The 1908 London Olympic Games were, well, a bit of a farce. From an inauspicious start—when the Swedish flag was mistakenly not displayed at London’s White City Stadium, prompting Sweden’s athlete to boycott the opening ceremony—things went from bad to worse. Frankly, when the winner of the Olympic marathon enters the stadium and instantly starts running in the wrong direction, you know you’re having problems...
But of all the missteps and malfunctions of the 1908 Games, perhaps the most dubious was the final of the men’s 400m sprint.
Ran by just four athletes—three Americans and one Brit—the 400m was dogged by controversy after one of the American runners was accused by the British judging panel to have “interfered” with the sole British runner (and owner of the world’s best name) Wyndham Halswelle.
Halswelle, the judges agreed, had been illegally blocked by the American runner, who had used his elbow to hold him back. Such interference was permitted under American rules at the time, but under home rules in England this kind of tactic was strictly prohibited. The race was promptly declared void.
As a result, the judges jointly agreed that the 400m race should be reran. But the three American runners jointly protested, and refused to take part. Halswalle, as a result, was left to run the race alone—the first and only time the final of an Olympic event has been competed by a single participant.
Needless to say, he won gold.