Three Hundred and Eighty Five Yards

1908 Olympics

Three Hundred and Eighty Five Yards
by Rob Walton

Some say Conan Doyle is only here because the organisers offered him a good seat to watch the athletics. Others say he is here on behalf of the Daily Mail. I really don’t mind about that. I wager he will be remembered as one of the finest writers these islands have produced – as I always tell him in my letters. Indeed, if he cared to listen to some friendly advice, he could be the greatest ever.

I look across and, as he smooths his moustache, he catches my eye and frowns.

As a younger man, I read an awful lot of Holmes’ adventures in The Strand. At the end of each one I felt I knew a little of the workings of the minds of Holmes and Doyle. Only by the time I picked up the next one, I was again bamboozled. As he now knows.

I wonder if Conan Doyle has a theory about who might win this marathon. Ever since the competitors passed the five-mile marker, we have been receiving information every mile. Numbers and positions move around on a large board, and his pencil moves across the page. Someone uses the telephone system to pass news on to those of us lucky enough to be in the stadium. It really is terribly clever. They say the race started so the young princes could watch from their nursery, making it the oddest distance of twenty-six miles and three hundred and eighty five yards. That sounds like poppycock to me.

When I happened to bump into him outside the Carlton Club, I was unsure whether to say Doyle or Conan Doyle. He took my amended version of his latest story, but in his haste he forgot to thank me.

From here I can see him making notes too hurriedly in his small pocket book. He pauses, stares at me, taps his pipe and writes again. Of the 80, 000 spectators here in the heat, I fancy I am the only one with a moustache waxed just like his.

There is a collective intake of breath and we all turn our attention to the stadium entrance, apart from Holmes’ creator, who I feel satisfied has his eyes on me. Who should come into the stadium but a small elderly-looking chap in red trousers. We know he is Italian, though there is some confusion about his name: Dorando Pietri or Pietri Dorando? This matters little as he stumbles across the track, and we hold our breath again. I see Doyle shake his head in my direction and pick up his pen.

Those extra three hundred and eighty five yards put paid to Dorando’s dreams. As we worry, he crosses the finish line, but the officials’ assistance means he will surely be disqualified.

The Daily Mail’s reporter will file his slightly bloated copy later. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were followed by a well-written letter casting doubt on his version of events.

Scunthorpe-born and Tyneside-based, Rob Walton has flash fictions published by Paper Swans, Spelk, Number Eleven, Flash Frontier (NZ), Pygmy Giant, Paragraph Planet, Ham, Ink, Sweat & Tears and others. He won National Flash Fiction Day’s 2015 micro-fiction competition. He also writes poetry for adults and children and co-authored the New Hartley Memorial Pathway.  Find him on Twitter at @anicelad and on Facebook at

Image of Dorando Pietri being helped over the line by officials at the London 1908 Olympic Games courtesy of The Public Domain Review (where an excerpt from Conan Doyle’s article for the Daily Mail can also be found).