History of the Olympic Games

1908 Olympics

Site: London, England
Dates: April 27 - October 31
Nations: 22
Total Athletes: 2,035 (36 women)
Sports: 21

The 1908 Olympic Games was a resounding success after the debacles of the previous two sites (Paris and St. Louis). The spirit of the games could be attributed to the Greeks, who succeeded in staging an intermediate Olympics in 1906 in Athens. Although done for their own nationalistic purposes, it could be said that the structure and success of the games led to the preparedness two years later by the Brits. The games were staged by the government subsidized international Olympic Games in Athens. Some 900 athletes, from 20 participating countries attended.

There was no disputing that the Greeks had open distain for Baron Pierre de Coubertin and his IOC members. Neither Coubertin or IOC members attended any of the Games' events in Athens.

London was awarded the 1908 games because it was the belief of the committee that Rome was neither organized nor financially capable of supporting an international event such as the Olympics.

Londoners proved to be quite meticulous in their planning of events, festivities and even impressed IOC officials by printing and circulating the rules of the upcoming events more than one year in advance.

Unlike the previous two Olympics, the opening ceremonies met and exceeded IOC expectations. King Edward and Queen Alexandra opened the games on July 13, 1908 in Shepard's Bush Stadium. High-ranking officials and some 40,000 spectators attended the opening spectacle. Coubertin and IOC members were ceremoniously presented to the King and Queen and the national and international organizing committees were present to review the parade of 22 nations and consisting of some 2,000 athletes. It would be the first time that gold, silver and bronze medals would be standardized for some 109 events and 21 sports categories. It was also the first time that events would be limited by the number of entries.

This would be called the Olympics of "FIRSTS". This was the first Olympics in which there was actual awarding of gold medals, the standardization of the marathon distance, the introduction of figure skating, the first winter sport to appear in an Olympics, and the introduction of women's gymnastics as a demonstration sport.

The standardization of the marathon to 26 miles, 385 yards was chosen to let the participants finish in front of the King and Queen's royal box. The final 385 yards, the distance entering the Stadium, played a significant role in this marathon when Italian runner Dorando Pietri entered the Olympic Stadium first, well ahead of the runners behind him. Dazed and disoriented from the heat, Pietri initially turned the wrong way from the finish line. A British official pointed him in the right direction, but Pietri kept collapsing. Pietri initially did not accept the aid of the Brit officials, fearing disqualification. However, he continued to collapse from exhaustion to the point that officials ran to his aid. When American John Hayes entered the arena, officials carried Pietri across the finish line and had the Italian flag raised before Hayes even crossed the finish line. A protest ensued and was upheld, although Pietri was awarded a golden cup from Queen Alexandra the next day and became an international celebrity.

With the addition of new nations, came new problems. Organization by nationality came under conflict when nations such as New Zealand and Ireland entered the arena and wanted separate and distinct participation under its own flag. Austrian Empire protested the separate delegation of athletes from Bohemia, while Poland also was positioning for independent representation. It was the first time that politics had reared its ugly face.

With the addition of medals, came a high degree of competitive rivalry between participants and nations. A fierce feud developed between the Americans and Brits. The IOC mistakenly put all judging in the hands of Great Britain, who at the time was the most accomplished sporting nation in the world. However, it was left to the IOC judges to regulate the venues and interpret the rules. Many of the decisions of British judges and referees came under intense scrutiny from the American delegation, which continued even months afterwards. This actually turned into a positive as it would be the last Olympics that would have home-country officiating. International judges became a staple of the Games from then on.

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