'08 memorable for helping hands Aid to marathoner Pietri would go down in books

Olympiads in review

March 10, 1996|By Bob Herzog | Bob Herzog,NEWSDAY

As part of the countdown to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a chronological look at past Olympiads is appearing each Sunday.

The road to London for the 1908 Olympics was indeed paved with good intentions. Rome had been the original host city, but backed out after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906.

Forced to get its Olympic act together in just two years, London responded admirably by staging the first truly worldwide Games. More than 2,000 athletes from 23 nations participated, and among the "firsts" of that Olympiad was an opening ceremony for all athletes at a packed stadium.

It was also the first Olympics to be filmed, a discovery made by today's official Olympic filmmaker, Bud Greenspan. He was in London working on his series, "The Olympiad," in the mid-1970s when he struck paydirt.

"I discovered film of the 1908 Games in an old attic, perfectly preserved," Greenspan said recently. "When I saw the canister marked '1908 Olympics,' it was like finding the Rosetta stone."

Greenspan's discovery allowed the world to see footage of perhaps the most incredible marathon in Olympics history.

On a warm, muggy day, the favored Brits dropped out one by one as South African Charles Heffernan and Italy's Dorando Pietri staged a spirited battle for the lead. Shockingly, about two miles from the finish, Heffernan reportedly accepted champagne from a fan, became dizzy and faded from the lead.

That left only an American, John Hayes, to chase Pietri, now the favorite of a decidedly anti-American crowd. Pietri entered Shepherd's Bush Stadium first to a tremendous ovation. But with one lap to go, the heat got to him.

Clearly visible on the black-and-white film is Pietri staggering the wrong way, getting redirected by officials, then falling to the ground. Officials helped him to his feet, not only in the interest of sportsmanship but also out of genuine fear for his health.

As the crowd roared in support of Pietri's courage, the 22-year-old candy maker from Capri collapsed several more times before struggling across the finish line first, in the arms of an official.

The Italian flag was raised on the victory pole just as Hayes, a sporting goods clerk at Bloomingdale's in New York, finished. American officials promptly protested that Pietri had received illegal help. The protest was upheld and Hayes was awarded the gold medal.

But the Pietri story didn't end there, according to Greenspan.

"Not only did I discover the film from the 1908 Olympics, but I also found a living witness, Joe Deakin, who was a gold medalist for Great Britain in the three-mile relay that year," Greenspan said.

"He was in his late '80s and still running when I interviewed him on the track [in 1974]. He told me he was at the finish line of the marathon. He said the reason Dorando Pietri staggered into the stadium wasn't just that he was exhausted, but because Italian fans had given him Chantilly [a wine] along the way, and he was drunk."

1908 Games

Site: London

Dates: April 27-Oct. 31

Men: 1,999

Women: 36

Nations: 23

Medal leaders: .......... G .......... S ........ B ......... T

England ................. 56 ......... 50 ....... 39 ........ 145

United States ........... 23 ......... 12 ....... 12 ........ 47

Sweden .................. 8 .......... 6 ........ 11 ........ 25

France .................. 5 .......... 5 ........ 9 ......... 19

Germany ................. 3 .......... 5 ........ 5 ......... 13

Hungary ................. 3 .......... 4 ........ 2 ......... 9

Canada .................. 3 .......... 3 ........ 10 ........ 16

Norway .................. 2 .......... 3 ........ 3 ......... 8

Italy ................... 2 .......... 2 ........ 0 ......... 4

Belgium ................. 1 .......... 5 ........ 2 ......... 8

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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