London Olympics 1908 – A 77 year legacy

Held in a purpose built stadium in the White City area of London was the 1908 Olympic Games.

Originally the Games were to be held in Rome however they were transferred to London with only 18 months notice.

The venue change came about because of financial pressures on the Italian Authorities following a recent eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906.

The new stadium

With a capacity of just under 70,ooo seated and 17,000 undercover the new stadium was an all in one venue. At the centre of the arena was a large water tank, 100m long, for the swimming events.

White City 1908 Olympic medal table

White City 1908 Olympic medal table

This was surrounded by a running track measured so that three laps were equal to one mile.

Beyond this track and before the spectators was a banked cycle track.

As happens in modern times, some of the events such as sailing and tennis were held away from the main stadium complex and one event, the 12m yacht class even took place on the Clyde in Scotland.

This was the first and only time an Olympic event has been held in Scotland.

An Olympic Games of firsts

The London 1908 Games saw a number of sporting firsts and putting in place of rules, some of which are still used today.

Motorboating was an event which took place at Southampton. A first for mechanisation.

London also saw the first opening ceremony where the flags of nations were paraded before the start of competition.

The modern distance for the marathon was set at 26 miles 384 yrds. This came about because of the distance between the start, inside the grounds of Windsor Castle to the finishing point in front of the Royal box within the stadium.

These Games were also the first to award bronze, silver and gold medal awards.

Sporting achievement

At the end of the games Great Britain came out on top of the medals table with 56 gold, 51 silver and 38 bronze medals.  This is the highest medals total, so far, for Team GB.

The stadium was taken over by the Greyhound Racing Association in 1927 after many years of disuse. It also became the home of British athletics between 1932 and  1971.

The last event held in the stadium was a greyhound race on 22 September 1984.


Site of the 1908 Olympic finish line

Site of the 1908 Olympic finish line

Nothing now remains of the stadium that was finally demolished in 1985 to make way for the building of facilities currently occupied by the BBC.

On the side of one of the new buildings is a memorial to sporting achievement, unveiled by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge.

The finishing line of the old athletics track is marked just in front of the wall mounted medal table.

Further information

BBC History photo gallery of the 1908 Olympics in London

History of White City and the Franco-British exhibition

BBC News – Queen marks the 1908 Olympics

BBC Sport – London’s first Olympics

History and pictures of the White city area

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