After Hours

Geek Trivia: Picking up the torch

What tragic event led to London's hosting of the 1908 Olympic Games?

Every now and again, the old Trivia Geek feels the need to toy with his secret formula for trivial excellence. So this week, instead of looking back on an obscure anniversary celebrated on this date, we will instead look forward—to an event that will occur seven years from now. On July 27, 2012, the opening ceremonies of the 30th Olympiad of the Modern Era will begin, officially commencing the London Summer Olympic Games.

Or, should we say, the third London Olympic Games? When London beat out fellow venue finalists Madrid, Moscow, New York, and—to most observers' surprise—Paris to win the 2012 Summer Olympiad, the city on the Thames became the first three-time Olympic host. London previously held the Olympic Games in 1908 and 1948.

However, while some have remarked that the July 7, 2005 transit bombings have marred the euphoria of landing the 2012 games, both the 1908 and 1948 London Olympic Games persevered despite significant obstacles of their own.

The 1948 Summer Olympic Games resumed the Olympic tradition after a 12-year hiatus caused by World War II. While Tokyo was to have hosted the 1940 Summer Olympic Games, the war forced a tentative relocation to Helsinki, then an outright cancellation. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) cancelled the 1944 games early on due to the war.

Thus, the second London games were the first Olympics since 1936, when Berlin hosted the Summer Olympics under the shadow of Nazi rule. As such, the 1948 Olympics had more than its fair share of heavy political overtones. The IOC banned Germany and Japan from the games yet invited Italy to compete, despite its membership in the Axis Powers.

Nonetheless, the 1948 London games found its footing, producing a bona-fide star in Dutch track champion Fanny Blankers-Koen. As a mother of two, Blankers-Koen earned the nickname of "The Flying Housewife" after leading the games with four gold medals.

The 1908 London Olympics also started from something of a deficit, though its circumstances were logistical, rather than political. Originally scheduled to host the 1908 Summer Olympic Games, Rome had to pass after a tragic event forced the Italian government to back out, causing London to pick up the Olympic torch at the last minute—and build a full suite of Olympic venues in a short amount of time.


What tragic event caused a surprise rescheduling of the 1908 Olympic Games from Rome to London, forcing the British capital to develop its Olympic venues with very little notice?

On April 7, 1906, Mount Vesuvius—the volcano that famously wiped out Pompeii—erupted, devastating the modern city of Naples. The 1906 eruption of Vesuvius was one of the most destructive ever recorded for the volcano—ejecting more lava than ever observed before or since and claiming more than 100 lives.

In the wake of the 1906 eruption, the Italian government quickly shifted funds earmarked for the construction of venues for the 1908 Olympics toward the relief and restoration of Naples. This forced Olympic officials to scramble for a new host city, and they soon selected London.

The centerpiece venue for the 1908 Olympics was the White City Stadium, which held 68,000 spectators yet was completed in a mere 10 months. Within the walls of the White City Stadium, numerous Olympic firsts were recorded—some auspicious, some controversial.

For example, the 1908 Olympics established the official distance of the Olympic marathon with a route length of 26 miles, 385 yards (42 kilometers, 195 meters). That same inaugural marathon ended in controversy when race officials carried the frontrunner, Italian Dorando Pietri, over the finish line after he collapsed several times inside the stadium. While this act disqualified Pietri from the race, Queen Alexandra still awarded him a royal trophy for his perseverance.

This was but one of several incidences regarding disputes over official rules that arose due to different guidelines held by different countries participating in the games. The most egregious example led to the running of the 400-meter race twice, after a dispute over the official definition of interference caused officials to void the original result.

Britain's Wyndham Halswelle ran the second race unopposed when the American team—which made up the remainder of the race field—refused to participate as a protest of the rules dispute. Thus, the 1908 Games marked the inception of official Olympic rules for all sanctioned sports, which in turn has made for decades of championship-caliber Geek Trivia.

Check out the Trivia Geek's blog!

Keep in touch with Trivial Pursuits, the Trivia Geek's online journal of rants, opinions, crazy ideas, half-baked notions, bizarre concepts, wild schemes, and trivial observations unfit even for Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the July 13 edition of Geek Trivia, "Built to (b)last." Several TechRepublic members chimed in to point out an egregious spelling gaffe on my part. In the spirit of fair play, we'll quote member Gfisher, who scolded me first.

"'. . . the government claimed the Schmidt-McDonald dwelling as imminent domain for the U.S. war effort in 1942.' Surely you meant eminent domain; despite that, another good column. Thanks!"

No, dear readers, thank you. Your capable quibbling keeps me humble. See you in seven!

Falling behind on your weekly Geek fix?

Check out the Geek Trivia Archive, and catch up on the most recent editions of Geek Trivia.

Test your command of useless knowledge by subscribing to TechRepublic's Geek Trivia e-newsletter. Automatically sign up today!

The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox