1908 - London

Dorando Pietri at the Marathon finish Olympic Games 1908 LondonWet, long-winded and controversial - the Olympics make their mark in London for the first time·

The 1908 Olympics were originally awarded to Rome but money that would have been spent on the Games was required elsewhere following the 1906 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

London stepped in to take over and built a new 68,000-seat stadium in ten months at a cost of £40,000 at White City to host Games held over a six-month period from the end of April until the end of October.

They turned out to be not only the longest Olympics in history but also certainly the wettest and probably the most contentious in history.

With over 100 events and more than 2,000 competitors the level of competition was high but controversy and national rivalry still left a bitter taste on the Games.

The United States accused the host nation's judges of partiality and the International Olympic Committee announced that it intended to use judges from various nations on future occasions.

The problems started during the opening ceremony, the first official time the athletes marched into the stadium behind their respective national flags. The Americans protested the absence of their flag at the stadium, and the organisers claim they could not find a flag at the right size. The US athletes decided to take part in the opening ceremony procession without lowering their flag before King Edward VIII, as protocol demanded. "This flag dips to no earthly king," discus thrower and flag carrier Martin Sheridan said. And it has not since.

The Americans, at least, got to march with their flag. Finland, then ruled by Russia, could not. Informed they would have to use a Russian flag, the furious Finns elected to march with no flag at all.

The controversy reached its climax in the 400 metres final, where four athletes were running, three from America and one from Britain.  An American was disqualified for obstructing the British athlete. The other two Americans withdrew and Britain's Wyndham Halswelle won the gold medal in a rematch running alone.

However sportsmanship was evident in the final of the middleweight Greco-Roman wrestling between Sweden's Frithiof Martensson and Mauritz Andersson. It was delayed one day to allow Martensson to recover from a minor injury and he duly recovered to be victorious.

There were 21 sports featured in total, including ice-skating, while bicycle-polo featured as a demonstration sport, in which Ireland beat Germany 3-1 in the final.

Once again the marathon proved to be the Games' most memorable event. Laid out over a 26-mile, 365-yard course that stretched from Windsor Castle to finish in front of the royal box at the stadium in Shepherds Bush, the race ended in controversy when leader Dorando Pietri of Italy staggered into the packed stadium, took a wrong turn, collapsed, was helped up by doctors, wobbled and fell three more times before being half-carried across the finish line by race officials. Caught up in the drama of Pietri's agony, the cheering crowd hardly noticed that he was declared the winner just as second place runner, an American Johnny Hayes, entered the stadium.

Pietri was later disqualified in favour of Hayes, but only after British and US officials argued for an hour and fights had broken out in the stands. Queen Alexandra later presented the Italian a special gold cup.

Date Games held: April 27-October 31

Number of nations represented: 44

Number of competitors: 2,023 (44 women)

Number of medal events: 109

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