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Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze
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Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  101 ratings  ·  24 reviews
The epic clash of an Irish-American, Italian, and Onondaga-Canadian that jump-started the first marathon mania and heralded the modern age in sports

The eyes of the world watched as three runners—dirt poor Johnny Hayes, who used to run barefoot through the streets of New York City; candymaker Dorando Pietri; and the famed Tom Longboat—converged for an epic battle at the 190
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Thomas Dunne Books
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3.85  · 
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 ·  101 ratings  ·  24 reviews

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Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
An engaging and engrossing tale of the 1908 Olympic Marathon. I am no athlete, but I have always been fascinated by people who can push their bodies to the extreme, as is the case in the modern-day marathon. It was surprising to read about the downright dangerous training and running practices of the day, including administering alcohol and coffee during a run, as well as doping the runners to stimulate and push their bodies just that much farther. It was also heart-breaking to read about one of ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Keegan
I have been a runner for over 40 years, but have never run a marathon. I follow track and road running events closely. I had heard of the 1908 Olympic Marathon and of Dorando Pietri's collapse so close to the end, but this brought it to life. The book followed the lives of three marathoners, Pietri, Johnny Hayes, the Irish-American winner of that marathon, and Tom Longboat a Canadian Onondaga Indian of immense talent. I was appalled at some of the training methods - alcohol and strychnine! - and ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
A well researched and well written treatment of the 1908 Olympic marathon and the primary participants. Olympic and marathon fans know how the marathon ended, but likely not much about the three primary participants. Davis does well presenting each of the three contenders with all of their assets and liabilities and without taking sides. His recount of the '08 race makes you feel as if you are there.
Joshua Thompson
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
The first half was a bit interminable despite it being a good story, as the author demonstrated that he is a magazine writer attempting a book. The constant shifting point of view every few pages left me dizzy and annoyed. Thankfully, he did less of that in the last half, which made it a better read to the end.
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Disclaimer, I'm a friend of David Davis, but he did not solicit me to write this review.

With London hosting the Olympic Games for the third time, I thought this book would be a good way to find out about the biggest event of that games, the marathon race.

The 1908 Olympic marathon finished in a great deal of controversy as unheralded Italian Dorando Pietri appeared to have a comfortable lead on the field as he came into the Olympic stadium (a stadium which hosted ALL the events for the Olympics,
Michel B.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012-reads
As usual, let me preface this review by saying that I'm an ardent runner and running fan.

I greatly enjoyed this book and gave 5 stars primarily because I learned a lot of new things about 'The Marathon' but more importantly because this book clarifies and refutes a lot of inaccuracies about the 26.2 mile race. Some of these inaccuracies were repeated again this summer during the 2012 London Olympics! I must confess that I have not cross-referenced the claims made in this book yet - although the
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
The 1908 Olympics in London stands out for many reasons. It is considered the first truly modern Olympics that featured its own specially built stadium. It presented the first version of what would later become the Winter Games. It saw the first African American to win a medal. It was also influential in the development of marathon racing, marking the course at 26.2 miles and creating the event’s first superstars.

Read my full review at
Jun 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Having run my first marathon last year I enjoyed reading the history and significance of this great event. I felt that the author did an excellent job building suspense and momentum leading up the famous 1908 Olympic marathon, and the post marathon boom. Filled with historical information about the founding of the modern Olympic games and the significance of the 1908 London games the timing for the book could not be better. I recommend it as a great summer read for anyone looking forward to the ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Again, surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I'm starting to sound like a cynic. It's just that I come into most books with such a low expectation that I am almost always pleasantly surprised.

So I found this facinating because of the impact the Olympics have had on our society and much of the world. Well, at least from this book's perspective. I enjoyed this book, but like most books, I find that it's all about timing in our lives.
Jack Barraclough
Dec 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: sport
This book was more about the early history of marathon running than about the 1908 Olympic race. It tracks three main protagonists in the years leading up to the 1908 Olympic race. The stories of how these men (and others) prepared for these races and the conditions they ran under were fascinating. I think anybody interested in the history of the Olympic movement would find this a rewarding read.
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up at the library on a whim. It is a very interesting history of the origins of the Marathon race and the truth about why the modern marathon is 26 miles 385 yards ( has nothing to do with British Royals and their children). It also explores the topic of amateurism in the early Olympics.
Aug 02, 2012 rated it liked it
A fascinating look at the modern marathon and the three runners who competed for gold at the 1908 London games. Some of the stories about the post-Olympic re-matches were a little dull and went on unnecessarily. A good Olympic year read (2012).
I received this book from GoodReads first reads. It's a great book about the 1908 olympic marathon, I have a lot of friends that are runners and made me see why they might like. Great historical facts about the time period too.
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book for a runner to read. The events surrounding the 1908 Olympics in London and the years following are given clarity as related to the marathon and the three men whose lives were impacted by them. I will be recommending it to my running friends.
Jul 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. If it is a topic your interested in, I would say it is a must read. There was so much valuable information about more than just that race but the Olympics, marathons, and sporting events of the early 20th Century.
Bill Tillman
Wow, this novel has it all. Mystery, suspense a true tale about the birth of modern day distance running. Based around the 1908 Olympic marathon with a heart stopping finish, you will remember this novel for years to come.
Jan 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Follows in the tradition of Major by Todd Balf but doesn't quite fill those footprints; still a fun, engaging read.
Jun 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: atheletes
I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. Though I am not a runner I do now have a deeper understanding of the sport and why so many people decide to pick it up.
Lauren Glowacky
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
Having a son who is a runner prompted me to read this book. I enjoyed learning the stories of the men who ran in the early Olympics and it was fascinating to hear the history of the Olympics.
Feb 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Such an interesting time - the start of the modern Olympics and marathon running. The book was chock full of interesting facts, but it was a slow, heavy read. No regrets.
Jul 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Timely per London Olympics, interesting how media, money, politics trumped Olympic ideals and British sense of fair play.
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
Interesting historical account. Not my particular cup of tea however.
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David Davis documents the culture of sports through words, images, and sound.

His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Orange Coast Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, LA Weekly, The Forward, SB Nation, Deadspin, The Classical, Los Angeles Review of Books, Only