Open main menu

Athletics at the 1908 Summer Olympics – Men's 400 metres

The men's 400 metres was an Olympic event for the fourth time at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. The competition was held originally scheduled from July 21, 1908 to July 23, 1908. The rerun of the final was held on July 25, 1908. The races were held on a track of 536.45 metres=​13 mile in circumference.

Men's 400 metres
at the Games of the IV Olympiad
VenueWhite City Stadium
DatesJuly 21 (quarterfinals)
July 22 (semifinals)
July 23 (final)
Competitors37 from 10 nations
1st, gold medalist(s) Wyndham Halswelle  Great Britain
← 1904
1912 →

37 runners from ten nations competed.

It was the most controversial event of the London Games. The final resulted in the disqualification of American runner John Carpenter who was accused by the British officials of a manoeuvre that was legal under American rules (under which Carpenter normally competed) but prohibited by the British rules under which the race was run.

As part of the disqualification of Carpenter, a second final race was ordered. Halswelle was to face the other two finalists again. These athletes, William Robbins and John Taylor, were both Americans and decided not to participate in the repeat of the final to protest against the judges' decision. Halswelle was thus the only medallist in the 400 metres.


These were the standing world and Olympic records (in seconds) prior to the 1908 Summer Olympics.

World Record 47.8(*)   Maxie Long New York (USA) September 29, 1900
Olympic Record 49.2(**)   Harry Hillman St. Louis (USA) August 29, 1904

(*) 440 yards (= 402.34 m)

(**) This track was 536.45 metres=​13 mile in circumference.

In the semi-finals Wyndham Halswelle set a new Olympic record with 48.4 seconds.



The heats were run on July 21, 1908. The winner of each advanced to the semifinals, with all other runners eliminated.

Heat 1

Montague led by twelve yards when he finished.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Edwin Montague (GBR) 50.2 seconds Q
2   Paul Pilgrim (USA) 51.4 seconds

Heat 2

The second heat was cancelled as there were no starters.

Heat 3

Ryle had no competition in the third heat.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Edward Ryle (GBR) walkover Q

Heat 4

Taylor won handily, with a twelve-yard margin.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   John Taylor (USA) 50.8 seconds Q
2   Roberto Penna (ITA) 52.4 seconds
3   Sven Låftman (SWE) Unknown

Heat 5

Nicol won with a twelve-yard lead.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   George Nicol (GBR) 50.8 seconds Q
2   Oscar Guttormsen (NOR) 52.4 seconds

Heat 6

Eight yards separated the two runners when Malfait crossed the line.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Georges Malfait (FRA) 50.0 seconds Q
2   Donald Buddo (CAN) 51.2 seconds

Heat 7

Robbins had no difficulty in this race, winning with a 12-yard lead.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   William Robbins (USA) 50.4 seconds Q
2   József Nagy (HUN) 51.1 seconds
3   Noel Godfrey Chavasse (GBR) Unknown
4   Victor Henny (NED) Unknown

Heat 8

Prout's lead was only two yards when he finished.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   William C. Prout (USA) 50.4 seconds Q
2   Christopher Maude Chavasse (GBR) 50.7 seconds

Heat 9

Ramey's victory was one of the closest of the first round, with only a yard and a half separating him from Astley.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Horace Ramey (USA) 51.0 seconds Q
2   Arthur Astley (GBR) Unknown

Heat 10

Jacquemin pulled up lame, allowing Sebert to win by 20 yards.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Louis Sebert (CAN) 50.2 seconds Q
2   Massimo Cartasegna (ITA) 52.7 seconds
  Victor Jacquemin (BEL) Did not finish

Heat 11

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   John Atlee (USA) 50.4 seconds Q
2   Alan Patterson (GBR) 50.6 seconds
3   Giuseppe Tarella (ITA) Unknown

Heat 12

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Charles Davies (GBR) 50.4 seconds Q
2   Cornelis den Held (NED) 51.0 seconds

Heat 13

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Ned Merriam (USA) 52.2 seconds Q
2   R. C. Robb (GBR) 52.5 seconds

Heat 14

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   John Carpenter (USA) 49.8 seconds Q
2   Otto Trieloff (GER) 50.9 seconds
3   Arvid Ringstrand (SWE) Unknown
4   Henk van der Wal (NED) Unknown

Heat 15

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Wyndham Halswelle (GBR) 49.4 seconds Q
2   Frederick de Selding (USA) 50.8 seconds
3   Bram Evers (NED) Unknown

Heat 16

Young won by 30 yards.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   G. W. Young (GBR) 52.4 seconds Q
2   Jacobus Hoogveld (NED) (54.3 seconds)


The semifinals were held on July 22, 1908. Winners advanced, all others were eliminated.

Semifinal 1

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   John Carpenter (USA) 49.4 seconds Q
2   Charles Davies (GBR) 49.8 seconds
3   Ned Merriam (USA) Unknown
4   G. W. Young (GBR) Unknown

Semifinal 2

Halswelle broke the Olympic record in the semifinal.

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   Wyndham Halswelle (GBR) 48.4 seconds OR Q
2   Edwin Montague (GBR) 49.8 seconds
3   George Nicol (GBR) Unknown
4   William C. Prout (USA) Unknown

Semifinal 3

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   John Taylor (USA) 49.8 seconds Q
2   Horace Ramey (USA) 50.5 seconds
3   Edward Ryle (GBR) Unknown
4   Georges Malfait (FRA) Unknown

Semifinal 4

Place Athlete Time Qual.
1   William Robbins (USA) 49.0 seconds Q
2   Louis Sebert (CAN) 49.5 seconds
3   John Atlee (USA) Unknown


The final was initially held on July 23, 1908. After the disqualification of Carpenter, the second running of the final was scheduled for July 25.

First running

The first final ended with Carpenter finishing first, Halswelle following him, Robbins in third, and Taylor at the back. Roscoe Badger, one of the British umpires of the event, noticed Carpenter maneuvering so as to prevent Halswelle from passing him, which was legal at the time under the American rules under which Carpenter normally competed, but prohibited by the British rules that were in effect for the Olympics; Badger therefore signalled to the judges to declare the race void, leading to a thirty-minute argument between British and American team members. At the official inquiry later that day, the judges disqualified Carpenter and ordered the final to be rerun with Carpenter excluded.

Place Athlete Time
1   John Carpenter (USA) 47.8 seconds
2   Wyndham Halswelle (GBR) Unknown
3   William Robbins (USA) Unknown
4   John Taylor (USA) Unknown

Second running

Carpenter was not permitted to start in the rerun, and Robbins and Taylor refused to participate in protest of the decision by the judges. Halswelle won with a jog, for the one and only walkover win in Olympic track and field history.

Place Athlete Time
1   Wyndham Halswelle (GBR) 50.0 seconds
  William Robbins (USA) Did not start
  John Taylor (USA) Did not start
  John Carpenter (USA) Disqualified


  • Cook, Theodore Andrea (1908). The Fourth Olympiad, Being the Official Report. London: British Olympic Association.
  • De Wael, Herman (2001). "Athletics 1908". Herman's Full Olympians. Retrieved 24 July 2006.
  • Wudarski, Pawel (1999). "Wyniki Igrzysk Olimpijskich" (in Polish). Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 24 July 2006.