- Monday, 09 April 2012
These games were scheduled to be held in Rome, but the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 1906, meant that London became the host city.
There were more than 2000 competitors in archery, athletics, boxing ,cycling, fencing, football, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, lawn tennis, motor boats, polo, racquets, rowing, rugby, shooting, skating, swimming, wrestling and yachting. Altogether there were more than 100 events.
This was the first time that athletes marched into the stadium behind their nations' flags.
The summer sports were held in July and the so-called autumn sports - boxing, football, lacrosse and skating, were held later in the year.
The newly built Shepherd's Bush stadium was used to house the athletics, swimming, wrestling, gymnastics, and cycling events.
The 1.5 mile rowing course was at Henley on Thames; shooting took place at Bisley and Uxendon; other sports were held at local, more suitable, venues. Motor-boat racing was held on the River Solent, and the 12-metre yachting on the River Clyde in Scotland.
It was a very strong American team that dominated the athletics events on the newly laid 1/3 of a mile track. They won gold in the 800m and 1500m events. The winners of the shorter sprints were supplied by The British Empire. South Africa won the 100m and Canada took the 200m.
The greatest drama of the track races was when Wyndham Halswelle of Great Britain took the 400metres! He was competing against three Americans and they did not run in lanes.
As they neared the final straight one of the Americans (Carpenter) edged Halswelle wide. A shout of "fowl" went up and the British officials broke the tape before the finish. Carpenter was disqualified and a re-run was ordered.
The Americans however, refused to take part. So Halswelle won by default with a time of 50 seconds!
Despite this unprecedented controversy, the most exciting race was the marathon.This was run from Windsor Great Park, along the roads of West London to the Shepherd's Bush Stadium, on a hot calm day. Of the 56 men that started only 27 finished.
At the start, the little Italian Dorando Pietri did not follow the fast pace of the others. After 15 miles the South African Charles Hefferon was leading. He maintained this lead until the 24th mile when both Pietri and the American, John Hayes, passed him. However, the little Italian was so exhausted by his efforts that when he entered the stadium, he collapsed on the track.
Officials immediately put him back on the right course but their action automatically disqualified him. Pietri struggled on bravely and was helped to the tape. (see image above).
John Hayes had run a very sensible race in the intense heat. He was just over 30 seconds behind Pietri at the finish and he was awarded the Gold medal! The Queen was so impressed with Pietri's performance that she presented him with a special gold cup!
Although British athletes did not win the marathon, they did very well in other distance events. Emil Voigt won the 5 mile race; Arthur Russell won the 3200metre steeplechase. George Larner took both the 3500 metre and the 10 mile walk. In the 3 mile team race the British team packed 5 men into the first 7 places to win yet another gold medal.
As well as athletics, Britain did well in the swimming. A Lancashire lad, Henry Taylor, won three gold medals in the 400 metres freestyle, 1500 metres freestyle and the 4x200 metres relay. The British team also won the water polo.
A cycle track measuring 660 yards had been built around the running track in the new arena. Sadly, events were marred both by continual rain and frequent punctures! However, despite these setbacks, British cyclists took 5 gold medals. The 2000 metre tandem race was won by France and the 1000 metre sprint was declared void after the riders had exceeded the time limit.
Outside of the stadium, British sportsmen won all the lawn tennis championships, rowing, yachting, polo, racquets, 6 of the shooting events, and 2 of the motor-boat titles.
In the "autumn" sports the host country made a clean sweep in the boxing ring, as well as winning the soccer, hockey and ladies figure skating.
The summer sports ended with a ceremonial prize giving by Queen Alexandra. Gold, silver, bronze medals and diplomas of merit were awarded. Lord Desborough, who had organised the games so splendidly, called for 3 cheers for the Queen.
Thus the games of the 4th Olympiad passed into history.
Our thanks to Margaret Colquhoun for this story.
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