Sports journalist Davis recounts an influential and largely forgotten chapter in Olympic lore.
As the Summer Olympics, and all the attendant pomp and circumstance, prepare to return to London in 2012, this book serves as a reminder of the event’s less-glamorous origins and of a race that helped change its history. Tracing the beginnings of both the modern games and the modern marathon race, Davis focuses on three runners: pre-race favorite Tom Longboat, a Native American running for Canada, the largely unknown Italian pastry cook Dorando Pietri, and the scrappy Irish-American Johnny Hayes. The race became a sensation after a controversial finish, sparking a marathon craze and helping establish the Olympics as the headline-making international gala it is today. Davis has a great story to work with, and he does a solid job bringing it to life. He is assisted by the colorful characters of the athletes, Longboat in particular, and others, including United States Olympic Committee member James Sullivan, whose repeated claims of poor sportsmanship by the British hosts helped stir controversy and interest, and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, whose reporting on the race helped turn it into instant legend and Pietri into an international star. The author argues convincingly that if the 1908 Games had not been a success, the Olympics might not have continued and certainly would not have taken their current form. The same can also be said for the marathon, now a major event around the world, whose distance was first established by the 1908 Olympic course.
A valuable addition to the history of the Olympics and distance running.