In Pietri's footsteps: reconstructing the 1908 Olympic Marathon
At University of London Sport and Leisure History Seminars.
06 Oct 2008.
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In 1908, London hosted the fourth Olympic Games. A centrepiece of the Olympics, still in a nascent form after their creation in 1896, was the Marathon, a foot-race of approximately 40 kilometres. The London race was run from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium at Shepherd’s Bush in July 1908, a distance of 26 miles and 385 yards. It quickly became famous for various controversies, such as the judges’ assistance that helped the Dorando Pietri over the line, and the questionable amateur status of Canadian runner Tom Longboat. Such incidents, and the subsequent acceptance of the London 1908 distance as the standard marathon distance, have made this one of the most famous races in Olympic history.
This paper explores the race’s route. Using the official report and other contemporary documents, I will explore how the route was chosen, planned, and managed, and what London’s first marathon route tells us about the Edwardian capital and its suburbs and hinterlands. I will also reconstruct the route as it is now, exploring how the landscapes have changed over the century, and discussing some of the challenges involved in recapturing ephemeral sporting landscapes.
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