Friday, July 20, 2012

Flashback Friday: Strychnine Doping

The opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics kicks off next week in London. Two weeks from today, we running bloggers will have picked our favorites for the running events that start Aug. 3. Will Usain Bolt repeat his brilliance from 2008? Will Lolo Jones hurdle her way to Virgin Olympic Gold? Will an American finish in the top three in the marathon? Let the games begin!

Here at Flashback Friday, however, we look to the past, but first let's hop-skip forward to next Tuesday. July 24 will mark the 104th anniversary of the 1908 Olympic marathon, which also took place in London. The men's-only race would prove to be major turning point in the history of the marathon and sports in general.

The 1908 marathon was the first time the race was measured at the now-standard 26 miles, 385 yards. It was the measured that way so that the royal family could have a better view of both the start and finish of the race. (The start was moved inside grounds of Windsor Castle and the finish was designed to finish in front of Queen Alexandria's viewing box.)

Back then, it wasn't a stupid question to ask how far the marathon was, as the race varied between 24 and 27 miles from event to event.

The marathon was held on the last full day of the 1908 Olympics. By reports, it was of course a staggeringly (literally) hot day. It was so dramatic that Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was hired to report on the event. His account was republished all around the world

The iconic photograph of the staggering Dorando Pietri being helped to the finish line marks the first action photograph to capture the climax of a sporting event. Pietri supposedly ingested strychnine (yes, the poison) to help boost him to the finish, instead of taking an energy gel. He would later be disqualified because he didn't finish the race under his own power, and the gold medal was awarded to American Johnny Hayes, the second place finisher.

Thanks to the photograph and Doyle's reporting, Pietri would become one of sport's first modern day celebrities. Irving Berlin would write a song about him. And along with Hayes and Tom Longboat, the Onondaga Indian from Canada who was the pre-race favorite, Pietri would help spark the first running boom of our era and a marathon mania.

Above, I've linked to an article by David Davis, who recently published a book about the 1908 Olympics, called Showdown at Shepherd's Bush, which has been added my reading list.

Back Talk
Wherein we practice the art of managing expectation

Sun Runner surprises with a bit of wisdom about what to do now: "Akron is, what, 9 weeks away? That's not too short of a time to whip yourself into reasonable shape. Sure, you might not be able to pull off another sub-4, but it's your hometown race and I know you love it."

Answer: Actually, it's 10 weeks away, but the point is still valid. I'll start tomorrow!

Happy Hour is nearly upon us, teammates! Have a finely brewed weekend. Run well and drink well. Cheers!


Nitmos said...

I was just fondling that book on Saturday. I wonder if any of them followed the Higdon plan?

BrianFlash said...

Late comment I know, but the winner of the 1904 Olympic Marathon (held in St. Louis) also took a couple doses of strychnine along the way. Apparantly in very small doses it does provide some energy while it attempts to kill you.