A superb look at an iconic moment of early Olympic history,
This review is from: The Marathon Makers (Hardcover)
The marathon is an iconic distance. Every year several million tough souls hit the tarmac and try to grab their own slice of personal glory on the roads of big cities, national parks, hot deserts, or mountain trails. For most, it is a personal race. For the elite few, glory awaits.
It was ever thus in every sporting contest. In the pioneering days of Olympic sport however, the marathon competitors were not as finely honed as the machines we see competing today. They were phenomenal athletes of course, that could never be denied, but there was a sense of the haphazard about it when looking back with the benefit of twenty-first century hindsight.
The most infamous Olympic Marathon story of all is without doubt the race that took place in London in 1908. The famous photograph of Italian Dorando Pietri stumbling and staggering towards the finish line, a handkerchief on his head, and a collection of well-intentioned officials surrounding him, is one of the most dramatic Olympic images ever taken.
This wonderful book tells the tale of that 1908 Olympic Marathon by looking at the contrasting lives and fortunes of its main protagonists; Dorando Pietri and the American Johnny Hayes, who finished second but ended up the gold medal winner.
It makes for a fascinating read, as Bryant brings the distant past to life with great detail about the lives of the two men, and also the Scottish sprinter Wyndham Halswelle who ended up in another argument with officialdom in those 1908 games.
Bryant intertwines the developing back story of both main men so that we get to know them both gradually in the build up to the big day. But he also looks at what happened afterwards – not just the immediate aftermath, but the course their lives took in the years to come.
This isn’t just a book for runners or those seeking marathon inspiration. As a record of a significant incident, and indeed period, in sporting history this book gives an insight into the developing Olympic Games; a concept that was only a few years old at this point and was seeking to establish its position in the world. The arguments that developed, the precedents set and the drama that unfolded all helped to shape the Olympic Games going forward. Expertly told and a real education.