The Unseen Hurdle in the Steeplechase at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics: When 3,000 Meters Measured About 3,460

Los Angeles, CA- Photo shows the start of the 3000-meter steeplechase (left to right) #117, Volmari Iso-Hollo of Finland; #417, G.W. Dawson of U.S.A.; #194, T. Evenson, Great Britain; #442, J.P. McCluskey, U.S.A. It was won by Volmari Iso-Hollo of Finland

A 3,000 meter steeplechase is punishing. An athlete has to hurdle 28 barriers and splash through 7 water jumps before arriving exhausted at the finish line.

At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Volmari Iso-Hollo of Finland was over 35 meters ahead of his closest rival when he crossed the finish line….except there was no finish line. He saw that the lap counter read one more lap to go…so one Iso-Hollo went until he did finally break the tape to win the gold medal.

Some 13 seconds later, Brit Thomas Evenson completed the race, followed by American Joseph McCluskey. Except a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line. The race had already ended before it had ended.

Apparently, the official in charge of the lap counter forget to record the first lap. In other words, the runners all ran an extra lap, or an additional 460 meters. Fortunately for Iso-Hollo, he was clearly in the lead when he completed 3,000 meters. Unfortunately for McCluskey, he was in second at the end of 3,000. As is explained in The Complete Book of the Olympics 2012, McCluskey pointed out that they had all run an extra lap, and that he had been in second at the end of 3,000 meters. When officials realized the error, they offered a re-run the next day. McCluskey declined the chance. As the book quotes him, “a race has only one finish line.”

Joe McCluskey

Despite the fact that the order of the finishers was not changed, the officials thought to change the finishing time. They somehow came up with a revised time of 9:18.4, which would have been an Olympic record according to The Yomiuri (October 10, 1964). But there was simply too much guess work involved to make that time official. So the record stands, that Iso-Hollo won the gold in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the 1932 Olympics in 10:33.4.