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Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush

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Hayes arrived next. American officials, however, felt he was the true winner and lodged a protest claiming that Pietri was unfairly assisted. When it was upheld, Pietri was disqualified and Hayes awarded the gold medal.

In retrospect, there was much that made this race and the 1908 Olympics, covered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for The Daily Mail, a fascinating moment in time.

For starters, the Olympics were still young and struggling. In fact, it wasn’t altogether clear – after a few “flops” – what the future held, so 1908 was a pivotal year for the Games. Adding to the challenge, Rome, which originally was scheduled to be the host, reneged on short notice in order to deal with the aftermath of Mt. Vesuvius’s eruption.

London, therefore, helped save the Games. The centerpiece of its hosting effort was a new 80,000-seat stadium, the first ever built for the modern Olympics. It was located in pasture land in West London known as Shepherd’s Bush and served as an all-in-one venue. Besides the running track, the stadium included a cycling track, a platform for gymnastics and wrestling, and a swimming pool in the infield. While the stadium was state of the art, announcements to the crowd were made using a large megaphone.

The packed stadium made a fitting end point for the marathon, which Pierre de Coubertin, the founding father of the modern Olympics, envisioned as a signature event. At least symbolically, it bridged the modern Games with Greece, where the myth of a war messenger’s valiant long-distance run from Athens to Sparta originated.

Although there was no official marathon distance, that used in London – 26 miles and 385 yards, allowing the race to finish in front of the stadium’s royal box – would become the international standard.  

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