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Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze Hardcover – June 19, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Showdown is a peek into a fascinating moment in time at the Olympic Games.” ―The Christian Science Monitor

“This is one book about marathoners you should probably sprint to obtain.” ―Michael Ventre on

“In less than capable hands this would have been a "did not finish." There's just so much going on from the buildup through the resolution. David Davis, however, tells the story with a light and fleeting pace that's easy to digest and simply captivating. His painstaking research is evident in the details as he described the rags-to-riches stories of the three marathoners who helped make the sport popular, and he pulled no punches when it came to explaining the competitive - and exploitative - nature of the various athletic associations and promoters of the time. The result is a mesmerising book for runners and sports fans just in time for 2012 London Summer Games.” ―

Showdown at Shepherd's Bush is pure Olympic gold, taking us back to a time when athletes really did run for the love of the sport. David Davis writes like they ran--clean, swift and right to the mark.” ―Allen Barra, Wall Street Journal

“Imagine The Greatest Game Ever Played with three headliners instead of two or Seabiscuit with human beings standing in for the horse. Showdown at Shepherd's Bush is a wonderfully evocative account, as well-paced as a smartly run long-distance race.” ―Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated writer and author of Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure

“Davis brings the dramatic Olympic marathon of 1908 to life in this detail-rich account. A classic underdog story, the epic race between Italian Dorando Pietri, Irish-American Johnny Hayes, and Onondaga-Canadian Tom Longboat transfixed the world and established the marathon as the marquee event it is today. Although the focus is on just one event at the 1908 Olympics, the text places the marathon in the context of the evolution of the Olympics and other major sporting competitions during this period, including the World Series, World Cup, and Tour de France. Davis expertly weaves the tale of these three dynamic men into the changing political landscape of the day, detailing the racism Longboat faced as a Native American, the hardscrabble life in the tenements of New York for Hayes, and the effects of the recent unification of Italy on Pietri. Davis takes some artistic liberty when speculating about the youths of Longboat, Pietri, and Hayes since no historical documents exist about them prior to their success as marathon runners. A must-read for Olympics fans.” ―Booklist

“Sports journalist Davis recounts an influential and largely forgotten chapter in Olympic lore.
As the Summer Olympics, and all the attendant pomp and circumstance, prepare to return to London in 2012, this book serves as a reminder of the event’s less-glamorous origins and of a race that helped change its history. Tracing the beginnings of both the modern games and the modern marathon race, Davis focuses on three runners: pre-race favorite Tom Longboat, a Native American running for Canada, the largely unknown Italian pastry cook Dorando Pietri, and the scrappy Irish-American Johnny Hayes. The race became a sensation after a controversial finish, sparking a marathon craze and helping establish the Olympics as the headline-making international gala it is today. Davis has a great story to work with, and he does a solid job bringing it to life. He is assisted by the colorful characters of the athletes, Longboat in particular, and others, including United States Olympic Committee member James Sullivan, whose repeated claims of poor sportsmanship by the British hosts helped stir controversy and interest, and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, whose reporting on the race helped turn it into instant legend and Pietri into an international star. The author argues convincingly that if the 1908 Games had not been a success, the Olympics might not have continued and certainly would not have taken their current form. The same can also be said for the marathon, now a major event around the world, whose distance was first established by the 1908 Olympic course.
A valuable addition to the history of the Olympics and distance running.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“It's a long-lost era, but Davis brings it to life.” ―Budd Bailey, Sports Book Review Center

“The entire book was filled with suspense… sure to be one of the best sports books of the year.” ―Michael Giltz, The Huffington Post

About the Author

DAVID DAVIS is a contributing writer at Los Angeles Magazine and a contributing editor for SportsLetter. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times and The Best American Sports Writing anthology. He lives in Glassell Park, CA.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312641001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312641009
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,106,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Award-wining journalist David Davis is the author of "Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku" (Univ. of Nebraska Press), "Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze" (St. Martin's) and "Marathon Crasher: The Life and Times of Merry Lepper, the First American Woman to Run a Marathon" (an eBook).

His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian Magazine, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, SBNation, Deadspin, Vice. He is a contributing writer with Los Angeles Magazine and a contributing editor with "SportsLetter" (published by the LA84 Foundation). He started his career at the L.A. Weekly; his story about boxer Jerry Quarry was anthologized in the "Best American Sportswriting" series.

His first book, "Play By Play: Los Angeles Sports Photography, 1889-1989" (Angel City Press), was a companion to an exhibition he curated at the Los Angeles Central Library. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Barat on July 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Here's a quick, enjoyable read to pass the time between events at the upcoming Olympics -- or, if you've soured on the commercialism, rampant doping, and overall "too-much-ness" of the modern version of the Games, a more than acceptable substitute for viewing same. Not that controversy is absent from this discussion of the 1908 London Olympics marathon; quite the opposite, in fact. Davis makes the argument that the half-dramatic, half-farcical conclusion of the '08 race ranks as the first "globally famous" sporting event. Surely, the combination of new technology (film), aggressive media coverage, and the holding of the Games in the seat of what was then the world's preeminent empire helped publicize this notable moment at a critical time when the future of the modern Olympic movement seemed in some doubt. But consider the fact that the intense interest in what transpired at the White City Stadium on that baking-hot July day firmly established the then-exotic marathon as a truly legitimate sporting event, and Davis' argument seems reasonably legitimate. Even if you are not particularly interested in running or the Olympics, SHOWDOWN AT SHEPHERD'S BUSH comes highly recommended as an interesting slice of early 20th century cultural history.

SHOWDOWN AT SHEPHERD'S BUSH takes a parallel-lives approach in its early stages, sketching out the lives and times of three of the major figures in the '08 marathon: Dorando Pietri of Italy, Johnny Hayes of the U.S., and Onondaga Indian Tom Longboat of Canada.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul Mastin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In this day of organized races every weekend, and when it seems like everyone you know has run a marathon, or is planning to run one, it's hard to image that the marathon as a formal sporting event is so young. In Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze, David Davis takes the reader on a tour of the birth of the modern marathon. It's not only a history of a race, but a great snapshot of the rise of the Olympic movement and sports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Davis recounts the development of the first modern Olympics in 1896. The organizers came up with the idea of commemorating Pheidippides's famous run from Marathon. They devised a race from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 25 miles. At that time, the longest races were no more than 5 miles; the next longest race at the Olympics was 1500 meters. With the establishment of the marathon race, which would become a highlight of the Olympics, they had "concocted an anomaly, on that would attract only the inexperienced, the ignorant, and the intrepid." I loved the comment of the French runner who had competed in the 100 meter, then in the marathon: "One day I run a leetle way, vairy queek. Ze next day, I run a long way, vairy slow."

The marathon stuck, and with some stumbles in intervening Olympics, came into its own in 1908 in London. This was the first race to use what would become the standard marathon distance: 26 miles, 385 yards, a somewhat arbitrary distance to cover the course from Windsor Castle to the stadium at Shepherd's Bush. Davis traces the lives and running careers of the participants, focusing on 3 runners. Tom Longboat, a Canadian Indian, was a favorite going in, but dropped from the race.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Nelson on July 1, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For those interested in the origins and early history of Olympic marathoning--indeed, the birth of the long distance running movement--this is a wonderful book. And by "early history" I do not mean Pheidippides of ancient Greek days, although he does make a cameo appearance in this handsomely-written, well-researched, well-told story. The story focuses on the 1908 London Olympic Games Marathon, featuring three top runners of the time, all with compelling stories--notably an Italian, Dorando Pietri, who nearly dies while trying to finish what was then considered to be (and still is, to some degree) an impossibly long way to run. It would have been nice to see more accounts of racing in the early part of the book, which is largely devoted to setting the stage for the drama in London. But starting with the Games Marathon (which is written, in a stylistic change of pace, in the present tense), the author more than makes up for this with a series of terrific accounts of exciting post-London races. Showdown at Shepherd's Bush centers mainly on the early 20th century; my suggestion to Davis and his publisher would be to do a follow-up book, focusing on say, Frank Shorter's epic 1972 Olympic Games Marathon win and use that as a springboard to bring us up to date on the story of the modern running and marathoning movement. I'd read that book too.
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