- Date start:
- 27 Apr 1908
- Date end:
- 31 Oct 1908
The 1908 Olympic Games were originally awarded to Rome. Italian authorities were preparing for the games when Mount Vesuvius erupted in April 1906. The eruption devastated Naples, and Italy's Olympic funds were redirected to help with the city's reconstruction. London was selected to host the games.
Although given just two year's notice, London successfully completed the necessary infrastructure. The main venue for the 1908 Olympics was the White City Stadium, built as part of the Franco-British Exhibition in west London. The stadium included running and cycling tracks, an open-air swimming pool and a pitch for football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse. The grandstands accommodated 93,000 spectators. Other Olympic events took place at venues throughout London.
The Olympics ran from 27 April to 31 October and involved 3,000 competitors from 21 teams. This was the first games to award gold, silver and bronze medals, and the first in which all entrants had to compete as members of national teams, rather than as individuals.
Diving and field hockey first appeared at the 1908 Olympics. Less successfully, powerboat racing and tug-of-war were held for the first and last times. This was also the first Olympics to include winter events. However, the four on-ice figure skating events were held months after most of the other events had taken place.
The 1908 Olympics introduced qualifying rounds and a limit on the number of competitors any one nation could field. The marathon's distance was increased from 24.85 miles to 26.2 miles to allow the course to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium. The official marathon distance is still 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometres).
International politics and controversial judging marred the London Olympics. Problems started at the opening ceremony, where athletes paraded around the stadium by nation. Finnish athletes were told to march under the Soviet Union flag and chose to march with no flag at all. Irish competitors were ordered to compete for Great Britain, causing many to withdraw. The United States flag was not displayed above the stadium. In response, the US team refused to respectfully dip their flag to the Royal Box. A team member later claimed "this flag dips to no earthly king."
Controversy continued on the field. During the 400-metre race, the American winner J C Carpenter was disqualified for obstructing the British competitor, Wyndham Halswelle. The final was rerun but Carpenter and the two other runners, both American, refused to participate. Halswelle ran round the track on his own to secure the gold medal.
The marathon's dramatic ending caught the public imagination. After 26 miles (42 kilometres), Italian Dorando Pietri was the first to enter the stadium. He collapsed on the track five times before being carried over the finish line by officials. He was disqualified.
These controversies led to the creation of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which standardised track and field competition rules. For future Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) drew judges from an international pool rather then just the host country.
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