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London 1908 - Key Moments

ESPN staff
October 12, 2011
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Eric Lemming won gold in the javelin © PA Photos
The Olympic ideal is given a new dimension
The image of the Games was restored from April 27 to October 31 within the stadium of White City in London, on the fringes of the Anglo-French exhibition commemorating the Entente Cordial. These Olympics permitted a new dimension to be added to the Games.

Some 2,000 athletes representing 22 countries took part in the official procession in front of the Royal Family. Yet the Games were not initially destined for London, but for Rome. In 1906, the Italian capital, given the task of organising the event - much to the delight of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, president of the International Olympic Committee - pulled out without giving any explanation. Great Britain subsequently stepped in and was able to organise the competition within two years.

Britain plunders
On the subject of results, the Americans, led by middle-distance king Mel Sheppard, demonstrated their supremacy in the track and field events. But at home, the British managed to win the most important medals among those distributed throughout the 22 sports: 145 (56 gold), against the Americans' total of 47.

If the London Games turned out to be a success, despite an almost constant downpour of rain, then the absence of fair play among certain stewards and referees did further dampen the Olympic spirit. Once again, the marathon attracted scandal: The winner, Italian Dorando Pietri, was disqualified by judges who, a few minutes earlier, had helped him cross the finish line.

This at once made headlines in the national media. But thanks to the marathon (whose course went through Windsor Castle and White City, and which was disputed over a distance of 42.195 kilometers), and thanks to some good organisation and a veritable sporting interest (numerous events and plenty of athletes), the Games ended with the result that the Olympic ideal became more recognised and appreciated.

Ewry, "the rubber man"
Sports fans and enthusiasts can be forgiven if they have never heard of a turn-of-the-century track and field star who, in four consecutive Olympics (including the Intercalated Games in 1906), succeeded in picking up ten gold medals.

That Raymond Ewry took part in events that are no longer practiced should not deflect from the amazing feats he achieved in numerous events from the standing high jump to the standing triple jump.

But what makes Ewry's Olympic success even more poignant is the fact that, since contracting polio as a young child and being threatened with spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he battled to realise his dream of excelling on the field of competition.

From the wheelchair to Olympic gold
Born on Octotber 18, 1873, in Lafayette, Ewry soon was nearly debilitated. It looked like an Olympic triple was the last thing he would win.

But with a spirit that defied the odds, the man, who consequently would smash preconceived mental and physical barriers, launched a personal campaign against his illness.

He began exercising on his own, finally regaining the use of his legs. Soon, he was able to leave the confines of his wheelchair.

It was in 1900 in Paris that 27-year-old Ewry let the results of years of difficult, painful training move to the fore.

On July 16, he promptly swept the board in the standing events: high jump (world record), long jump and triple jump.

Four years later in his home country, in the city of St Louis, he repeated the feat, defending all his Olympic titles and setting a world record in the standing long jump. His amazing versatility and determination to succeed afforded him the nickname "the rubber man".

In 1906 and 1908, the triple jump was eliminated from the Olympic programme, and Ewry had to settle for double victories in the long jump and high jump.

After 1912, the standing events were eliminated from the Games - shortly after the inspiring Ewry had retired from competition.

He died on September 27, 1937, at the age of 63.

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