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Dorando Pietri, Derek Redmond and the Olympic Ideal
July 7, 2010Posted by on
I used to spend hours at the Rizal Library poring over books about the Olympics. At that time, I was fresh from high school, wilting under the stronger competition in the senior ranks. I was badly in need of inspiration, and I found it in those glossy, reference books.
I’ve learned to appreciate the exploits of past Olympic champions, their feats of strength and heroism immortalized in print. I can go on for hours just talking about Harrison Dillard’s bittersweet experience in the 1948 London Olympics, the unique rivalry between Rafer Johnson and C.K. Yang and Shun Fujimoto’s heroic self-sacrifice at the gymnastics team event in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
While reading Jazzrunner’s post about cheating in the distance events, I recalled the amusing story of Dorando Pietri – who won the 1908 London Olympics marathon. The remarkably hot London weather weakened Pietri, as he succumbed to “exhaustion and dehydration.” He was disqualified, however, since he received assistance from various umpires when he fell four times en route to the finish line.
Pietri was not a cheater, of course. He was just a poor victim of the heat and some overly exuberant umpires.
Pietri became an international celebrity afterward, as public sympathy pored in.
Receiving outside assistance of any kind is prohibited under IAAF rule 144. Following this line of thought, Derek Redmond (of Celebrate Humanity fame) should have been disqualified as well since he finished his semi-final with the help of father! The way Redmond hobbled to the finish line, with his father helping him throughout, embodied the Olympic ideal. Mundane competition rules were overshadowed by such gallantry.
Indeed, the spirit of the Olympics goes beyond winning.
Unless as you’re a hardcore track & field fan, the winner of the 400m dash in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics would probably elude you, much less the 1908 London Olympics Marathon event. Characters like Pietri and Redmond, despite not winning the gold, live on – immortalized in the annals of Olympic history.
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”- Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympic Games