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Inside the Games

Organised but partisan

The 1908 Games in London were, admittedly, the best organised and the most competitive since the rebirth of the Olympics in 1896. London thus succeeded in restoring the image of the Olympic ideal, in part eroded by the Games in Paris and St Louis.

But the lack of fair-play, not something always associated with English sport, somewhat marred proceedings.

Despite Olympic custom the English oversaw some regrettable incidents and managed to damage the Olympic spirit by choosing a partisan jury.

Thus in the gymnastic events, France's fifth place was deemed unfair, and provoked the fury of The Times newspaper, which believed the French had been cheated.

In cycling, the scene was again set for some unbelieveable judging decisions which only served to tarnish an otherwise successful Olympiad.

During the sprint, France's Maurice Schilles won the event ahead of three British cyclists. Soon enough, the judges declared that the course was null and void - and proceeded to provide no explanation.

In athletics, the winner of the flat 400m, American John Carpenter, was accused of holding back Britain's Wyndham Halswelle during the race by trackside judges.

The judges then decided to re-run the course two days later - without the disqualified Carpenter. Two other Americans taking part decided to stand by their compatriot and refused to run in the event. Halswelle took part alone in the race and, of course, won.

Once more, the marathon was the focus for a decision that would push the judges further into the spotlight, thus provoking further debate.

The Italian, Dorando Pietri, was ahead with only 100m remaining. Quite literally on his last legs, he collapsed.

The judges helped him to stand up and cross the finish line. In second place, a 19-year-old American named John Hayes complained and the same judges promptly disqualified Pietri, who was urgently carried off to hospital.

But in order to save a little Olympic spirit and to perhaps excuse some of the impartiality of certain judges, Queen Alexandra, who was moved by the events concerning the Italian marathon runner, offered him a gold trophy and a few words of consolation for the somewhat harsh treatment he received.

"Take this gold cup, I hope you don't return home with only bad memories of our country."

Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.