The Man Who Became Famous For Not Winning
When Dorando Pietri entered the stadium at the end of the 1908 marathon, he was completely unknown. When the news of what happened in the next few minutes spread around the world, he would become an international celebrity.
Dorando, as he came to be known, had run in the Intercalated Olympic Games of 1906 in Athens, but he did not finish. In 1908, Charles Hefferon of South Africa built a huge lead, but he tired dramatically and Dorando passed him one mile from the stadium. When Dorando appeared at the entrance to the track, the crowd cheered him vigourously.
But immediately it became clear that something was wrong. Dazed, Dorando headed in the wrong direction. Officials directed him in the right direction, but he collapsed. Helped to his feet, he collapsed again…and again and again. Finally another runner, John Hayes of the United States, ran into the stadium. The officials lifted up Dorando and helped him across the finish line. He was disqualified for receiving outside aid, but his plucky effort made him famous.
The Queen of England presented him with a special gold cup; Irving Berlin wrote a popular song in his honour; and his exploit sparked a marathon craze that spread around the world. It also greatly increased interest in the Olympics.