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Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: 3 runners who helped save the Olympics

by David Davis | Off-Ramp

London Olympics, 1908: Johnny Hayes churns toward the Olympic Stadium

In Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: the 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners who Launched a Sporting Craze, LA-based sportswriter David Davis tells the now largely forgotten story of American Johnny Hayes, Canadian Tom Longboat, and Italian Dorando Pietri, the most famous runners in the world in their time. Their rivalry in the run-up to, during, and after the 1908 Olympics in London created a marathon craze, and helped ensure the fledgeling Olympic movement survived World War One. Here's an excerpt from David Davis' book:

The earliest practitioners of the marathon race ... were pioneers of endurance. They were seen as super-human or crazed or both. They had to be in order to survive roads so dusty that their lungs were clogged; shoes so thin that mere slips of leather separated their bloodied feet from rocky, uneven surfaces; training methods so archaic as to invite permanent physical damage... At the 1908 Olympics in London, when all of about 50 marathons had ever been raced, a man collapsed and almost died in front of 80,000 stunned spectators, including the Queen of England. The moment turned Dorando Pietri, from Italy, into one of the most famous athletes in the world... Two of Dorando's opponents, Johnny Hayes and Tom Longboat, became equally famous. An Irish-American lad straight out of the tenements of New York City, Hayes was a Horatio Alger character sprung to life, championed by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt. Tom Longboat's record-smashing victories and controversial losses made him the most legendary Canadian athlete until Wayne Gretzky came along... Their legacy can be found in the exuberant spirit of contemporary marathoning, a global phenomenon that attracts elite athletes and weekend warriors alike, and one that inspires all of us to keep moving.
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