1908  London Summer Olympics

1908 Summer Olympics - About the Games

1908 Summer Olympics



Host City: London, Great Britain (April 27, 1908 to October 31, 1908)
Opening Ceremony: July 13, 1908 (opened by King Edward VII)
Events: 109 in 24 sports

Participants: 2,024 (1,980 men and 44 women) from 22 countries
Youngest Participant: HUN Ã–dön Toldi (15 years, 28 days)
Oldest Participant: GBR Robert Heathcote (61 years, 104 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 7 athletes with 3 medals
Most Medals (Country): GBR Great Britain (146 medals)

 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 1908 Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the IV Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was held in 1908 in London, United Kingdom from 27 April to 31 October 1908.

These games were originally scheduled to be held in Rome, but were re-located on financial grounds following a disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906.They were the fourth chronological modern Olympic Games 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.

 Olympic games 1908 London.jpg

 Overview by


In 1906, Mt. Vesuvius erupted near Naples. The Italian government felt it needed the money to rebuild the area around the volcano and asked that the 1908 Rome Olympics be relocated. Actually, the Italians had made that decision sometime before the volcanic eruption, because of economic problems in the Italy, and Vesuvius was merely a convenient excuse to ask that the 1908 Olympic Games be relocated. London gladly accepted and Rome would wait another 52 years for a second chance.

These Olympics were by far the best organized to date. They also had the most international field of any Olympics yet held. By now the Olympics were becoming "known" to the world and athletes everywhere wanted to compete, and managed to find ways to do so. Still, the Games, though superbly run, are best known for multiple political arguments and other bickering that occurred.

The problems began at the Opening Ceremony. The Swedish and United States flags did not fly over the stadium, as the organizers stated they could not find them. This so infuriated the Swedes that when a dispute arose over wrestling rules later in the Games, they threatened to withdraw from the competition. The Finns marched in the ceremony without a flag. They were a territory of Russia in 1908, but Russia allowed them to compete separately, provided they did so under the Russian flag. The Finns, in protest, marched under no flag.

The Americans were upset with the British from the very beginning. Many of the American athletes were Irish emigrés, who opposed the British treatment of the Irish. The American flag at the opening ceremony was carried by [Ralph Rose], not [Johnny Garrels] or [Martin Sheridan] as often listed (a picture of Rose in Outing Magazine exists and supports this fact). Rose was a massive shotputter and a close friend of many of the so-called "Irish Whales", Irish-American weight-throwers such as Sheridan, [John Flanagan], [Pat McDonald] and [Paddy Ryan]. Rose, unlike the other flagbearers, refused to dip the American flag as he marched past [King Edward VII]. Legend has it that Sheridan, when asked the reason this occurred, stated, "This flag dips to no earthly king!"

Other major controversies erupted in the 400 metres and the tug-of-war. The [400 metres final] was contested by Britain's [Wyndham Halswelle] and three Americans, among them [John Carpenter] of Cornell. Carpenter entered the home straight with Halswelle at his shoulder. At this point, Carpenter, in order to prevent Halswelle from passing him, moved progressively farther towards the outside of the track, forcing Halswelle to within 18 inches of the outside curb. Carpenter was immediately disqualified and the race was ordered to be re-run. But the two remaining Americans, [John B. Taylor] and [William Robbins], refused to compete again, feeling that the disqualification was not justified, and the American officials protested the decision, to no avail. Two days later, Halswelle ran by himself to win the 400 metre gold medal.

In an early round of the [tug-of-war] the American pullers faced a British team made of members of the Liverpool Police. The Liverpudlians won easily in the first pull, but the Americans protested, claiming that the British constables footwear was illegal. Standard shoewear was required but the Americans thought the Liverpool Police shoes were specially built up for traction. This protest was also disallowed and the Liverpool team continued to the final, where they lost to a group of London Police officers.

The most memorable event of the 1908 Olympics was the [marathon]. The race was to start at Windsor Castle so that Queen Alexandra's grandchildren could watch the beginning. The distance from there to the finish line at the Shepherd's Bush stadium was 26 miles, 385 yards. This was the first time this distance was chosen for a marathon and it later became the standard.

The leader for most of the second half of the race was [Dorando Pietri], a candymaker from Capri, Italy. But when Pietri entered the Stadium, he was totally exhausted. Like a drunken sailor, he staggered and fell several times before the finish line. He also turned in the wrong direction twice during the last lap. Officials, urged on by sympathetic fans, helped him to his feet and directed him the finish line. He finished the race first and was declared the winner. Only a few metres behind him finished [Johnny Hayes] of the United States. An immediate protest was lodged and Pietri was disqualified. The next day, the British had a special trophy made for Pietri, and it was presented to him in the stadium by the Queen. In the United States, a young songwriter was so taken by the story that he wrote his first song hit. "Dorando, Dorando, he's a good-a-for-not..." was the first line of that song by Irving Berlin.

At the closing banquet at the end of the 1908 Olympics, British IOC Member, the [Reverend Robert de Courcy Laffan] closed with the prescient speech, "The Olympic movement was one with great ideals – the perfect physical development of a new humanity, the speading all over the world of the spirit of sport, which was the spirit of the truest chivalry, and the drawing together of all the nations of the earth in the bonds of peace and mutual amity. They were at the beginning of one of those great world movements which was going to develop long after all present had passed away."



The selection process for the 1908 Summer Olympics consisted of four bids, and saw Rome selected ahead of London, Berlin and Milan. The selection was made at the 6th IOC Session in London in 1904.

Italian authorities were preparing to hold 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 venue 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. 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.

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. 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.

The Games

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

  • Since Finland was part of the Russian Empire, members of the Finnish team were expected to march under the Russian rather than Finnish flag, so many chose to march without a flag at all.
  • The Swedish flag had not been displayed above the stadium, so the members of the Swedish team decided not to take part in the ceremony.

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. This exemplified both American and Irish defiance of the British monarchy.


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 meter 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, 4 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.

Dorando Pietri finishes the marathon.
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 350 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 The medal of the 1908 British Olympic Council.

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 October 28 and 29, 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 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.

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. 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).

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.

The budget of the organising committee showed a cost of £15,000; over one-third was labeled "entertainment expense". Donations were the major source of revenue; only 28% of income derived from ticket sales. Total receipts of £21,377 resulted in organisers claiming a profit. Construction of the White City Stadium, which cost the government about £60,000, was not counted.

Shooting at the 1908 Summer Olympics: the revolver and pistol competition at Bisley, Surrey


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". 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.
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
  • Aquatics
    • Diving (2)
    • Swimming (6)
    • Water polo (1)
  • Archery (3)
  • Athletics (26)
  • Boxing (5)
  • Cycling (7)
  • Fencing (4)
  • Figure skating (4)
  • Football (1)
  • Gymnastics (2)
  • Field hockey (1)
  • Jeu de paume (1)
  • Lacrosse (1)
  • Polo (1)
  • Rackets (2)
  • Rowing (4)
  • Rugby (1)
  • Sailing (4)
  • Shooting (15)
  • Tennis (6)
  • Tug of war (1)
  • Water motorsports (3)
  • Wrestling
    • Wrestling Freestyle (5)
    • Wrestling Greco-Roman (4)


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

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

Venue Sports Capacity
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Tennis Not listed
Bisley Ranges Shooting (pistol/rifle) Not listed
Franco-British Exhibition Fencing Grounds Fencing Not listed
Henley Royal Regatta Rowing Not listed
Hunters Quay, River Clyde Sailing Not listed
Hurlingham Club Polo Not listed
Northampton Institute Boxing Not listed
Prince's Skating Club Figure skating Not listed
Queen's Club Jeu de paume, Rackets Not listed
Solent Sailing Not listed
Southampton Water Water motorsports Not listed
Uxendon Shooting School Club Shooting (shotgun) Not listed
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

Participating nations

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 born athletes 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.

Participants of the 1908 Games
Number of participating athletes per country
Participating National Olympic Committees
  •  Argentina (1)
  •  Australasia (30)
  •  Austria (7)
  •  Belgium (88)
  •  Bohemia (19)
  •  Canada (87)
  •  Denmark (81)
  •  Finland (67)
  •  France (363)
  •  Germany (81)
  •  Great Britain (676) (host)
  •  Greece (20)
  •  Hungary (63)
  •  Italy (68)
  •  Netherlands (113)
  •  Norway (69)
  •  Russian Empire (6)
  •  South Africa (14)
  •  Sweden (168)
  •  Switzerland (1)
  •  Turkey (1)
  •  United States (112)

Medal count

 Host nation (Great Britain)

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Great Britain (GBR)* 56 51 39 146
2  United States (USA) 23 12 12 47
3  Sweden (SWE) 8 6 11 25
4  France (FRA) 5 5 9 19
5  Germany (GER)[a] 3 5 5 13
6  Hungary (HUN) 3 4 2 9
7  Canada (CAN) 3 3 10 16
8  Norway (NOR) 2 3 3 8
9  Italy (ITA) 2 2 0 4
10  Belgium (BEL) 1 5 2 8
11  Australasia (ANZ) 1 2 2 5
12  Russian Empire (RU1) 1 2 0 3
13  Finland (FIN) 1 1 3 5
14  South Africa (RSA) 1 1 0 2
15  Greece (GRE)[b] 0 3 1 4
16  Denmark (DEN) 0 2 3 5
17  Bohemia (BOH) 0 0 2 2
 Netherlands (NED) 0 0 2 2
19  Austria (AUT) 0 0 1 1
Totals (19 nations) 110 107 107 324


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