Having overdosed on the 2012 London Olympics, it seemed like an interesting idea to compare those with the London Games of 104 years before. After the first Modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896, followed by Paris in 1900 and then St. Louis in 1904, the 1908 Olympics were scheduled to occur in Rome. Unfortunately Rome struggled to find the funding. Luckily for the IOC (although far from lucky for Italy) the eruption of Vesuvius provided the perfect excuse for Italy to save face and give up their attempt to host it under the excuse of having to reallocate their funds to support the earthquake victims. Although, according to Kent, there never was any government money for the Olympics. The hosting then passed to London.
Kent's tale of the organisation of the Olympics suggests an almost unbelievable level of amateurism, yet somehow they seem to have come off. The Games even being moderately successful for Great Britain as we ended up with a haul of 56 gold medals – our highest ever. Less so for the United States however, their lower medal totals aside, relations between the US and Great Britain seem to have been strained by the Olympics not strengthened by it – hardly the Olympic spirit that the IOC were hoping for. Starting with their refusal to dip their flag to the King during the opening ceremony, and continuing throughout the Games with repeated official complaints from the US camp about perceived poor officiating, poor judging and general bias. The US did not feel they were competing on a level playing field. This underlying story of the Olympics as a struggle between the US and Great Britain is reinforced with each chapter starting with a quote from the post-Olympics report refuting one (or more) of the US's complaints.
The book itself is a humorous sporting fact-frenzy. Meticulously researched, Kent provides a fascinating journey through the 1908 Olympics. From the beginning he dives straight in with facts, figures and anecdotes – and it's far from being only about the US and Great Britain. The book does slow down a little in places, the first half is definitely the stronger, but the book as a whole is heartily recommended for anybody with an interest in how the Olympics has changed.