The most spectacular scene in Olympic Games history took place in London, 1908, when the Italian, Dorando, leading the marathon with a lap of the stadium track to go, collapsed before 70,000 astonished people. For nearly three hours the runners had struggled over the 26-mile, 385-yard course from Windsor Castle to the stadium. Thousands of spectators lining the entire course since dawn had seen the field dwindle from 75 to 27 and the lead change hands several times, finally to be gained by Dorando, almost within sight of the stadium.
It was Dorando who first came into view. A half minute behind trotted Johnny Hayes, 20-year-old American, who was not yet in sight as the Italian, to the horror of the crowd, staggered in the wrong direction, then fell on his face. Frantic officials rushed to him, put him on his feet and dragged him, half unconscious, across the finish line. Hayes breezed home, the official winner because of Dorando's automatic disqualification. Later the Italian was consoled by receiving a special gold trophy, awarded by Queen Alexandra.
This did not settle the question, however, that track fans wanted answered: Who was the better man? The runners were persuaded to turn pro and run for a share of the gate in New York's Madison Square Garden where, on Nov. 25, 1908, they met over the marathon distance before a packed house of Italian and Irish-American partisans. Hayes dogged the little Italian all the way, was never more than a few steps behind but could not pass him, losing by a scant 60 yards.
Hayes supporters, still unconvinced, insisted on another chance. The third meeting was staged in the Garden (March 15, 1909) and Dorando lapped the weary Hayes five times.
The Hayes-Dorando rivalry started a marathon craze in America which reached its peak on April 3, 1909, when a picked field of the world's foremost distance men met at the Polo Grounds, N.Y., in the $10,000 Marathon Derby. In this race, viewed by 30,000 people, Dorando finished second but again showed his heels to Johnny Hayes who was, as usual, right behind him.