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London Olympics, 1908

You may have noticed that the Olympics are being held in London this year …

To mark the occasion we are displaying an edition of the ‘Illustrated London News’ in the exhibition case in the foyer of the Berkeley Library, giving details of the dramatic finale to the Marathon in the 1908 Games, which were also held in London.

Unlike the four-year gap between modern Games, the London Olympics in 1908 came only two years after Athens. They were initially planned for Rome, but an untimely eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906 redirected Italian government funds elsewhere. Given the deluge of rain that occurred in London over the two-week period, Rome must have seemed even more appealing in hindsight.

In addition to sport and the weather, politics made its presence felt. Finland, at the time an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire, marched flagless in the opening ceremony because Russia, through diplomatic channels, had insisted the Finns should march under a Russian banner. Irish contestants paraded under a Union Jack and were disgruntled that their efforts would add to the haul of medals for Great Britain.

Political decisions were not the only ones to see disfavour. The 400 metres final ended in a walkover for British athlete W. Halswelle as J.B. Taylor and W.C. Robbens, both from the USA, withdrew in protest over the disqualification of their compatriot J.C. Carpenter.The biggest controversy, however, was in the marathon. Lining up with 74 other contestants, Italy’s Dorando Pietri entered the Olympic Stadium in the lead and looking exhausted. On the final stretch he fell several times and was supported by confused officials. This led to his disqualification. Queen Alexandra was reportedly greatly moved by Dorando’s show of courage in completing the race, and awarded him a gold cup.

Here are the pages displayed in the case, plus a couple of bonus images.