The 1908 Olympics were originally awarded to Rome, as the IOC President, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, had wished. But in April, 1906, Mount Vesuvius erupted again, leaving a cash-strapped Italy to abruptly cancel its plans to stage the Games.
Between 1904 and 1908 the Intercalated Games of 1906 in Athens had done much to revive the Olympic Movement. Though not recognised as an Olympics in record books, the 1906 Games created strong interest across Europe and elsewhere. When Italy had to cancel its 1908 Games, Great Britain stepped into the breach and London was named the new Host City.
The London Games was the best managed of the early Games. Organisers built a stadium with 68,000 seats and interest was high. However, the fickle English weather played its role, with many of the competition days disrupted by rain. A number of controversial judging decisions prompted the IOC to rule that officials would no longer be supplied solely by the Host Country. There were also some tense political disputes, both within the English administration and between international teams.
Australia at these Games
Australian athletes competed and marched as a team for the first time under the banner of Australasia. The flagbearer was New Zealand’s Henry St Aubyn Murray. The 12 Australian and two New Zealand men who marched did not receive funding to compete at the Games. There was no Olympic organisation established at home. Accreditation for individuals who could fund their own way was organised by the Amateur Athletic Union of Australasia.
Six months after the Opening Ceremony, 15 members of the Australian rugby union team arrived in London to contest the rugby competition. The only remaining Australian individual athlete was the great all-rounder Reginald ‘Snowy’ Baker. Baker also competed in swimming and diving in July and boxed in October, winning a silver medal in the middleweight division.
The rugby union team, nicknamed the Wallabies by the English Press, won Australia’s only gold medal. England and Australia were the only countries to take up the invitation to compete, leaving a one-off game for Australia against Cornwall, the English champions, to decide the gold. Australia won easily, the score 32-3.
Swimmer Frank Beaurepaire, aged just 17, started his Olympic career in London with silver in the 400m freestyle and bronze in the 1500m freestyle. This was despite the teenager suffering from a bad case of flu which left him struggling for fitness.