A triumph for the hosts across the board

The 1908 Games closed with a final banquet, held in central London on October 31. Lord Desborough addressed the delegates present, saying that the Olympiad had “brought together from nearly every country of the world a trained body of athletes, who have striven together amicably in what was, I think, the best adapted arena which has ever been constructed for the purpose since the history of athletics began”.

He was right about the amicable nature of the Games and to be proud of the swift construction of the White City Stadium, which would exist until 1985 and – among many other events – would host a World Cup match between Uruguay and France in 1966. Pressed into action at short notice, Great Britain had produced the most vibrant and exciting Games yet, and one that succeeded in breaking a number of social, cultural and historic moulds. The country had also done very well for itself in the medal table, perhaps in a manner commensurate with the large proportion of athletes it had provided. Fifty-six of 110 gold medals, and 146 medals in total, were awarded to the host country, with the USA finishing second in the table with 23 gold medals and a total of 47. On a more pragmatic note, the Games had been profitable for Great Britain to the tune of around £6,000 despite the haste in which they had been arranged.

The athletics section of the Games, which was privileged about all others in the public imagination, had come to an end on 25 July when, according to the Western Times, “there was an enormous gathering for the final scene in the Olympic Games” as a procession of winners passed the Royal Box inside the stadium at 4.30pm – not long after Halswelle’s walkover in the 400m. The procession took place with ‘See the Conquering Heroes Come’ playing in the background as the Queen handed out gold medals. But perhaps the crowning moment of the 1908 Games, the gesture that encapsulated a spirit that survives to this day, was still to come.

“The demonstration of the day was reserved for Dorando Pietri, the disqualified Italian in the marathon race,” said the newspaper. “He advanced to the dais carrying the Italian flag, amid thunderous cheers. The Queen heartily congratulated him in handing him her silver gilt cup.”


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