Culture Quiz: 1908 London Olympics Trivia

If the Olympics bring out the best in individuals, they also arguably bring out the worst. And, as Mitt Romney can tell you, not everyone can expect to look his or her best under the Union Jack. Just ask the people at the first London Olympics in 1908, who, believe it or not, didn't sour everyone on the Olympic Games forever.

Pictured above: The 1908 London Olympics opening ceremony (top) and the 2012 ceremony (bottom).

• • •

1.  In the 1908 London Summer Olympics, the questionable footwear worn by the silver medalists in which event caused an international controversy?
A. Bicycle polo
B. Field hockey
C. Tug-of-war
D. Diving

2.  Who did British runner Wyndham Halswelle have to beat to win gold in the 400-meter?
A. Eric Liddell, the inspiration for Chariots of Fire
B. A very young Jesse Owens
C. Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron
D. No one

3.  Who allegedly helped disoriented Italian marathon runner Dorando Pietri cross the finish line, ultimately leading his gold medal to be invalidated and given to the American second-place finisher?
A. Arthur Conan Doyle
B. King Edward VII
C. Lawrence of Arabia
D. Winston Churchill

4.  Which perpetually ticked-off nation's officials lodged an average of one complaint per day at the 1908 games?
A. Germany
B. The United States
C. France
D. Italy

5.  The Australians kicked up a fuss when the British middleweight boxer Johnny Douglas won the gold medal, because they claimed the split decision was declared in his favor by the referee, who happened to be…
A. Someone he owed money to
B. His brother
C. His former coach
D. His dad

6.  The 1908 Olympics sparked controversy from the get-go, when the flags of China and Japan—which didn't even send athletes—were flown while the flags of which participating nations were not?
A. South Africa and the Netherlands
B. The United States and Sweden
C. Switzerland and Bohemia
D. Russia and Turkey

7.  What explanation did the manager of the Canadian Olympic team give when favored marathon runner Tom Longboat (from Ontario) collapsed at the 19-mile mark?
A. He claimed Longboat had been drugged.
B. He blamed the unnaturally oppressive London heat.
C. He said Longboat was rattled by virulently anti-Native American crowds.
D. He said Longboat "simply lost heart."

8.  What events had to be held four months after the conclusion of the other sports in the first London games?
A. Rugby
B. Power boating
C. Fencing
D. Figure skating

9.  Why were athletes reluctant to spend too much time in the Olympic pool?
A. At the time, the greatest prestige went to the nation whose competitors exited first.
B. Overly cautious officials poured in too much chlorine.
C. No one ever changed the water.
D. The Norwegian swimmers were notorious for peeing in the water.

NOTE: Scroll down for answers and explanations.

• • •


  1. (C) The Americans complained that their Liverpudlian opponents in the quarterfinals (all the British teams were from police forces, for some reason) were wearing such massively heavy shoes that they were essentially immobile. The Liverpool team successfully claimed that they were just wearing their normal police shoes, and the Americans walked out in disgust. In the competition for the bronze, the Swedes (see below) didn't bother showing up, so that medal automatically went to another British police team. The City of London's police won gold. Tug-of-war was an official Olympic event till 1920, by the way.
  2. (D) Halswelle, the only British runner, ran against three Americans in the competition, but a dispute arose over differences in British and American rules, and the judges demanded they race again. The Yanks refused to compete. Halswelle ran the do-over race by himself and was awarded the top prize.
  3. (A) The creator of Sherlock Holmes, who was there to write about the race for a newspaper, made an international celebrity of the Italian runner—who was so exhausted he had to be stopped from running the wrong way several times. Irving Berlin even wrote a song about Pietri.
  4. (B) American officials were a notably unhappy bunch, but then again all the judges and referees were Brits, so maybe they had a point.
  5. (D) But Daddy knows best, right?
  6. (B) The angry Swedes left the stadium. When the American team passed the royal box during the ceremony, they refused to dip the Stars and Stripes in deference to the king.
  7. (A) There were rumors that Longboat's personal manager had caused his man to lose the race because he'd bet against him. "Any medical man knowing the facts of the case will assure you that the presence of a drug in an overdose was the cause of the runner's failure," said J. Howard Crocker, the national team's manager.
  8. (D) The 1908 Olympics were the first to include winter sports, though why it was a good idea not to do them at the same time as the summer events was probably obvious during a heat wave in August.
  9. (C) Evidently, Olympic officials were still working out the kinks of coordinating an international athletic competition.

• • •

—Michael Y. Park is a writer living in New York City and a regular contributor to

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Photos: Top (1908): Wikimedia Commons. Bottom (2012): Flickr
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