As it turned out, Longboat, the pre-race favorite and an Onondaga Indian who hadn’t lost a race longer than 15 miles in thee years, dropped out well before the finish. Pietri was the first into the stadium. Confused, he began to circle the track in the wrong direction and had to be redirected. Exhausted, he collapsed on the cinders fives times, causing such concern that medical attendants came to his aid. Revived just enough, he staggered, accompanied by a phalanx of nonrunners, to victory – or so it appeared.
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.