Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vol. 4 No. 84 Showdown at Sheperd's Bush and a great photo website

Nov. 11, 2014

After a lot of frustration trying to do a post on Olympians who have died in war, and partially giving up in frustration until I can sit down and start over completely, I've decided to let you in on a good photo website and review a book about the 1908 Olympic marathon.   Let's start with the book.

Showdown at Shepherd's Bush, The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze  by David Davis   Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, New York 2012, 308 pages.

Not having heard or read a review of this book, it was one of those pleasant benefits of browsing one's local library that brought this work to my attention.   David Davis has done quite a good bit of research to prepare writing this book.  There are almost fifty pages of acknowledgements, notes, and bibliography which themselves are most valuable reading, not to mention the main text.

Shepherd's Bush was the site of the new Olympic Stadium constructed on very short notice in London after Italy withdrew from sponsoring the 1908 Olympics.  The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius created enough of a disaster in Italy, that the Italians threw up their hands and abandoned their commitment to hosting the games.   England took things in stride and put together a stadium with a 660 yard velodrome, surrounding a 581 yard (3 laps to the mile) track with a swimming pool in the infield that was ready for the start of the games.   The early days of the Olympic movement were less than idyllic and possibly near abandonment after two disastrous games in St. Louis and Paris.  The St. Louis event was described rightfully as more of a side show for aboriginal and anthropological games, more resembling  a circus  side show than an international sports event.

International athletics (track and field for Americans) was still in its infancy, and the games went under local British rules which caused several major 'misunderstandings' between overbearing American officialdom and British aristocratic loftiness.  James Sullivan representing the American interests at the Athletics competitions was constantly at odds with the effete hosts.  The 400 meters was the main event of contention when John Carpenter, the American winner, was disqualified for moving and interfering with his British counterpart to the point that they both ended up in the outside lane at the finish of the race which was run without benefit of lane lines.   British officials disqualified  Carpenter and ordered that the race be run over the next day.  Under protest Sullivan refused to allow the other two Americans to run and the race was conceded to Wyndham Halswelle the British champion.  Halswelle would die in WWI.

The meet had already been a great frustration to the English hosts as the Americans had claimed the majority of victories on the track and in the field.  In fact the rest of the world was all but unacknowleged here as the results looked more like a triangular meet between the British, Americans and the Italians.

That led to the running of the Marathon the following day.  Indeed this was where the 26 mile 385 yard distance in marathoning was determined by the course layed out by the organizers beginning in the garden at Windsor Castle where the Princess of Wales and her children could watch the start.
There had been a lot of pre-race excitement about  the event as marathoning of distances in the 20-25 mile range had become of major interest to the public and especially the gamblers.  Three men were listed as favorites,  Dorando Pietri of Italy, Johnny Hayes, of the US,  and Tom Longboat of Canada.    The race ended in the famous collapse of Dorando Pietri on the track and his being assisted by officials and eventually disqualified with Johnny Hayes declared the winner.   Longboat, the overwhelming favorite dropped out.   But this led to future races being set up between the three to determine time and again who indeed was the greatest long distance runner of the day.

David Davis brings this story to life with a clear set of skills that draw the reader into the story of each of the three men from childhood, to mature runner, to eventual downfall of all three.  There is much discussion of 'managers' in those times  who acted much like today's modern 'agents', gambling, amateurism, doping which allow the reader to do a lot of on site comparisons to modern marathon running.   I can enthusiastically recommend this book to those with an interest in history both social and sportive.

Now to the photo website.   This site was found when I was looking for pictures of hurdle races in the early twentieth century.


It belongs to the Boston Public Library which safeguards its rights to the photos of Leslie Jones (1886-1967).   The pictures mostly taken on large format 4x5 inch glass plate negatives are of such high quality that they truly bring the past back to life.  I've had problems downloading them and posting them on this blog, so I leave it up to you to go to the above site and browse through them yourself.  You will find incredible pictures of Glenn Cunningham, Frank Wykoff, Eulace Peacock, Jesse Owens, Paavo Nurmi, Edvin Wide, Harrison Dillard, and  many others.   There are over 200 pictures.  Many of them are of high school events, but the quality of the pictures at all venues indicates the interest in the sport of this great photographer.   Photos run from the 1920s to the 1950s.   Most are from the Boston area.   There are a lot taken at the Harvard track including from the ICAAAA meet when it included the West Coast universities.    The only criticism is that whoever put the pictures online was not able to identify many of the individuals in those pictures.  Luigi Beccali the 1932 Olympic 1500 champion is not properly identified.  Further research indicated that a partial Italian team ran  a meet against Harvard with a few 'all stars' thrown into the mix.  Mainly New England lads but one miler Ivan Fuqua from Indiana University.   Go to:



 It will take a major expert to ID even the best known athletes.    Go to and enjoy.

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