It was a world away from isotonic drinks and breath-taking times common-place in modern endurance running, but there was still plenty of daring endeavour when the London Olympic marathon came through Eastcote, Harrow and Pinner in 1908, before a highly dramatic finish at the White City Stadium. SYLVIA VENIS, vice-chairman of the Pinner Local History Society, takes up the story.
IF WE had been alive on the hot summer afternoon of July 24, 1908, we would have been able to witness some of the 55 runners who took part in that year's Olympic marathon.
On their way to the finish at the White City Stadium, they ran through Eastcote, Pinner and Harrow in the longest marathon race to date. The distance had been increased to allow the start to take place at Windsor Castle.
Rumour has it that this change was made to enable the royal children to experience the excitement of the event. Ever since than marathons have been run over a distance of 26 miles, 385 yards or 42.195km.
I recently read an article in Picture Post Monthly entitled 1908 Marathon Centenary and was thrilled to see that the illustrations included a marathon postcard.
Jack Price, who represented Great Britain, set a great pace - he had led the race for 10 or 11 miles but, unfortunately, was unable to keep this up and so dropped out of the race, just outside Park Farm in Field End Road, Eastcote. His support team cycled by him with officials with their mega-phone travelling in a motor vehicle.
As the remaining runners travelled through Pinner they were led by Tom Longboat, from Canada, but by the time they reached the Roxborough Bridge in Harrow it was Italy's Dorando Pietri who was ahead; Longboat had to retire after running 20 miles.
It was interesting to see in one of the magazine's other illustrations that the refreshment booth near the Roxborough Hotel in Harrow was run by OXO.
Accompanied by a great roar from the 90,000 crowd, the Italian, wearing very red shorts, was first to enter the White City Stadium.
By now he was exhausted, which made him somewhat confused and he turned in the wrong direction; however he was soon put back on the right track. Then, as he approached the finish, he staggered and fell at least twice; each time nearby stewards helped him to his feet and with their help he was able to cross the finishing line.
A protest was lodged by the manager of the American team and, on account of the help he had been given, Pietri was disqualified. American Johnny Hayes was declared the winner.
As you can imagine the country and Queen Alexandra were full of sympathy and admiration for Pietri and after he had spent time recovering in hospital he was awarded a special trophy.
Six days after the race, Queen Alexandra presented him with a gold cup in recognition of his courageous effort.
He had entered the stadium well in front of the rest of the runners and was denied victory through the actions of well-meaning helpers. [25a0] This article was reproduced by kind permission of Sylvia Venis, vice-chairman, Pinner Local History Society.For copies of the Pinner Local History Society newsletter call 020 8868 4353.
* The society, which normally meets on the first Thursday of the month, September to May, at Pinner Village Hall, Chapel Lane car park at 8pm, is holding its next meeting on January 8, when Pat Clarke will give a talk on How Middlesex Churches Changed after The Reformation.
* To find out more visit www.pinnerlhs.org.uk