A website dedicated to athletics literature / The Fourth Olympiad London 1908 (extracts)

The Fourth Olympiad London 1908 (extracts)

Theodore Andrea Cooke (Editor). "The Fourth Olympiad, Being the Official Report of the Olympic Games of 1908, Celebrated in London", 1909.

The author:

Theodore Cook was born in Exmouth, Devon, in 1867 and was educated at King Alfred’s School, Wantage, Oxfordshire (1876-1881), Radley College, Oxfordshire, and Wadham College, Oxford.  At Radley he became Head of School and Captain of Football, and Boats. 

At Wadham College he rowed in the trial eights in 1887 and 1888, winning in both years, and he competed in the University Boat Race of 1889, rowing at No. 3, and weighing in at 12st 2lb. [77.1kg]; but they lost by three lengths against a more experienced Cambridge crew.  Rowing was to be one of his main sports and he later became involved in the organisation of the Henley Royal Regatta, and edited the Amateur Rowing Association's Handbook.

His other main sport was Fencing and he started the Oxford University Fencing Club in 1891, and organised a flamboyant Assault at Arms at the Clarendon Rooms in February 1892 as their inaugural event.  He was non-playing captain of the British Fencing Team in Paris in 1903, and at the Intercalated Olympic Games in Athens 1906, and he served as the British Fencing Association's representative on the British Olympic Council; and it was through this position that he was asked to join the Organising Committee for the 1908 Olympic Games, and helped draft the rules for them.  Cook wrote the introduction to the 1908 Rules and claimed, perhaps rightly, that they were the first rules written specifically to govern international competition in sport.  He was a member of the IOC from 1909 to 1915. 

Theodore Cook was a professional journalist and art critic, but his writing on sport was extensive.  He wrote on rowing, fencing, boxing, horse racing, tobogganing, and ice sports, but he seems to have had no involvement in, or any particular interest in, the sport of Athletics.  He was correspondent for The Standard, Daily Express, St James's Gazette, and the Daily Telegraph (often writing as "An Old Blue"), and after the 1908 Olympic Games he became Editor for the highly influential sporting newspaper, The Field, that claimed to be written by gentlemen for gentlemen. 

The Field continued publication throughout World War I, as a deliberate effort to keep up national morale, but at a financial loss (because of the loss of advertising revenue), and it was thought that it was for this act of national selflessness that he was knighted in 1916 (even though he was not he owner). 

At the 1920 Olympic Games at Antwerp, he won the silver medal for Literature, with a Pindaric-type ode entitled "The Antwerp Olympic Games", which has been described as "sophisticated", "cryptic" and "an extremely sombre and angry work reflecting the scarcely finished 'Great War', the terrible traces of which were visible in the Olympic Stadium".

He died of a heart attack in 1928 at the age of 61.


The place of "The Official Report of the 1908 Olympic Games" in the history of Athletics literature:

It is a large report comprising 794 pages, covering almost every aspect of the 1908 Olympic Games, which were, at that time, the largest and most successful international sporting event ever.  A case could be made for including more than has been copied here, but the selection has been made on the basis of its importance to athletics history only, and not to the more general Olympic history.  This is an essential source, and in many cases as close to the primary data on the 1908 Games as we can now get. 

Here are the results of every athletics heat and final, the rules that governed each event, and in most cases a commentary on that competition.  It should be noted that the 1908 Olympic Games track and field events were conducted under AAA ([English] Amateur Athletic Association) Rules.  Some of the events of these Games are etched deeply into athletic history, most notably the Marathon, in which Pietri Dorando* was disqualified, and the 400m, in which the results of the final were declared void by judges, and which was ordered to be re-run; and which the two USA runners refused to take part in.  These two events are covered in great detail.  There was a great deal of ill feeling in these Games.

Much has been written on why the Marathon distance was settled on 26miles 385 yards (42.195km), and there is considerable information on that here.  It is variously described as being "about 25 Miles (about 40 Kilometres)" long [p. 32], "26 miles 385 yards, or 42.263 kilometres" - kilometre distance corrected by an unknown hand - [p. 68], "The Marathon Race of 42 kilometres" [p. 72], "Marathon Race - 25 Miles (40 kilometres)" [p. 402], and "40 kilometres", [p. 410].

The Rules of the Marathon Race are printed twice (p.72 and p. 410); in them the Marathon distance is referred to as 40 kilometres in one, and 42 kilometres in the other, so there was inevitable doubt and confusion at the time, and the final distance (26 miles 385 yards - 42.195km), was clearly a very late decision. 

Only amateur athletes were permitted to compete in the 1908 Olympic Games.  Amateurism was the Great Idea of the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century but, by 1908, it was also proving to be the Big Problem of the age.  From the very early days of the Amateur Athletic Club's definition in 1866, the wording of the amateur definition changed, changed back, was revised, re-written, added to, etc. until, by 1908, the Official Report of the Olympic Games felt it necessary to print 34 definitions of an amateur, as used by 34 different associations and committees in different sports and around the world.  Defining an amateur was one of the longest, most protracted, and troublesome tasks confronting the administrators of sport, and in the 1908 Olympic Games competitors had to meet no fewer than eight criteria related to amateurism, as passed at the IOC's Hague Conference in 1907.  

"Amateurism" was an immensely complex issue, and it is now very easy to ridicule, and to accuse those who espoused it and administered it as being petty, vindictive, or just plain wrong-headed.  And it is certainly true that many were treated harshly if it was thought they had transgress, even if they were naive, or young, or simply accepted money or expenses without which they could not have competed at all.  The amateur world has been described by its critics as a system set up by the privileged to exclude those who did not share their privileges - a sort of closed gentleman's club.  But people saw amateurism and the principles that drove it quite differently, and what it meant to, say, the athletes of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, or the London Athletic Club, was very different from the way that a working-class athlete from the north of England might view it, or a Scot.  There was more than a hint of English class conflict in the AAA's rules on Amateurism.  But in 1908, the USA contingent contained people who also felt differently about it, as did many Germans, Irish, Australians, and others - their societies, cultures and history were different from the prevailing English one, and different from each other's, and so was their understanding of the nuances of amateurism and its implications in different countries.  Amateurism was never one thing - it was always different things to different people.

In the 21st century there are those who never experienced this amateur world, and wonder why athletes would work so hard and sacrifice so much for no financial reward of any kind.  But the amateurs, right up to the mid 20th century, would prize and guard their amateur status as men of an earlier age would prize and guard their honour - also virtually impossible to understand by those who were not there.  But we must not dismiss amateurism and those who fought to uphold it too easily.  It was not only the Great Idea of the late 19th century - it remained its Great Idea for more than a century, and it drove the previously unthought-of spread of sport around Britain and the world.  Much of what we know of as sport today, and how it is still organised, comes from the expansion and development of sport in this century-long amateur era.  I lived my competitive life under the amateur rules, and disliked them and wished them gone, but with a closer reading of this phenomenon and with the benefit of time and distance, it becomes clear that those who created the amateur movement and those who fought to preserve it, were not merely creating a self-serving club of fellow gentlemen, or keeping money at bay in some knee-jerk way; they had a vision of what they thought sport should be, and what part it should play in men's lives (sadly, "men" is the correct word here - they did not consider women), and they thought it was important enough to fight for and preserve. 

They were certainly fearful of the corrupting influence of money in sport, and they were fearful of the corrupting influence of gambling on athletes; fearing that men might choose to lose, or not to try, if the money was 'right'.  To them the idea of "may the best man win" had an almost sacred core.  It must never be "may the best-paid man win", or "may the man with the best resources win".  There was something close to the spirit of Muscular Christianity in the early English notions of amateurism.  It was almost spiritual.  At its heart, amateurism was about fair, open and equal competition and, to them, money threatened to make sport less equal, less open and ultimately less fair.  In a later age we might describe it as a belief in the "level playing-field", but it was even more than that; it was about sport having a personal value and they believed that sport had the potential to enrich a person's life through honest striving and toil, by pitting oneself against others who did the same - what they hated most was sport becoming a business, and a burden to those in it; at which point, they thought, sport had lost its way. 

Perhaps the best summary of what amateurism meant to those who created it can be summed up in the words of Lady Clarence Paget who gave out the prizes after the Civil Service Athletic sports in 1865.  Slightly misquoting Rosalind's words to Orlando in Shakespeare's As You Like It, she spoke to the athletes who had just competed, and said to them, "Sir, you have wrestled well, and have overcome more than your enemies".

If sport was essentially about the nobility of striving, and the personal rewards that comes from having done one's best in fair and equal competition, the "win at all costs" mentality was to be confronted and defeated, as was money and gambling, but in 1908, and for a dozen years before, the English athletic establishment were coming to the view that a "win at all costs" mentality was not only present in some parts of their sport, it was actually the driving philosophy behind some of its greatest successes - notably in the USA.

Different attitudes and values could be found in many different parts of the world, and the underlying principles of amateurism were not thought to be the same everywhere, and the differences, often unspoken, were to make mutual understanding impossible.  1908 brought many of these differences to a head.  To the Americans, the traditional Englishman's attitudes to athletics were old-fashioned, and demonstrated a weakness and a softness that was incompatible with success at the highest level.  To one type of traditional Englishman, striving to "win at all costs" turned sport into a ruthless, hostile, ugly, environment that undermined men's basic respect for each other.  The British and American contingents increasingly spoke different sporting languages.

It is, of course, unfair to characterise all Englishmen, or all Americans, as holding one unified view; there were pockets of internal criticism within each camp, but, bit by bit, in Britain as elsewhere, one view came to be seen as "progressive", and the other as "old-fashioned", and the attitudes of the New World were soon to be pursued in the Old. 

But a new problem had appeared on the horizon at the 1908 Olympic Games.  Rule 4 of the Marathon race, was as follow -

                                                     No competitor at the start or during the progress of the race may take or receive
                                                     any drug. The breach of this rule will operate as an absolute disqualification.

In many ways, this, the first anti-doping rule, was a logical extension of the fight to keep the sport amateur.  Taking a drug to improve your performance was an expression of "winning at all costs"; it was the very antithesis of toiling honourably, or of earning the respect of your fellow competitors.  There was no nobility in improving your performances with drugs.  Although, not directly related to money, it was a logical extension of the philosophy that developed amateur sport.  What is the point of sport?  And at what point does it become indefensible?

To us in the 21st century, doping has become our Big Problem; and the number-one task of sports' administrators seems to be to extend, and strengthen sports battle against it.  It is the new battle for the soul of athletics, and the 21st century's battle against the "win at all costs" mentality.  Perhaps we can now better understand the zeal of those who fought their battles in an earlier age. 

The IAAF Values Commission is the latest attempt by the sport of athletics to define what its values are, in the same way that the Definition of an Amateur were the sports' first.  To all external appearances the first attempts were about money (i.e. not earning any of it from sport), but in reality it was about values.  The athletes of the AAC in 1866 wanted to compete only with their peer-group from the Oxford and Cambridge universities, officers from the army, members of the Civil Service, the bar, and the rowers who set similar standards, not merely because of the money involved, but because they believed that such a group would have the same values as themselves.  The constant tinkering with the definition of an amateur, shows, however, that things were never as simple as that.  Any attempt subsequently, to find common ground between athletes from different backgrounds, in terms of their shared values, has proved to be as elusive as finding the rainbow's end.  It is not a problem unique to athletics; cricket has wrestled with The Spirit of The Game for years - with much talk and little apparent result.  Time will tell whether the Values Commission will achieve a more lasting effect than did the early efforts to define an amateur or discourage the use of drugs by establishing rules to forbid them, as they did in 1908.

The text:

We have selected the following -

- The list of events (each country could enter 12 competitors per event)

- A description of each event in the order they appeared in the programme, with brief comments.  For example, in the Heats of the 100m, "won by 2 yards", and "H.T. Philips, South Africa, broke down after going half a dozen yards", but more detail of the Second Round, and even more of the Final.  In the 400m H we learn that "Groenings might have done better . . . had he not had lumbago"!  These comments continue through all the events.  For the disputed 400m, the Report prints all the submissions from the starter, umpires, referee, and judges regarding the declaration that the first running of the Final was declared void.  13 pages are devoted to the Marathon - far more than for any other event, including submissions about Tom Longboat's ineligibility.

- The distribution of medals by HRH Queen Alexandra, plus her special presentation of a gold cup to Pietri Dorando, "In Remembrance of the Marathon Race". 

- The programme of Athletic Events

- The Rules and Conditions of Competition that governed entries and the competitions in all the events.

- Appendix E - Definitions of an Amateur - nineteen pages of various definitions of an amateur in use in other sports and around the world.  If anything illustrates the complexity of this topic, surely it is this.

- Within the text there are the following photographs -

                        The stadium (plus a plan of the stadium)

                        Kerr winning the 200m

                        Start of the 1,500m Final

                        Sheppard winning the 1,500m Final

                        Smithson, winner of the 110m H

                        Bacon and Hillman in the 400mH

                        Water Jump in the Steeplechase

                        Voigt, winner of the Five Miles

                        Start of the 3,500m Walk

                        The Marathon.  HRH the Princess of Wales at the start.

                        The Marathon.  Dorando* coming through Willesden.

                        The Marathon.  Hayes at Willesden.

                        The Marathon.  Hefferson coming through Ruislip.

                        Ewry winning the Standing LJ

                        Irons winning the running LJ

                        Gilbert tied for 1st place in the PV

                        Flanagan's Hammer

                        Rose Putting the Weight

                        UK team (City of London Police), winners of tug-of-war.

                        Wilson, Robertson, Deakin, and Coales, winning heat of 3-Mile Team Race

                        Sheridan, winner of the Discus (Greek Style).

                        Duchess of Westminster distributing Diplomas

                        Halswelle receiving his Gold Medal (400m)

                        Challenge cups.

                        North end of the stadium, 24 July 1908.

                        Queen Alexandra presenting Dorando* with a gold cup.

                        After Walker's victory (100m)

                        After Kerr's victory (200m).

* NB.  Pietri Dorando is now often referred to as Dorando Pietri.  This report makes it clear that Pietri was his first name and Dorando was his family name.  Perhaps this error crept in because of the 1908 Report referring to him as "Dorando, Pietri" in the results (p. 79).  All others were referred to as "J.J. Haynes", "C. Hefferson", "J. Forshaw", etc. 

Peter Radford / 2015

Bibliographic details:


The Fourth Olympiad London 1908 (extracts)

Extract Details:

Title Page
Photograph of the stadium on July 24th, 1908 [p.13]
Plan of the Stadium [p.14]
Chapter lll. Programme and Prizes. [p.32]
Athletics. [pp. 49-99 inc.]
Chapter Vl. The Distribution of the Gold Medals. [pp. 368-372 inc.]
Chapter lX. Athletics: Programme, Rules and Conditions. [pp. 402-411 inc.]
Appendix E. Defnitions of an Amateur [pp. 761-779 inc.]


The British Olympic Council

Place of Publication:


Date of Publication:


BL Catalogue:

General Reference Collection 07906.de.38

"An Athletics Compendium" Reference:

A5 p.69


We use cookies to personalise and enhance your experience on our site and improve the delivery of ads to you. Visit our Cookie Policy to learn more. By clicking 'accept', you agree to our use of cookies.