Sports history sensation: Original kilometre markings from the London 1908 Olympic Marathon for the Marathoneum Berlin
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23
12
2021

AIMS (Association of International Marathons and Distances Races) acquires original kilometre marker of the London Olympic Marathon 1908 - Photo: Distance Running - AIMS

Sports history sensation: Original kilometre markings from the London 1908 Olympic Marathon for the Marathoneum Berlin

By GRR 0

AIMS (Association of International Marathons and Distances Races) acquires original kilometre marker of the London Olympic Marathon 1908

In a short article in the AIMS magazine „Distance Running“ No. 4, 2021 on page 7, one could read under the headline „AIMS acquires an original kilometre sign from the 1908 London Olympic Marathon“ that AIMS has discovered a museum running conundrum and a kilometre sign. This is true British understatement, as the acquisition of this mileage sign is a sports history „sensation“ in itself.

The text of the Distance Running post states:

„In an episode of the BBC series Antiques television show broadcast from Enfield in London in March 2021, they put a 113-year-old cast-iron signpost up for inspection.

It was the „18-mile“ sign from the 1908 London Olympic Marathon, which ran from Windsor Castle to the White City Stadium in west London.

The sign had been discovered by Graham Webster, a running enthusiast and collector of Olympic memorabilia, at a „car boot sale“ in northwest England. It wasn’t even fully visible, as Webster had to get the shopkeeper to retrieve it from the items piled on the floor.

During the broadcast, Webster expressed the opinion that the sign belonged in a museum.

AIMS then approached him (that was Frank Baillie, editor of Distance Running) to see if he would be willing to sell, and the sign was purchased for the AIMS Marathon Museum of Running (= Marathoneum) in Berlin, where it will be displayed.

Frank Baillie has acquired by his initiative and probably also his persuasion a true „treasure“ for the Marathoneum in the Berlin Sports Museum. For one can imagine that now just in London quite other heavyweight applicants were interested in this sport-historical unique specimen.

Now the „Olympic“ London kilometer sign will find its way into the Berlin Sports Museum, which was appointed the official museum of the AIMS organisation at the „9th AIMS World Congress“ in Macau on December 7, 1994, and which has set itself the task of collecting, recording and documenting – and also presenting – the development of the worldwide sport of running, which spans the globe.

The sign was erected 8.2 miles from the finish and bears the „5-diamond“ emblem of the Polytechnic Harriers, the club responsible for organising the race. Such signs were erected all along the course, but the only one previously known to still exist was the „25 miles“ [to go] sign at Eton Bridge.

Contemporary photos show some of the signs attached to tall wooden poles. The 18-mile sign was one of these, and the pole was attached to a bridge over the River Colne at this location. This bridge was destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt afterwards.

The length of this particular race, which was signposted in both miles and kilometers, is significant because it was designated as the marathon standard course 13 years later.

With the official founding of the IAAF in Berlin in 1913, a rules commission was set up to prepare a draft athletics programme for the IOC session in Lyon in 1914. In this draft, the marathon was set at 40,200 meters or 25 miles. However, at the 1914 Olympic Congress in Lyon, the IOC decided to set the distance at 42 km. According to Greek IOC member Alexander Merkati, this was the correct course length – probably because this was the distance run at the 1906 Olympic „Intermediate Games“ in Athens.

Due to local conditions at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, the marathon distance was extended to 42.750 km. This changed course length led to a renewed discussion about the course distance, which was tabled at the IAAF Congress in Geneva in 1921.

On May 27-28, 1921, the responsible IAAF body, the World Records Committee, decided to set the distance of the Olympic marathon according to the London model: 42.195 km = 26 miles, 385 yards!

The original course map of the Olympic Marathon London 1908 – Photo: Picture Archive Forum for Sports History

Another global significance of this London Olympic marathon lay in the dramatic finale that took place in the final metres at the Olympic White City Stadium.

Italian Dorando Pietri, who had led the race since the 24-mile mark, collapsed repeatedly and was helped back to his feet by referee Jack Andrew before reaching the finish line in a final sprint. He finished 32 seconds ahead of American Johnny Hayes, but the Americans lodged a protest and Hayes was awarded the victory.

The sympathy of the public was with Pietro, and Queen Alexandra, who had witnessed Pietri’s desperate struggle in the final stages of the race, awarded him a special commemorative cup.

The race sparked a veritable marathon frenzy, and the repeat runs attracted enormous competitive interest. Pietri and Hayes met in many different venues in the following years, both indoors and outdoors, with the only constant being the distance they had to run.

AIMS is also committed to the history of running. Thus, as early as 2012, AIMS (together with the IAAF) financially supported the preservation of the grave of Michel Bréal, the initiator of the inclusion of the marathon in the Olympic programme in 1896.

The grave of Michel Bréal, which is located in the famous cemetery „Montparnasse“ in Paris, was heavily damaged in recent years and was to be leveled by the cemetery administration.

Bréal’s descendants sought funds to have the grave restored. Shortly before the deadline, AIMS and the IAAF provided the necessary funds. The restoration work began in June 2012 and was completed in November.

The gravesite of Michel Bréal at the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, restored with funds from AIMS and the IAAF.

AIMS also initiated the establishment of the AIMS Symposium in the city of Marathon in cooperation with SEGAS the Greek LA Federation, the Athens Marathon and the city of Marathon.

1st AIMS Marathon Symposium in the city of Marathon – Photo: Horst Milde

Already at the first AIMS-IAAF Symposium on November 3, 2007, in Marathon, AIMS Vice President Paco Borao was presented with a rare copy of the Bréal Trophy – a replica of the honorary prize given to the first winner of the Olympic Marathon in Athens, Spyridon Louis, in 1896.

The original Bréal Cup in the museum in Athens – the victory prize for the marathon Olympic champion of Athens 1896 Spyridon Louis – Photo: Gerd Steins

The copy of the Bréal Cup in Berlin. – Photo: Gerd Steins

The copy of the Bréal Cup was then exhibited in the interim exhibition „Keep on Running“ of the Berlin Sports Museum.

The original Bréal Cup was acquired by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) for €544,000 at Christie’s auction house in London on April 18, 2012, and it is now on permanent display as „National Heritage“ at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens.

To record the history of running and to make it comprehensible to the public is something that AIMS sees as its very own task. That is why the acquisition of the „historic“ London 1908 kilometre sign is an extraordinary enrichment of the Marathoneum’s collection. The London Marathon in particular has shaped marathon running in many ways up to the present day.

Paco Borao, President of AIMS says of the historically valuable acquisition, „As the 40th anniversary of AIMS 2023 approaches, we are very conscious of the history of our running and our responsibility as custodians of that history. As an international long distance running and running organisation, we are proud to have acquired this unique and rare historically-valuable mileage marker from the 1908 London Olympic Marathon for the international running community, and also because it was this particular race that eventually led to the standardisation of the marathon distance (as 26 miles 385 yards, the equivalent of 42.195km).

The AIMS Marathon – Museum of Running (Marathoneum) in Berlin is unique in the world. It is unique because it is an international museum and is also financially supported by AIMS.

AIMS has about 450 members from 120 countries who donate exhibits of their events to the Marathoneum for documentation.

This can range from individual items, such as race numbers or medals, to extensive collections of collectors who have donated their life’s work to the museum.

  • These include, as a „showpiece“, the Dr. David Martin Collection from Atlanta/USA, which came to Berlin in 90 moving boxes across the Atlantic.
  • The Wim Verhoorn Convolute from the Netherlands
  • The Henryk Paskal Convolut (Poland) with among others rare materials from Japan
  • Spyridon Zagaris, Mayor of the City MARATHON – bronzed olive wreath
  • Estate of Charlotte Teske – Boston Marathon winner 1982 and Berlin Marathon winner 1986
  • Estate of Liane Winter – Boston Marathon Winner 1975
  • Convolute by Victah Sailer – New York City
  • Convolute by Chris Lehourities – London
  • Convolute from Allan Steinfeld – NYC and from the New York City Marathon
  • Alain Lunzenfichter convolute – Paris
  • Bodo Tümmler, Berlin – collection OS Mexico 1968 and Munich 1972
  • Katrin Doerre, Erbach – convolute OS Seoul 1988
  • Waldemar Cierpinski, Halle- Convolute OS Montreal 1976
  • and many, many more.

The AIMS Marathon Museum of Running (= Marathoneum) in Berlin „is the „memory and documentation center“ for the worldwide running culture, in order to constantly preserve for later generations the history and development of this global sport discipline – which will not stand still.

This collection contains unique contemporary testimonies and memorabilia of national and international athletics and running history.

The collection is stored in the Berlin Sports Museum on a total of 307 linear metres of shelving in two secure storage rooms. Of this, 35 linear metres of shelving are allotted to running time magazines, 68 linear metres to posters and large images in graphic cabinets, the three-dimensional objects (clothing, prizes, medals, starting numbers, etc.) comprise 170 linear metres of shelving and the David Martin Collection alone occupies 34 linear metres of shelving.

A small cross section of the collection is compiled in the „Marathoneum-Documents 5″

Based on the exhibition „Keep on Running“ of the Marathoneum in Berlin, the culture of running in its historical development and in its significant aspects shall be experienced in an exemplary, educational and meaningful way. This website (Marathoneum.eu) will be launched in English and German in summer 2022. It should be fully online for the 50th Berlin Marathon in September/October 2024.

Thanks to continuous donations from national and international sources, the Marathoneum is developing into an outstanding centre of excellence with international appeal, which is an important flagship of sports and everyday culture for the sports metropolis of Berlin and therefore requires constant political and administrative support.

We are proud and happy what has been handed over and donated to us so far. For this we thank you expressly.

Just as the slogan „keep on running“ is appropriate for any marathon, the same applies to a museum: „keep on collecting“!

Horst Milde                                                      Gerd Steins
AIMS Museum Coordinator                     President Forum for Sports History

Documents and photographs of the London 1908 Olympic Marathon:

Title page of the daily programme for the London Marathon 1908 – Photo: Picture Archive Forum for Sports History

Table with the locations of the markers on the Olympic course in London 1 – 17 miles – Photo: Picture Archive Forum for Sports History

Table with the locations of the markers on the Olympic course in London 18 – 26 miles – Photo: Picture Archive Forum for Sports History

The participants of the marathon race make their way to the start – Illustrated Sport 1910, p. 102, – Picture Archive Forum for Sports History

 

The winner John Hayes (USA). – Illustrated Sport 1910, p. 102, – Picture Archive Forum for Sports History

Finish by Dorando Pietri (Italy), who receives unauthorised push assistance from Jack Andrew. – Illustrated Sport 1910, p. 103, – Picture Archive Forum for Sports History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

author: GRR