Olympic Game: The Story of The Great Dorando and The Great Pretender

Olympic Game: The Story of The Great Dorando and The Great Pretender - John Bryant The most moving sport spectacle that I ever observed in person was at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.

I was at the Los Angeles Colosseum when the women's marathon was being held. The first woman to enter the stadium was Joan Benoit who easily won the first Olympic women's marathon. For the next hour, the rest of the athletes entered and crossed the finish line to enthusiastic applaud. Most were a little worse for wear as it was a hot and humid day. But then Gabriela Andersen-Schiess of Switzerland entered the stadium for the last lap and everyone knew something was wrong. It was pretty clear to me that she was suffering from heat exhaustion. She was staggering, barely able to remain standing. An Olympic official followed her around the track shouting things at her but never touching her which would cause a disqualification. The audience's reaction varied from cries of "stop her!" to cheers encouraging her to finish. When she stumbled across the finish line, everyone was on their feet and there was thunderous applaud. It was a strong lesson to me that some of our most important victories is not in the win but in the effort.

So I have an inkling of what it must have been like to watch Dorando Peitri struggle, falling several times, to the finish line in the 1908 Olympic marathon in London. While he came in first, he was subsequently disqualified because the officials helped him over the finish line. Yet he became an international hero.

John Bryant's all too short book describes The Great Dorando's victory and the resulting events. It's an exciting story and Bryant tells it well but I really wanted a much longer story. I wanted to know more about his upbringing and his preparations for his sport. More puzzling is the author's decision to devote half of the book to an event before the 1948 Olympics in London involving a man who claimed to be The Great Dorando. As far as hoaxes go, it wasn't even a very good one and certainly not a tale that should eclipse or even equal Dorando's story. One could go as far to call it a shame to equate the two. Yet I must admit the author ...again...tells it well. For that reason, I give this book three stars but am waiting for a more detailed and respectful telling of this historical event.

Footage of the 1908 marathon can be found here

You can see the 1984 finish of Andersen-Scheiss here.