1908 Summer Olympics

Coordinates: 51°30′49″N 0°13′39″W / 51.51362°N 0.22740°W / 51.51362; -0.22740
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Games of the IV Olympiad
Programme for the 1908 Summer Olympics
Host cityLondon, United Kingdom
Athletes2,008 (1,971 men, 37 women)
Events110 in 22 sports (25 disciplines)
Opening27 April 1908
Closing31 October 1908
Opened by
StadiumWhite City Stadium

The 1908 Summer Olympics (officially the Games of the IV Olympiad and also known as London 1908) were an international multi-sport event held in London, England, United Kingdom, from 27 April to 31 October 1908.[2] The 1908 Games were originally scheduled to be held in Rome, but were relocated on financial grounds following the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906, which claimed over 100 lives; Rome eventually hosted the Games in 1960.[3]

These were the fourth chronological modern Summer Olympics 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 (six months and four days), these were the longest Games in modern Olympics history.


There were four bids for the 1908 Summer Olympics. Rome was selected ahead of London, Berlin and Milan. The selection was made at the 6th IOC Session in London in 1904.[4]

Italian authorities were preparing to stage 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 host country 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 people, with full crowds turning up to watch the events. The stadium track was three laps to the mile (536.448 metres), as the current standard of 400 metres did not exist until 1962, with a pool (for swimming and diving events) and platforms (for wrestling and gymnastics) in the center field.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

The Games[edit]

There were controversies at the games. 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.


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 metre 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.

Dorando Pietri finishes the marathon.
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."

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.

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 340 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.

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 28 and 29 October, 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 Olympic 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.[10]

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.[11] 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).[12]

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.[13]

The budget of the organising committee showed a cost of £15,000; over one-third was labelled "entertainment expense". Donations were the major source of revenue; only 28% of income derived from ticket sales. Total receipts of £21,378 resulted in organisers claiming a profit. Construction of the White City Stadium, which cost the government about £60,000, was not counted.[14]


22 sports, representing 110 events in 25 sporting disciplines, were contested. A golf tournament had also been planned but it was cancelled a few days before it was scheduled to start.[15] 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".[16] 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.

Cycle polo, glima and pistol dueling were demonstration sports.


Thirteen sports venues were used for the 1908 Summer Olympics. The first winter sports took place at Prince's Skating Club in Knightsbridge. White City Stadium served as a precursor to modern stadiums.[citation needed] The figure skating events were not held at the next Olympics in Stockholm, but returned for the 1920 Games in Antwerp, heralding the first Winter Olympics that took place in Chamonix in 1924. White City was the main venue for the 1934 British Empire Games (known as the Commonwealth Games since 1978) and, before its demolition in 1985, also served as a venue for the 1966 FIFA World Cup. The All England Lawn Tennis Club continues to host the Wimbledon championships and is the only venue of the 1908 Games that was used for the 2012 Summer Olympics.[17]

Bisley and Henley served as venues in the 1948 Games when the Olympics returned to London forty years later.[18]

Venue Sports Capacity Ref.
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Tennis Not listed [19]
Bisley Ranges, Surrey Shooting (pistol/rifle) Not listed [20]
Franco-British Exhibition Fencing Grounds, Shepherd's Bush Fencing Not listed [21]
Henley Royal Regatta, Oxfordshire Rowing Not listed [22]
Hunters Quay, Scotland Sailing Not listed [23]
The Hurlingham Club Polo Not listed [24]
Northampton Institute, Islington Boxing Not listed [25]
Prince's Skating Club Figure skating Not listed [26]
Queen's Club Jeu de paume, Rackets Not listed [27][28]
Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Ryde Sailing Not listed [29]
Southampton Water Water motorsports Not listed [30]
Uxendon Shooting School Club Shooting (shotgun) Not listed [31]
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 [32]

Participating nations[edit]

Participants of the 1908 Games
Number of participating athletes per country

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.[33] Irish athletes in the United States were not affected by this controversy, and many Irish immigrants to the United States 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.

Participating National Olympic Committees

Number of athletes by National Olympic Committees[edit]

Medal count[edit]

The medal of the 1908 British Olympic Council

These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1908 Games.

  *   Host nation (Great Britain)

1 Great Britain (GBR)*565139146
2 United States (USA)23121247
3 Sweden (SWE)861125
4 France (FRA)55919
5 Germany (GER)35513
6 Hungary (HUN)3429
7 Canada (CAN)331016
8 Norway (NOR)2338
9 Italy (ITA)2204
10 Belgium (BEL)1528
Totals (10 entries)1069693295

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Factsheet - Opening Ceremony of the Games of the Olympiad" (PDF) (Press release). International Olympic Committee. 13 September 2013. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 August 2016. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  2. ^ "The Olympic Summer Games Factsheet" (PDF). International Olympic Committee. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Londra 1908: le prime Olimpiadi inglesi e Dorando Pietri" (in Italian). giochiolimpiciparalimpici.wordpress.com. 22 November 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2018. Siamo nel 1901 quando il CIO si riunisce per decidere chi sarà la città ad ospitare la quarta edizione Olimpica. A contendersi questo onore ci furono Roma e Berlino, e ne uscì vincitrice la prima. Purtroppo, però, la nostra città italiana dovette ritirarsi qualche anno prima dei Giochi a causa dell'eruzione del Vesuvio
  4. ^ "Past Olympic host city election results". GamesBids. Archived from the original on 24 January 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  5. ^ Mallon, Bill; Buchanan, Ian (2000). The 1908 Olympic Games: Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary. McFarland. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-7864-0598-5 – via LA84 Foundation.
  6. ^ CBC Sports. "First appearance for flags at Olympic opening ceremony". CBC News. Archived from the original on 3 June 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
  7. ^ Rhonda Jolly (3 June 2008). "The modern Olympics: an overview" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 March 2009. Retrieved 30 June 2008.. Department of Parliamentary Services. p. 9
  8. ^ Bill Mallon and Ian Buchanan (1999). "To No Earthly King ..." (PDF). Journal of Olympic History: 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 September 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
  9. ^ "London Olympics 1908 & 1948". Archived from the original on 10 October 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). BBC (24 June 2005).
  10. ^ The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality (No. 808 Vol LXIII, Sixpence ed.). Ingram brothers. 22 July 1908. p. 41.
  11. ^ "John Baxter Taylor (1882–1908), V.M.D. 1908 – First African-American to Win an Olympic Gold Medal". Archived from the original on 4 February 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2008., University of Pennsylvania Archives.
  12. ^ Official Olympic Reports Archived 2006-06-22 at the Wayback Machine. LA84 Foundation. Retrieved on 9 July 2012.
  13. ^ "NEGRO RUNNER DEAD.; John B. Taylor, Quarter Miler, Victim of Typhoid Pneumonia". The New York Times. 3 December 1908. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  14. ^ Zarnowski, C. Frank (Summer 1992). "A Look at Olympic Costs" (PDF). Citius, Altius, Fortius. 1 (1): 16–32. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2007.
  15. ^ "Golf | Olympic competitions Abandoned". The People. 31 May 1908. p. 17. Retrieved 27 January 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ Olympic Sports of the Past. Olympic.org. Retrieved on 9 July 2012.
  17. ^ "London 2012 > The Games > Venues > Wimbledon". London2012.com. Archived from the original on 16 September 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2010.
  18. ^ "The Official Report of the 1948 London Olympics" (PDF). la84foundation.org. The Organising Committee for the XIV Olympiad. pp. 43, 47–9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  19. ^ "The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics" (PDF). la84foundation.org. The British Olympic Association. p. 209. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  20. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 254.
  21. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 127.
  22. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 237.
  23. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 340.
  24. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 232.
  25. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, pp. 107, 296–313.
  26. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 284.
  27. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 314.
  28. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 233.
  29. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 339.
  30. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 351.
  31. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, p. 39.
  32. ^ The Official Report of the 1908 London Olympics, pp. 32–5, 40.
  33. ^ Irish Times, 4 August 2008, article by Kevin Mallon

External links[edit]

Summer Olympics
Preceded by IV Olympiad

Succeeded by

51°30′49″N 0°13′39″W / 51.51362°N 0.22740°W / 51.51362; -0.22740