics at the 1948 Summer Olympics – Mens marathon

The men's marathon event at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games took place on August 7. Forty-one athletes from 21 nations competed. The maximum number of athletes per nation had been set at 3 since the 1930 Olympic Congress. The race was won by Delfo Cabrera of Argentina, the nation's second victory in three Games. Tom Richards's silver medal put Great Britain on the podium for the third time in a row, while Étienne Gailly earned Belgium's first marathon medal with his bronze.

Venues of the 1948 Summer Olympics

A total of twenty-five sports venues were used to host the events of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, United Kingdom. For the first time in the history of the modern Olympic Games, the diving, gymnastics, swimming, and water polo competitions were held indoors. These Games have since been nicknamed the "Austerity Games" for the tight control of costs at a time when the host nation was still under rationing, which resulted in a total expenditure of around £750,000. All of the venues were already in place and required only temporary modifications. The organizing committee decided not to build an Olympic Village; instead, foreign athletes were housed in makeshift camps at military bases and colleges around London, while local athletes were told to stay at home. Despite these measures, the combined venues of the 1948 Summer Olympics recorded the highest attendance figures for a Games at that time.

For the 1956 Summer Olympics, events were staged in a total of thirteen sports venues in Melbourne, Victoria, one in Ballarat, Victoria, and three sports venues in Stockholm, Sweden. The equestrian events took place in Stockholm in June 1956, due to Australia's strict quarantine laws on equestrianism, and the other Olympic events took place in Melbourne later in the year, between late November and early December.

For the 1960 Summer Olympics, a total of thirty-four sports venues were used. The Basilica of Maxentius, the Baths of Caracalla, the Appian Way, and Via Cassia were among the ancient Roman venues used for the games. The football stadium in Florence hosted the 1934 FIFA World Cup and would later host the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Stadio Olimpico would later serve host to the 1987 IAAF World Championships in Athletics and the final venue for the 1990 FIFA World Cup. The marathon would be lit at night by Italian soldiers holding torches that included the Appian Way with a finish at the Arch of Constantine.

For the 1964 Summer Olympics, a total of thirty-three sports venues were used. Six of the venues were built before the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1964 Games to Tokyo in 1959. This included two venues that hosted the 1958 Asian Games. There were thirteen new, eight temporary, and five reconstructed and/or renovated venues that were used during the event. During the Olympics, wind and weather had issues with two athletic events. After the Olympics, one venue hosted both a FIFA World Cup and a World Athletics Championship event while another also hosted a World Athletics Championship event.

A total of twenty-nine sports venues were used for the 1996 Summer Olympics.


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  32. Irish Times, 4 August 2008, article by Kevin Mallon
Preceded by
St. Louis
Summer Olympic Games

IV Olympiad (1908)
Succeeded by

51°30′49″N0°13′39″W / 51.51362°N 0.22740°W / 51.51362; -0.22740 Coordinates: 51°30′49″N0°13′39″W / 51.51362°N 0.22740°W / 51.51362; -0.22740