The 1908 Olympics

We are in the midst of the 2016 Olympic archery events.  There is plenty of coverage of those events and the dominance of the Korean women.  Instead of more of the same, I was intrigued by the 1908 Olympics.

The selection process for the 1908 Summer Olympics consisted of four bids, and saw Rome selected ahead of London, Berlin and Milan. The selection was made at the 6th IOC Session in London in 1904.

Italian authorities were preparing to hold the games when Mount Vesuvius erupted on 7 April 1906, devastating the city of Naples. Funds were diverted to the reconstruction of Naples, so a new venue was required. London was selected for the first time to hold the Games which were held at White City alongside the Franco-British Exhibition, at the time the more noteworthy event.

With less than two years to plan and execute, England created The Great Stadium (later White City Stadium)  at Shepherd’s Bush.


1908 Olympics Programme

What was unusual to our modern ears is that this venue would be the location of many concurrent sporting events: Archery, Athletics, Cycling, Diving, Field Hockey, Football, Gymnastics, Lacrosse, Rugby, Swimming, Tug of war, Water polo,  and Wrestling.  Shepherd’s Bush was 26.2 miles from Windsor Castle and this became the modern distance of the marathon.


The 1908 Franco-British Exhibition on the left, White City Stadium and the Olympics on the right.


Discus would be taking place while track cycling was in the background and probably some swimming events too.  This spectacular venue stood until 1985 when it was demolished.



White City Stadium


The 1908 Olympics included many sports which would be demonstrations or competitions never to be seen again including tug-of-war, pistol duel with wax bullets, racquets (a British version of squash), and jeu de paume (a game related to handball).

Women first competed in the Olympic Games in 1900, playing tennis and occasionally on some of the boats for sailing events. In St Louis for the 1904 Olympics, women had their own archery events, and were again present in 1908. Three female swimming and diving events were introduced in 1912 and five athletics disciplines were added in 1928.

All of the 25 women who competed in archery were from England.  There were 36 women participating in this Olympics.


The style is derived from England Imperial Rounds which is outdoors with five zones of scoring: 9, 7, 5, 3, and 1.  The women shot a “Double National” version of the Imperial Round.  The National includes four rounds at 60 yards and two rounds at 50 yards.  In the Double National, arrows were shot in ends of three. Two rounds of 24 ends totaled 144 arrows.  The competition was held on Friday, 17 July and Saturday, 18 July, with one round each day. Each round consisted of 48 arrows over 16 ends at 60 yards  and 24 arrows over 8 ends at 50 yards.  The highest score for the National is nine points * 72 arrows for 648 points.  A double national is 1,296 points for perfection.


Double National

Sybil Fenton Newall (17 October 1854 – 24 June 1929), best known as Queenie Newall, was an English archer who won the gold medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. She was 53 years old at the time, still the oldest female gold medal winner at the Olympic Games. Great Britain did not win another women’s archery medal at the Olympics until 2004.

The expected winner of the women’s archery, Alice Legh, chose not to compete and so Queenie’s main rival was Lottie Dod who was a sporting all-rounder.

On the first day of the Archery competition the weather in White City Stadium was so poor that the event was stopped at one point. On the close of the first day Queenie was behind Dod by ten points. The second day’s weather was much improved and Queenie overtook Dod, eventually winning with a score of 688 points, 46 points ahead of Dod who finished in the silver medal position. The victory made Queenie the oldest woman to win an Olympic medal, at the age of 53 years and 275 days.

After the 1908 Olympics, no female British archer won an Olympic medal until Alison Williamson won the bronze in the women’s individual competition at the 2004 Summer Olympics.



Queenie Newall

Lottie Dod was the silver medalist

The runner-up, Charlotte “Lottie” Dod, was one of the most remarkable sportswomen of her, or any other, generation. She had won the Wimbledon tennis singles on five occasions, taken the British Ladies golf crown four years earlier, represented England at hockey, and was of the highest standard at skating and tobogganing.

Charlotte’s brother William won the men’s archery Olympic gold medal on the same day. Not surprisingly, it was revealed that they were descendants of the man who commanded the victorious British archers at the battle of Agincourt nearly 500 years before.


Lottie Dod on the far left

Mrs Beatrice Hill-Lowe was the bronze medal winner.


Beatrice Hill-Low

Remarkably, video footage exists of this event.


  1. Wikipedia – 1908 Olympics –
  2. Wikipedia – White City Stadium –
  3. Full Olympians –
  4. National Round –
  5. Queenie Newall –
  6. Lottie Dod –
  7. Flickr – State Records NSW –
  8. YouTube – BFI –

One thought on “The 1908 Olympics

  1. Pingback: Parsing USA Archery | archery parent

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