Last week Britain's athletes achieved the country's best medal haul since 1908. However, had more nations entered London's first Olympics, Team GB might have broken that record. Andrew Stewart, The Queen's Club chief executive, tells Rupert Basham why we romped to victory 104 years ago.
AFTER a gruelling tournament, he looked up and pointed to the sky to celebrate and acknowledge the massive effort it had taken to get to win gold.
Andy Murray certainly deserved his success in the tennis event at London 2012, but the same cannot be said for his 1908 counterparts.
The White City Games are considered by many to have been a flop and somewhat shambolic as Britain only stepped in at the last minute after Rome pulled out following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
The Italian government deemed it wiser to pump funds into the reconstruction of Naples rather than host the sporting extravaganza, so Baron Desborough of Taplow picked up the mantle, becoming president of the organising committee.
However, when the first event, rackets – an indoor sport similar to squash – started the Games at The Queen’s Club, in Palliser Road, it set a precedent for the fourth Olympiad.
Chief executive Andrew Stewart, said: “Lord Desborough, as a former president of the Queen’s Club, has his picture in the President’s room. An accomplished fencer, he won a silver medal in the epee at the 1906 Athens Games [no longer officially recognised as an Olympics] and twice swam Niagara, the second time to satisfy a sceptical American.
“He was probably not too impressed with the sporting fare on display at Queen’s during the Olympics.
“The 1908 rackets, real tennis and covered court lawn tennis events held at Queen’s were a flop.
“Total gate receipts were under £90, only 58 seats were reserved and 102 programmes sold. Real tennis and rackets were dropped from future Games. Still, most of the medals were won by the Brits.”
The 1908 Games featured 2,008 athletes from 22 nations, but no foreign players entered the rackets competition, which started in April, two-and-a-half months before King Edward VII officially opened the Games.
Only British players were due to compete and many failed to appear, so three of the four players to reach the semi-finals of the singles had yet to play a match.
When it came to the tennis, both singles and doubles matches were completed very quickly as a result of a high number of retirements and byes.
Evan Ballie Noel won the title after his opponent pulled out of the final with a hand injury.
“EB Noel became the winner of the first gold medal awarded in the Olympic Games of 1908,” said Mr Stewart. “As he was the only player to play more than once, this seemed like a fair result. Noel went on to become a much-loved secretary of Queen’s Club.”
The much-anticipated covered court lawn tennis event also proved to be a washout.
Mr Stewart continued: “One would have thought that the lawn tennis would have seen far greater international participation, but again it was effectively a bi-national competition, this time between the United Kingdom and Sweden.
“All three gold medals went to the United Kingdom but by winning two bronze medals the Swedish players were the first foreign representatives to win honours in the 1908 Olympics.”
When it came to real tennis – the forefather of the modern game which is also played indoors – Britain missed out on the gold despite being represented by nine players, against two from the US.
Swedish and American athletes would later have their noses put out of joint at the opening ceremony when the flags of China and Japan – which had no athletes at the Games – were flown instead of theirs.
After the farcical tennis and the opening ceremony blunder things did not get much better.
Australia turned up for the rugby only to find that Britain’s top players had set off for a tour of Australia, and entrants in the motor-boating were forced to pull out because of bad weather.
The Italian marathon runner, Dorando Pietri, stumbled into the stadium and started running the wrong way before collapsing.
Organisers helped him over the line ahead of American Johnny Hayes but he was then disqualified after protests from the Americans.
At the end of the 1908 Games, Great Britain topped the medal table with a staggering 145 medals, 56 of them gold.
Team GB finished the 2012 Games in third place with 65 medals, including 29 gold.