LONDON – In 1908, King Edward VII reigned supreme over England, the ball dropped in New York City’s Times Square for the first time to usher in the new year and John Philip Sousa’s “The Fairest of the Fair,” a march, was a hit tune. The year also marked the first time London hosted the Summer Olympics.
Looking back on the 1908 Summer Games, it’s interesting to see what the winning times and distances were then that produced track and field gold medals.
Athletics competition gets under way on Friday at Olympic Stadium, including Koji Murofushi’s hammer throw preliminary qualifying. Murofushi won the gold a few months before his 37th birthday last summer at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in South Korea after nabbing the gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Take the men’s 100-meter dash, for instance. South Africa’s Reggie Walker took home the gold in 1908 after completing the race in 10.8 seconds, a record at the time. Fast forward to the 2008 Beijing Games, where Jamaica’s Usain Bolt was clocked in 9.69 seconds.
In the 1,500 meters, American Melvin Sheppard claimed the gold in 4 minutes, 3.4 seconds in the first London Games. Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop’s record-breaking time of 3:33.11 set the new standard in Beijing.
Marathon running has also seen major decreases in winning times over the years.
Johnny Hayes of the United States was the gold medalist in 1908 with a time of 2 hours, 55 minutes, 18 seconds. Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru was victorious in the 2008 Beijing Games marathon in 2:06.32.
The javelin throw also illustrates how the sport has evolved in more than a century. Sweden’s Eric Lemming captured the javelin gold in 1908 with a top throw of 54.83 meters. One hundred years later, Norway’s Andreas Thorkidlsen threw the javelin 90.57 to win the shiny medal.
The Olympic motto, “faster, higher, stronger,” has materialized in increments big and small over the past century, and the start of athletics competition will see some new standards set and a greater appreciation for the top track and field feats of the past in the Olympics.