69 runners started the Marathon in front of the royal tribune – almost all with white headgear as protection against the sun.
The big day during the 1912 Olympic Games
Sunday the 14th July was the big day during the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. Just as at the games in London 1908 and Athens 1906, it was the marathon which captured the public’s interest.
For the organisers who prepared for this race for over two years, the weather was the worst imaginable, blue sky, sun and more than 30 degrees in the shade.
At the Olympics in London, four years earlier, when the temperature during the marathon was 25 degrees, several runners were exhausted when they reached the finish. The dramatic scenes from White City Stadium - where the Italian, Dorando Pietri fell to the ground several times before, with the help of competition officials, he managed to reach the finish line - were considered by many to be unworthy of sport. In Sweden marathon running was criticised for being a dangerous sports event.
Medical examination before the start
Every conceivable measure was taken so that the race in Stockholm would be run in a dignified way. The scenes from the London Olympics must not be repeated under any circumstance.
At registration for the marathon, all runners had to present a medical certificate
In addition all participants were examined by a doctor before the start
During the race eight doctors were positioned at various points along the course.
Three doctors were at the finish.
Runners had the opportunity to drink both at the official water station and between the stations. According to the official report from the Olympics “in full view, every 500m along the course, there was the possibility for runners to take refreshments such as water, tea, coffee, oranges or lemons.
The only competition day with a packed Stadium
22,000 spectators – 3000 of whom were in the temporary wooded stands above the regular stands on the north end – filled the Stadium for the Marathon.
The memorable race at the London Olympics, big hopes for the Swedish participants and extensive publicity in the Swedish newspapers, led to great public interest in the 1912 marathon.
Despite higher ticket prices than for the other competition days, tickets quickly sold out. Revenue from the marathon was twice as high as revenue from any other competition day.
During the 1912 Olympics, Stockholm Stadium held 22,000 spectators, 3,000 of whom sat in the temporary wooden stands which were build at the north end.
According to the official report from the Olympic Games the stands were packed to the last centimetre on 14 July.
18,713 paying spectators were in the stands. The rest of the space was occupied by participants and officials (2,000 places), the press (500 places) as well as honorary guests.
This was the only competition day during the Olympic Games where the Stadium was completely full.
Spectators who did not manage to get a ticket for the Stadium were out on the course.
Extra trains for spectators were added to stations along the course.
According to the official reports from the Olympics the course was lined with tens of thousands of spectators.
The Stadium restaurant had record takings during the Marathon.
Record figures for trains and trams
Many extra trains arrived at Stockholm Central Station with the spectators.
The northern tram lines which ran to the Stadium, carried 348,874 passengers on the day of the marathon (many of them must have made two or three journeys)
The next largest tram figures (262,207 passengers) were for the Olympic opening ceremony on 6 July.
In his book about Swedish marathon running at the beginning of the 20th century, Christian Lindstedt wrote:
- On the day of the marathon more trains than ever before were dispatched to Stockholm Central Station and the tram company’s daily takings reached record figures.
Boarding houses and hotels suddenly had a busy day since demand earlier during the games was not particularly high despite expectations.
The Stadium restaurant experienced a record turnover on marathon day. 300,000 bottles of soft drinks were sold in the city. Also a record number of telegrams were sent.
Course watered and cleared of stones
Everything was carefully prepared before the most important event of the Vth Olympic Games. Before the start the marathon course was cleared of any large stones. Large parts of the course were watered so that not so much dust would be created.
Signed were set up every five kilometres to show the distances. 100 police, 300 military personnel together with a few hundred officials and scouts were employed to assist during the race.
69 runners at the start
98 runners from 19 nations were entered in the marathon. 69 came to the
start, 12 of whom were Swedes. Each nation was allowed a maximum of 12 participants in an event at the 1912 Olympics.
The morning of the competition, the Swedish runners ate cutlets and eggs – this was before carbo-loading had caught on.
The marathon was to start at 13:45 but was a little delayed. At 12 minutes to two the runners were underway, almost all in white hats or handkerchiefs to protect their heads from the sun.
During the two and a half hour long wait for the winner to reach the Stadium, the spectators were able to watch the hammer throw, heats of the 4 x 400m, decathlon 110m hurdles and the finals of wrestling.
Alex Ahlgren was first out of the Stadium. He was in front at the beginning of the race but later had to drop out.
Alex Ahlgren took the lead
The Swede, Alex Ahlgren was the first out of the Stadium and kept the lead for two kilometres. At 5km he was in the front with Tatu Kolehmainen from Finland and the Italian Carlo Seperoni. All had the same split times. Ten metres behind were the green vested South Africans Christian Gitsham and Kennedy Kane McArthur.
The Swedish people’s favourite Sigge Jacobsson was in twelfth place, 50 seconds from the front.
Tatu Kolehmainen was the brother of Hannes Kolehmainen, the most successful athlete at the 1912 Olympics who took gold in the 5000m, 10,000m and 8000m cross country.
Tatu took the lead just after 5km and was 13 seconds ahead of the two South Africans at Tureberg, 15km from the start.
The heat forced several runners to drop out as early as Tureberg.
Gitsham first at the turning point
Gitsham reached the turning point at Sollentuna Church after 20.1km in front, 15 seconds ahead of Kolehmainend. McArthur was third, 35 seconds behind the leader.
Neither the South African nor the Finn gave themselves time to drink or rinse the dust off at the turning point, only pressing on, wrote Sven Låftman in the official 1912 Olympic report.
The Italian Seroni who was in fifth place, drank a mouthful of water and asked for a bucket of water to be poured over himself. Most who reached the turning point after him followed this example.
There was a high demand for water, lemonade and tea.
Three runners together at 25km
Gitsham, Kolehmainen and McArthur passed Tureberg at 25km within a second of each other. Kolehmainen had problems with the heat on the way back towards the Stadium. He lost contact with the lead and dropped out of the race after just over 30km.
Gitsam and McArthur passed 35km at Stocksund in the lead one and a half minutes ahead of Gaston Strobino from USA who, in the 10km between Tureberg and Stocksund, had significantly reduced their lead.
When reports reached the spectators in the Stadium that the popular Sigge Jacobsson had progressed to fourth place at 35km hopes were raised for a Swedish medal.
The South African police constable, Kennedy Kane McArthur received his gold medal from King Gustaf V.
Double victory for South Africa
Kennedy Kane McArthur settled the race in the last kilometre. On Valhallavägen outside the Stadium he looked nervously back several times before he was reassured by the crowd that he had a clear lead. McArthur dropped his pace in the last stretch before the Stadium to save energy for the finish inside the arena.
A trumpet signalled that the winner was on his way into the stadium. McArthur’s entrance met with great cheers. He reached the finish after 2:36.48.8.
McArthur threw himself to the ground after he crossed the finish line and was taken care of by a doctor. Afterwards he explained that he was not exhausted at all but only lay down on the grass to rest in accordance with the instructions of the South African officials.
Christian Gitsham secured the silver medal with the time of 2:37.52.0. Gaston Strobino, who gained four and a half minutes on the lead during the last 15km of the race, was third in 2:38.42.4.
Sigge’s surge to the line gave him sixth place
Sigge Jacobsson was the best European with sixth place and a time of 2:43.24.9. Despite dropping two places in the last 5km, Sigge still had the strength for a final surge. The position was a disappointment but he gained recognition for the honorable way he finished the race, appearing to still have strength to fight.
In the newspaper articles some time after the Olympics, however, the view was that Sigge Jacobsson would maybe have placed better if he had pushed himself as several other runners in the race.
Even if many of the finishers were certainly very tired after running 40 kilometres on the hilly course in stifling heat, all those who reached the finish line seemed in reasonable shape.
35 of the 69 who started, completed the race.
After the race, there was criticism that an importer of French Champagne was given permission to set up a table at the finish where the runners were offered Champagne. This had – according to the critics – led to several runners leaving the arena on unsteady legs.
The three doctors at the finish had a reasonably quiet day, but medical personnel along the course had to work hard to take care of all those who had problems with the heat.
Lázaro became the first fatality in an Olympic Games
The worst affected was the 23 year old Portuguese, Francisco Lázaro. He lay in the middle of the field at the Silverdal refreshment station after 30km. He then fell in the steep downward slope at Överjärva Gård but got up and continued to stagger before he collapsed and lay unconscious on the course, about eight kilometres from the finish.
Francisco Lázaro, who was the Portuguese flag bearer at the opening ceremony died the day after the Marathon.
A message was sent to the station at Silverdal and the doctor on duty there, Georg Liljeroth was quickly on the scene. Later more doctors arrived but despite the treatment Lázaro did not regain consciousness. He was sent to Serafimer hospital where he arrived about one and a half hours after the collapse. Lázaro’s body temperature was 42.1 degrees.
The Portuguese died at six o’clock the following morning thus becoming the first fatality in an Olympic Games.
Lázaro was one of the extremely few participants in the marathon who had no headwear as protection from the sun. Later it emerged that Lázaro covered large parts of his body with fat to protect himself from the sun. This prevented sweating and led to the increased body temperature.
After the close of the Olympic Games a musical event was held in the Stadium where 14,000 Kronor was collection for Lázaro’s family.
Sources: The official report from the Olympic Games 1912 and Between Heroism and Idiocy (Christian Lindstedt).
Complete results from the Marathon
Read a contemporary report from the Marathon