July 25, 1908 (Friday)
AMERICAN WINS AN UNFORGETTABLE MARATHON IN LONDON, BUT AN ITALIAN STEALS THE SHOW: Today's Times features a big story about American John J. Hayes' victory in the Marathon in the London Olympics. Despite his feat (covering 26 miles 385 yards in 2 hours 55 minutes and change), most attention was on Italian Dorando Pietri. He crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified because he did so with help from others, as shown in the picture above. Today's Times called the race "the most thrilling athletic event that has occurred since that Marathon race in ancient Greece, where the victor fell at the goal and, with a wave of triumph, died. [NOTE: I don't think the story behind the original running dealt with an "athletic event"; I think the runner was a war messenger, right? Anyway...] Suffice it to say that yesterday's Marathon race was unforgettable.
The Times says,
Dorando, an Italian, who was not thought to have a chance at the big event, reached the Stadium in advance of all his competitors in a state of complete exhaustion. Staggering like a drunken man, he slowly tottered down the home stretch. Three times he fell, struggled to his feet, and each time, aided by track officials, he fought his way toward the tape.
That assistance, of course, disqualified him from medal consideration.
(For a Youtube report on the race (not in English), go here.)
Noted writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described the scene this way -- as printed in the New York Times:
I think in that great assembly not any man would have wished to see victory torn at the last instant from the plucky little Italian. Thank God he is on his feet again, the little red legs going incoherently, but drumming, hard driven by the supreme will within. There is a groan as he falls again, a cheer as he restaggers to his feet. It is horrible, yet fascinating, this struggle between a set purpose and an utterly exhausted frame
Surely he is done now; he cannot rise again. from under the archway has darted a second runner, Hayes, the Stars and Stripes on his breast, going gallantly and well within his strength. There are only twenty yards -- if the Italian can do it. He staggers up, no trace of intelligence upon his set face, and again the red legs break into their strange automatic amble. Will he fall again? No, he says, and balances; then he is through the tape into a score of friendly arms. He has gone to the extreme of human endurance. No Roman of prime ever bore himself better; the great breed is not yet extinct.
Doyle did not begrudge the awarding of the medal to Hayes, who is 19 years old and weighs 125 pounds. Doyle wrote:
"I confess I cannot see how the judges could come to any other decision and yet the tragedy remains. It was, as matters stood, a fair and square win for the American, since without help Dorando must have lain senseless on the track."
The Times notes that the race was quite a showing for North America, with U.S. and Canadian runners finishing 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 (out of 58 runners who started).