With the Rio Olympics starting tomorrow, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some highlights for British and Irish participation in the Olympics, particularly with London acting as the host city on three separate occasions.
1908 Summer Games
27 April to 31 October
2,008 athletes (1,971 men and 37 women) from 22 countries participating in 110 events
Originally awarded to Rome, the summer games were reassigned to London when it became apparent that Rome would not be ready. Italy had to divert resources toward disaster relief due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906. London was already playing host to a Franco-Britannic Exhibition in 1908, and the exhibition organizers funded and built a 66,000-capacity stadium next to their site at White City. This was the first Olympics with a stadium specifically built for the games, and to host indoor swimming rather than open-water. Diving and field hockey made their debuts, and powerboating featured for the first and only time. The 1908 Olympics were also the longest-ever, running from April to October.
The marathon, capping the games, was one of the most dramatic ever seen. The course ran from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium, followed by a partial lap of the stadium ending at the royal box. This was a distance of 42.195 km, which was adopted as the standardized distance for a marathon in the 1920s. Italian runner/pastry chef Dorando Pietri was leading the race when he entered the stadium, but overcome with fatigue and dehydration he took the wrong path and fell several times. Umpires helped him up each time. He ended up finishing the marathon in first place, but was disqualified due to receiving assistance. In lieu of a gold medal, he was given a gilded silver cup by Queen Alexandra and he became something of an international celebrity.
Pictures of the 1908 marathon can be found here – these are very interesting and fun.
Great Britain won the overall medal count with 146 total medals (USA was second with 47). Standout athletes for Team GB were Henry Taylor, who won three gold medals in freestyle swimming, and Benjamin Jones, who won two gold and one silver in track cycling. In addition, Arthur Gore (singles/doubles indoor tennis), George Larner (men’s walking), Paul Radmilovic (waterpolo/freestyle relay), Thomas Thornycroft (motorboating), Bernard Redwood (motorboating), John Field-Richards (motorboating), and Clarrie Kingsbury (track cycling) each won two gold for Team GB.
Video highlights of 1908 Olympics – highly recommend watching these, including Olympic tug-of-war (Team GB swept the podium in this event in 1908)!