120 years, 120 stories (Part 13) : Even jogging around the park can give an Olympic gold in athletics


Does it sound weird that you can jog around a 400 meter long track in the Olympics and still win the gold medal in the end? It surely does. But, yes, this actually happened in the biggest stage of the sporting world. And the name of the winner was Wyndham Halswelle.

In the 13th part of our Olympic Diaries, we are going back to the year of 1908, when the Olympics took place in the heart of London.

It was an athletics event – the men’s 400 meters race. The competition, one of the most popular events in the earlier Olympics, was originally scheduled from July 21, 1908 to July 23, 1908. However, the officials needed two more days to complete it and find the winner. And the reason was a controversy which had Wyndham Halswelle in its heart.

In total, as many as 37 runners from ten nations competed in this competition. The heats were held on the first day of the competition and the winner of each heat proceeded to the semifinals, to be held on the next day. Four semifinals took place on July 22 and the winners made it to the final scheduled for the last day of the competition. And those four lucky winners were John Taylor, Wyndham Halswelle; last two of which made the final extremely interesting!

All but Halswelle in the final were from the United States of America. The final started with unmatched exuberance among the viewers, all rooting for the local boy to win the race. However, much to their dismay, the men’s 400 meters event ended with Carpenter finishing first, Halswelle following him, Robbins in third, and Taylor at the back. Naturally, American born John Carpenter was expected to wear the gold medal in the victory stand. But, Roscoe Badger, one of the British umpires of the event, thought differently.

Badger noticed that at a certain point during the race, Carpenter maneuvered so as to prevent Halswelle from passing him. While blocking competitors was a legal move or strategy in the United States, it was not at all acceptable under the British norms. And the 1908 London Olympics were being organized under the British rules. Naturally, Badger took no time to signal to the judges to declare the race void.

John Carpenter, habituated to the American rules, was unfortunate to get disqualified in the end, after a long argument between British and American officials. The officials instructed the other finalists to take part in a re-race two days later.

However, William Robbins and John Taylor, both true Americans at heart, decided not to contest the repeat of the final as a sign of their disapproval of the British rules. They chose to refrain themselves from taking part in the ultimate quest for an Olympic gold to protest the judges’ decision. And Halswelle was the only contestant on July 23. He only had to jog the length of the track to reach the finishing mark and consequently be awarded the gold medal. Certainly a lucky day for him, isn’t it?


Do you think Wyndham Halswelle was one of the most fortunate athletes in the world? Let us know your views in the comments below!

Photo by Luiz Fernando Reis MMF