The Canadian Women Who Dared Break Through; From media distortion to a delusional cheater Canadian female runners faced many hurdles on the rough road to success -- Published in Canadian Running, Jan/Feb 2016, Vol 9, Issue 1
The Canadian Women Who Dared Break Through; From media distortion to a delusional cheater Canadian female runners faced many hurdles on the rough road to success
By Roger Robinson
Below us on the cinder path were 11 wretched women, five of whom dropped out before the finish, while five collapsed after reaching the tape," screamed the New York Evening Post on Aug. 2, 1928.
That was an eye-witness account by cable from Amsterdam, reporting the first 800m race for women to be included in the Olympic Games.
The London Daily Mail was equally horrified, with the headline, "Women Athletes Collapse - Fierce Strain of Olympic Race - Sobbing Girls."
The London Times tut-tutted about the "half-dozen prostate and obviously distressed forms lying about on the grass," and piously raised the question of whether the sight "may not warrant a complete condemnation of the girl athletic championships."
Those and other reports are distinguished by the sense of righteous outrage that women should suffer such improper physical distress in public.
They are even more distinguished in that every "fact" they claim to report is utterly wrong.
Fact: There were nine women in the race, not 11. All finished. None "sobbed." None "collapsed." None lay "distressed on the grass." One, Canada's Jean (Jenny) Thomson in fourth place, crashed eagerly forward as she fell past fellow-Canadian Fanny ("Bobbie") Rosenfeld at the line. She was helped back to her feet (I've timed it from the footage) in 3.4 seconds.
Fact: There had been three heats, run in hot conditions the previous day, which went totally unreported, though a field of 27 athletes from 14 countries and four continents might have seemed newsworthy, showing the high interest in middle-distance running by women. No runner in the heats collapsed, we can be sure, or those races would have become lurid headlines. All were given official finish places.
Fact: That one ardent finish line tumble by a 17-year-old Canadian was transformed into an orchestrated fiction of mass collapse and unseemly distress. The official IOC (International Olympic Committee) film in the Lausanne Olympic archive cuts in only as Thomson staggers nose-down forward, and falls. It has been edited to avoid showing the first three, who finished strongly (to judge from still photographs) and who all broke the world record. If you study the few seconds of official film closely, those three (German, Japanese and Swedish) are identifiable, securely on their feet, around the finish area.
It's no exaggeration to say that a conspiracy of calculated misrepresentation and phony outrage enabled the IOC to do what they wanted - cut the women's 800m from the Games.