Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The 1908 Olympic Games

London hosted the XXX Olympic Summer Games in 2012. This was the 3rd occasion that the games have been held in the city with previous Olympiads taking place in 1908 and 1948.




The Opening Ceremony (Image via Wikipedia)

The 1908 Olympic Games or the IV Olympiad, came to London at very short notice, after originally being designated for Rome. However in 1906, an eruption of Mount Vesuvius devastated Naples and the Italian authorities decide to divert the funds they intended for the games, to helping the disaster.

White City Stadium
The 1908 London Olympics took place over an extended period, between April and October and were mainly located at the purpose built White City stadium (also known as the Great Stadium in Shepherd's Bush), which was previously arable farming land. Built in very short time and holding a capacity of 68,000 the White City complex was thought of as a technological marvel. The track circumference was a third of a mile long, with a swimming and diving pool, along with platforms for wrestling and gymnastics.


The White City Stadium (Image via Wikipedia)

Marathon
It was at these games where the marathon distance was established. The original plan was to race over a distance of 25 miles, but this was extended to 26 miles 385 yards so that firstly, the race could start at Windsor Castle and secondly, it would finish in front of the King at the stadium. In 1921 this was adopted as the standard distance for the marathon.
The games most famous event took place at the marathon, where Dorando Pietri of Italy, was the first athlete to enter the stadium. But after running the wrong way and being helped by officials, he was disqualified from 1st place after crossing the line in premier position. The next day, Queen Alexandra, who felt sorry for the athlete, awarded the Italian a silver cup for his efforts.

Sports Played and Venues Used Included:
Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Cycling,  Diving, Fencing, Figure skating, Football, Gymnastics, Hockey, Lacrosse, Polo, Rackets, Rowing, Rugby union, Sailing, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Tug of war, Water motorsports, Water polo and Wrestling.
As well as the White City, other venues used included Wimbledon (tennis), Bisley ranges (shooting),  Henley (rowing),  Princes skating club in Knightsbridge (figure skating), Northampton Institute in Islington (boxing, diving & swimming) and Southampton Water/Solent (sailing).
22 nations took part, with Great Britain (the host nation) being the most successful, winning 56 gold medals from a total of 146. The United States was 2nd with 23 golds, followed by Sweden with 8.

Swimming at the 1908 Summer Olympics: Start of the 200 metres breaststroke final (image via Wikipedia)

Controversy
Controversy surrounded the games. Many teams decided to march at the opening ceremony without being preceded by a national flag. This was in protest at the insistence that the Finnish team paraded after the Russian flag, as it was part of the Russian Empire at the time.
The Swedish flag had not been displayed above the stadium so the Swedes refused to take part in the opening ceremony and the United States flag was also not above the stadium, causing the flag bearer to refuse to dip the flag when passing the royal box.


The Women's Singles Final at Wimbledon (Image via Wikipedia)

Stadium Demolition
The White City stadium continued to be used up until the 1985 when it was demolished and the site now houses the British Broadcasting Corporations Media Village. The Media Centre houses a memorial dedicated to the games and the stadium that once stood on the site.
The stadium had been used over the years as an exhibition site and for numerous sporting activities such as greyhound racing, speedway, a temporary home for Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club and it hosted one match in the 1966 World Cup.

BBC White City - offices for BBC production staff
This is now what stands on the site of the old White City Stadium (image by David Hawgood)