1908 Summer Olympics


Competition type Olympic Games
Number and Year IV / 1908
Host city London, Great Britain (Venues)
Opening ceremony 13 July
Closing ceremony 25 July
Competition dates 27 April – 31 October
OCOG British Olympic Council, 1908
Participants 2025 from 23 countries
Medal events 110 in 24 disciplines
Other events 3 in 3 disciplines


In 1906, Mt. Vesuvius erupted near Napoli. The Italian government felt it needed the money to rebuild the area around the volcano and asked that the 1908 Roma Olympics be relocated. Actually, the Italians had made that decision sometime before the volcanic eruption, because of economic problems in Italy, and Vesuvius was merely a convenient excuse to ask that the 1908 Olympic Games be relocated. London gladly accepted and Roma would wait another 52 years for a second chance.

The 1908 Olympics were by far the best organized to date. They also had the most international field of any Olympics yet held. By now the Olympics were becoming “known” to the world and athletes everywhere wanted to compete, and managed to find ways to do so. Still, the Games, though superbly run, are often known for multiple political arguments and other bickering that occurred.

The problems began at the Opening Ceremony. The Swedish and United States flags did not fly over the stadium, as the organizers stated they could not find them. This so infuriated the Swedes that when a dispute arose over wrestling rules later in the Games, they threatened to withdraw from the competition. The Finns marched in the ceremony without a flag. They were a territory of Russia in 1908, but Russia allowed them to compete separately, provided they did so under the Russian flag. The Finns, in protest, marched under no flag.

The Americans were upset with the British from the very beginning. Many of the American athletes were Irish emigrés, who opposed the British treatment of the Irish. The American flag at the Opening Ceremony was carried by Ralph Rose, not Johnny Garrels or Martin Sheridan as often listed (a picture of Rose in Outing Magazine exists and supports this fact). Rose was a massive shot putter and a close friend of many of the so-called “Irish Whales”, Irish-American weight-throwers such as Sheridan, John Flanagan, Pat McDonald, and Paddy Ryan. Rose, unlike the other flagbearers, refused to dip the American flag as he marched past King Edward VII. Legend has it that Sheridan, when asked the reason this occurred, stated, “This flag dips to no earthly king!”

Other major controversies erupted in the 400 metres and the tug-of-war. The 400 metres final was contested by Britain’s Wyndham Halswelle and three Americans, among them John Carpenter of Cornell. Carpenter entered the home straight with Halswelle at his shoulder. At this point, Carpenter, in order to prevent Halswelle from passing him, moved progressively farther towards the outside of the track, forcing Halswelle to within 18 inches of the outside curb. Carpenter was immediately disqualified and the race was ordered to be re-run. But the two remaining Americans, John B. Taylor and William Robbins, refused to compete again, feeling that the disqualification was not justified, and the American officials protested the decision, to no avail. Two days later, Halswelle ran by himself to win the 400 metre gold medal in a walkover.

In an early round of the tug-of-war the American pullers faced a British team made of members of the Liverpool Police. The Liverpudlians won easily in the first pull, but the Americans protested, claiming that the British constables’ footwear was illegal. Standard shoewear was required but the Americans thought the Liverpool Police shoes were specially built up for traction. This protest was also disallowed and the Liverpool team continued to the final, where they lost to a group of London Police officers.

The most memorable event of the 1908 Olympics was the marathon. The race was to start at Windsor Castle so that Queen Alexandra’s grandchildren could watch the beginning. The distance from there to the finish line at the Shepherd’s Bush stadium was 26 miles, 385 yards. This was the first time this distance was chosen for a marathon and it later became the standard.

The leader for most of the second half of the race was Dorando Pietri, a candymaker from Capri, Italy, but when Pietri entered the Stadium, he was totally exhausted. Like a drunken sailor, he staggered and fell several times before the finish line. He also turned in the wrong direction twice during the last lap. Officials, urged on by sympathetic fans, helped him to his feet and directed him the finish line. He finished the race first and was declared the winner.

Johnny Hayes of the United States then entered the stadium and finished just behind Pietri. An immediate protest was lodged and Pietri was disqualified. The next day, the British had a special trophy made for Pietri, and it was presented to him in the stadium by the Queen. In the United States, a young songwriter was so taken by the story that he wrote his first song hit. “Dorando, Dorando, he’s a good-a-for-not…” was the first line of that song by Irving Berlin.

At the closing banquet at the end of the 1908 Olympics, British IOC Member, the Reverend Robert de Courcy Laffan closed with the prescient speech, “The Olympic movement was one with great ideals – the perfect physical development of a new humanity, the spreading all over the world of the spirit of sport, which was the spirit of the truest chivalry, and the drawing together of all the nations of the earth in the bonds of peace and mutual amity. They were at the beginning of one of those great world movements which was going to develop long after all present had passed away.”

Bid process

The 1908 Olympic Games were awarded to Roma (Italy) at the 6th IOC Session in London on 22 June 1904. The other candidates had been Berlin (Germany) and Torino (Italy).

At the 8th IOC Session during the 1906 Intercalated Olympic Games in Athina, Count Eugenio Brunetta d’Usseaux, advised the IOC members that because of the erruption of Mount Vesuvius, Roma no longer had the financial resources to host the 1908 Olympics. But in reality, the decision had been taken sometime before the volcanic eruption. Baron de Coubertin then turned to London (Great Britain). On 19 November 1906, the British Olympic Council sent a letter agreeing to host the 1908 Olympic Games.


Officially opened by Edward VII, King of the United KingdomGBRKing
Flagbearers Full list

Medal Disciplines

Archery Football Rugby
Artistic Gymnastics Hockey Sailing
Athletics Jeu De Paume Shooting
Boxing Lacrosse Swimming
Cycling Track Motorboating Tennis
Diving Polo Tug-Of-War
Fencing Racquets Water Polo
Figure Skating Rowing Wrestling

Other Disciplines

Bicycle Polo Fencing Glíma

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain GBR 56 51 39 146
United States USA 23 12 12 47
Sweden SWE 8 6 11 25
France FRA 5 5 9 19
Germany GER 3 5 5 13
Hungary HUN 3 4 2 9
Canada CAN 3 3 10 16
Norway NOR 2 3 3 8
Italy ITA 2 2 0 4
Belgium BEL 1 5 2 8
Australasia ANZ 1 2 2 5
Russian Federation RUS 1 2 0 3
Finland FIN 1 1 3 5
South Africa RSA 1 1 0 2
Greece GRE 0 3 1 4
Denmark DEN 0 2 3 5
Bohemia BOH 0 0 2 2
Netherlands NED 0 0 2 2
Austria AUT 0 0 1 1

Most successful competitors

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Henry Taylor GBR 3 0 0 3
Mel Sheppard USA 3 0 0 3
Ben Jones GBR 2 1 0 3
Oscar Swahn SWE 2 0 1 3
Martin Sheridan USA 2 0 1 3
Arthur Wentworth Gore GBR 2 0 0 2
Clarrie Kingsbury GBR 2 0 0 2
John Field-Richards GBR 2 0 0 2
Bernard Redwood GBR 2 0 0 2
Thomas Thornycroft GBR 2 0 0 2
Gaston Alibert FRA 2 0 0 2
Jenő Fuchs HUN 2 0 0 2
Albert Helgerud NOR 2 0 0 2
Paul Radmilovic GBR 2 0 0 2
George Larner GBR 2 0 0 2
Eric Lemming SWE 2 0 0 2
Ray Ewry USA 2 0 0 2

All medalists at these Games