8 Unusual Facts About the 1904 St. Louis Olympics

8 Unusual Facts About the 1904 St. Louis Olympics


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1. They weren’t supposed to take place in St. Louis.
After considering Philadelphia and New York, the fledgling International Olympic Committee originally awarded the 1904 Summer Games to the city of Chicago. Shortly after making their announcement, the Committee ran into a problem in the form of St. Louis, which was already planning to host a World’s Fair called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition that same summer. The Exposition’s well-funded organizers were desperate to host the Olympics as well, and to force the IOC’s hand, they worked to secure a deal with the Amateur Athletic Union to hold the 1904 track and field championships as part of the World’s Fair. Faced with the possibility of conflicting athletic competitions, Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin reluctantly abandoned plans for Chicago and moved the 1904 games to St. Louis. Apparently no great fan of the “Gateway to the West,” Coubertin neglected to attend the games and later wrote, “I had a sort of presentiment that the Olympiad would match the mediocrity of the town.”

2. Only a few countries participated.
Compared to their modern counterparts, the 1904 games were hardly an international affair. European nations balked at the cost and slow speed of travel to St. Louis, and when the games finally kicked off, only 12 countries bothered to show up. Americans accounted for 523 of the 630 total athletes, and more than half of the events were contested entirely by homegrown competitors. Thanks to the significant numerical advantage, the United States would go on to win a total of 239 medals—the largest ever haul in a single Olympics. The near-sweep was not without controversy. The United States was criticized for fielding several European immigrants who still weren’t citizens, and as recently as 2012, Norway was still calling for the International Olympic Committee to officially change the nationality of two gold medal-winning wrestlers.

3. The games lasted for nearly five months.
Modern Olympiads typically last a little over two weeks, but the 1904 games ran for a grueling 146 days. While most of the track and field contests were held in a small window from August 29 to September 3 (the originally scheduled dates for the games), the rest of the events were sprinkled among several months of World’s Fair sports showcases including a military athletic carnival, an Irish sports festival and even a YMCA basketball championship. To make matters worse, the Fair’s organizers took to using the umbrella term “Olympic” for all the athletic competitions, which later led to confusion about which sports were official events. A review would later conclude that the 1904 games officially ran from July 1 to November 23 and consisted of 94 events. The 1908 London Olympics would last even longer, dragging on for an astounding 188 days from April to October.

4. The marathon caused a major uproar.
The St. Louis games are famous for including one of the most outrageous marathons in Olympic history. The race was held in 90-degree weather on a dust-covered road, and the inhospitable conditions conspired to force 18 of the 32 competitors to withdraw from exhaustion. One even suffered a stomach hemorrhage and nearly died before receiving medical attention. Race winner Thomas Hicks only fared slightly better. The runner spent the last 10 miles of the competition in utter agony, and was given several eggs, doses of toxic strychnine and even plugs of brandy to keep him on his feet. His assistants practically carried him over the finish line for a plodding final time of 3 hours, 28 minutes and 53 seconds. Other competitors faced even weirder problems. Cuban runner Felix Carbajal stopped along the course to snack on some apples only to be bowled over by stomach cramps, and a South African runner named Len Tau was chased off the course by a pack of wild dogs. After the race, many argued the marathon was too dangerous for the competitors and should be abolished. Even James Sullivan, the director of the 1904 games, admitted the event probably wouldn’t be back in 1908. “I personally am opposed to it,” he said. “It is indefensible on any ground, but historic.”

5. There were several allegations of cheating.
One of the most unusual controversies of the 1904 Olympics came during the boxing competition, when a fighter named James Bollinger entered under the name of popular local boxer Carroll Burton in the hope of currying favor with the judges. The impostor succeeded in winning one match before he was found out and disqualified. Still, nothing could eclipse the hubbub caused by Fred Lorz during the Olympic marathon. Lorz had been running a respectable fourth until the race’s nine-mile mark, when he developed severe cramps and had to drop out from exhaustion. He hitched a car ride back to the stadium, but after 10 miles, the vehicle suddenly broke down. Having caught his breath, Lorz decided to resume running for the final few miles and eventually crossed the finish line first. He was hailed by spectators as the race winner and nearly accepted the gold medal before someone mentioned his multi-mile car ride. Lorz claimed it was all an elaborate joke, but the Amateur Athletic Union was not amused and promptly slapped him with a lifetime ban. Lorz would later have the punishment rescinded on the grounds that he was “temporarily insane.” He went on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.

6. Tug-of-War was included as part of the track and field competition.
Tug-of-war might seem more at a home at a kids’ summer camp than at the Olympics, but it was a popular event at the Summer Games from 1900 until 1920. Six five-man teams gripped the ropes in 1904—one from Greece, one from South Africa and four from the United States—and the event counted as part of the overall team track and field championships. The Greeks and South Africans both lost on the first day of competition, leaving the medal competition an all-American affair. On September 1, the men of the Milwaukee Athletic Club claimed the gold after a hard fought match against the New York Athletic Club. New York neglected to show up for the consolation round, which meant the silver and bronze were awarded to two local teams from St. Along with hosting one of the few Tug-of-war competitions, the 1904 games are also famous for being the last time golf appeared as an Olympic sport, as well as the one and only time the obscure “plunge for distance” diving event was contested.

7. The games included a side-competition for third world tribesmen.
Alongside traditional Olympic sports, the 1904 games also included a bizarre and highly controversial event known as “Anthropology Days.” As part of the two-day contest, so-called “uncivilized tribes” were recruited from the World’s Fair’s “human zoo” exhibits and encouraged to try their hand at Olympic sports. Ainus, Patagonians, Pygmies, Igorot Filipinos and Sioux were all paid to participate in traditional Olympic events such as the long jump, archery and the javelin throw as well as specially made contests like the pole climb and mud throwing. The event was billed as a display of the tribesmen’s natural athletic ability, but the participants received almost no instruction and most performed quite poorly. Anthropology Days organizer James Sullivan smugly concluded the events were proof that “the savage has been a very much overrated man from an athletic point of view,” but others labeled them a demeaning and racist sideshow. For his part, Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin called Anthropology Days an “outrageous charade,” and noted, “it will of course lose its appeal when black men, red men and yellow men learn to run, jump and throw, and leave the white men behind them.”

8. Women only competed in one official event.
Out of the nearly 100 sports at the 1904 Olympics, archery was the only event in which women were allowed to compete. The competition took place on September 19 and 20 and involved six contestants, five of whom were part of Ohio’s Cincinnati Archers Club. 45-year-old Lida Howell, the nation’s undisputed top lady archer, coasted to the gold medal in both the Double Columbia and Double National rounds. Women also stepped into the ring as part of the Olympic boxing card, but their bouts were considered display events and no medals were awarded. Amazingly, the 1904 exhibition in St. Louis would be the last time women boxed at the Olympics for 108 years, as the competition was not revived until the 2012 Summer Games in London.


11 of the Craziest Events in Olympic History

Olympic history books are filled with stories of amazing individual performances and team achievements. But from poorly conceived competitions to spectators attacking the judges, a lot of crazy stuff has happened in the Summer Olympics.

1. Killing Animals Causes Horror, Fainting Live Pigeon Shooting, 1900 Paris Olympics

Live Pigeon Shooting was the only time in Olympic history when animals were deliberately killed in the name of sport. Even at the turn of the 20th century, the outrage was strong enough that they cancelled it after one Olympics:

"The idea to use live birds for the pigeon shooting turned out to be a rather unpleasant choice," American sports historian Andrew Strunk wrote dryly in a 1988 article on the 1900 Paris Olympics. "Maimed birds were writhing on the ground, blood and feathers were swirling in the air and women with parasols were weeping in the chairs set up nearby."

2. Cheating, Stealing, and Strychnine Marathon, 1904 St. Louis Olympics

The 1904 marathon was one of the most bizarre Olympic events ever staged, as the organizers knew almost nothing about staging a race. It was run in afternoon heat that reached 90 degrees over dusty roads made dustier by automobiles that were permitted to drive alongside the athletes. To top it off, there was only one usable water station: a well at the 12-mile mark.

No one noticed that American Fred Lorz hitched a ride at mile 12. Not until he was being awarded his medal by Alice Roosevelt did he confess that it was all a practical joke.

Winner Thomas Hicks (pictured) wasn’t entirely legitimate either, as he was given preferential treatment by his handlers who bathed him head to toe in warm water and administered a concoction of eggs, brandy, and strychnine when he insisted on quitting at mile 19.

Perhaps the most colorful participant in the race was a Cuban mail carrier with no race experience. Felix Carvajal de Soto hitchhiked his way up the Mississippi River from his initial port of entry in New Orleans. The race was delayed because his long trousers and street shoes were deemed unsuitable for running. Carvajal stopped regularly to chat with bystanders about the progress of the race and practice his English, raided an apple orchard (which caused him to cramp up and lie on the side of the road for a few minutes) and playfully stole some peaches from race officials.

Amazingly, Carvajal finished fourth.

3. Swimming in Cold, Deadly Waters 1500-meter swimming, 1896 Athens Olympics

The organizers of the Athens Olympics held the swimming events in the open waters of the Bay of Zea on a morning in which the waters dropped to a temperature of 55 degrees and the waves reached as high as 12 feet. The winner was 15-year old Hungarian Alfred Hajos, who had felt compelled to learn to swim after witnessing his father drown in the Danube two years prior. Hajos recounted that he was scared for his life, and his will to live completely overcame any desire to win the race.

4. Crowd Attacks Ref Boxing, 1988 Seoul Olympics

When referee Keith Walker docked Korean bantamweight boxer Byun Jong-Li two points for headbutting his Bulgarian opponent at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the hometown crowd was not amused. Korean head coach Lee Houng-Soo punched the ref. Security officials, at least one other Korean coach, and members of the audience poured into the ring and started to riot. They directed their violence not just at Walker, but the Bulgarian president of the refereeing committee. Walker was eventually rescued by a somewhat slow-to-respond police force and immediately left Seoul. Walker may have been mistaken by the fans and coaches for a Greek referee who'd told the Korean delegation to “shut up” earlier when they questioned a controversial decision.

5. Political Tensions Lead to Bloodbath in the Water Water Polo, 1956 Melbourne Olympics

The water polo teams from Hungary and the Soviet Union met in the pool just three weeks after the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary. Although the Hungarians were sheltered from the worst of the news while training in Czechoslovakia, there was clear tension at the start of the match the two captains refused to shake hands, as is customary in the sport.

Throughout the match, the Hungarians verbally harassed their opponents, hoping to throw them off. Things finally reached a tipping point when a Soviet player hit Hungarian captain Ervin Zador in the eye. The image of Zador and his bloody eye is one of the most indelible images from the games.

6. Running Through Traffic Marathon, 1900 Paris Olympics

The 1900 marathon involved a confusing, poorly marked course that went straight through the streets of Paris. Many runners took wrong turns and in some places, the course overlapped with the commutes of automobiles, animals, bicycles, pedestrians, and runners joining in for fun.

Amid the course confusion, fifth-place finisher Arthur Newton claimed that he had finished first because he never saw anyone pass him. Even worse, the race was run at 2:30 in the afternoon in July heat that reached 102 degrees. The local favorite, Georges Touquet-Daunis, ducked into a café to escape the heat, had a couple beers, and decided it was too hot to continue.

7. Poisonous Fumes Add a Degree of Difficulty Cross-Country Run, 1924 Paris Olympics

At the 1924 Paris Olympics, the cross-country course included an unfairly difficult obstacle—an energy plant giving off poisonous fumes. The winner, nine-time gold medalist Paavo Nurmi, got by unscathed, but nearly everyone else staggered onto the track dizzy and disoriented. On the roads, the carnage was significantly worse, as runners were vomiting and overcome by sunstroke. The Red Cross took hours searching for all the runners on the side of the road.

8. 2 AM Race Leads to Two Casualties Cycling Road Race, 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Sweden was unable to build a velodrome for the 1912 Olympics and wanted to cancel cycling all together. At the deliberations leading up to the games, the British protested the cancellation and demanded a road race despite warnings by the Swedish delegation that their roads were in no shape for such an event. The Swedish eventually capitulated and opted to stage a race on the same circuit as their annual road race the Malaren Rundt.

At 315 kilometers, this course was over 6 times the length of the average Olympic road race. The real problem, however, was that this 10-hour race began at 2 AM, which made conditions rather dangerous. Fortunately, there were only two major casualties but neither was pretty: one Russian rider plunged into a ditch and lay unconscious until discovered by a local farmer while another, Sweden's Karl Landsberg, was hit by a car shortly after the start and dragged along the road for some distance.

9. Protesting Divers Get Out of Hand Springboard Diving, 1980 Moscow Olympics

Upon belly flopping, Aleksandr Portnov of the USSR complained that the crowd noise in men's butterfly competition in another part of the aquatic facility was distracting. The officials allowed Portnov's complaint and the finals were redone. In the second go around, Portnov won, but fourth-place finisher Falk Hoffman caused further disorder with an even more erroneous complaint: the flash from a photographer distracted him on his way down. After a two-day deliberation, Hoffman's protest was denied, as was a complaint by Mexican silver medalist Carlos Giron. In response, protests were held outside the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City.

10. Judges Override Clock Freestyle Swimming, 1960 Rome Olympics

The 100-meter freestyle at the Rome games in 1960 remains perhaps the only instance in which a swimmer with a slower time than the first-place finisher was awarded the gold medal. At the time, close calls in the pool were determined by a panel of judges, although electronic timers were available for consultation. When the judges met to discuss the close finish between Australian swimmer John Devitt and American Lance Larson, they ruled 2-1 in favor of Devitt.

Unfortunately, the three-judge panel assigned to award the silver also voted 2-1 in favor of Devitt. As a result, the electronic timers were examined more closely. Larson clocked in at 55.1 in comparison to Devitt's 55.2. The chief judge had already decided to award the medal in favor of Devitt and ordered Larson's time changed to 55.2. The decision was protested for the next four years to no avail.

11. Milwaukee Takes Gold Tug of War, 1904 St. Louis Olympics

At the beginning of the last century, tug of war was more than just a groan-inducing part of company picnics. From 1900 to 1920, it was an Olympic event. Traditionally, the best teams came from Scandinavia and Great Britain, where the sport still enjoys a strong niche following. But one American squad managed to grab gold in the 1904 St. Louis games—the pullers of the Milwaukee Athletic Club.

The triumph of the club’s iron grips and sturdy ankles led to much rejoicing across Milwaukee. There was a slight snag, though. No one on the team was actually from Milwaukee, and they certainly weren’t members of the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Instead, the athletes were ringers that the club’s head, Walter Liginger, supposedly recruited from Chicago. Although the defeated teams filed a grievance, Olympic officials rejected the protests, and the so-called men from Milwaukee got to walk away with both their medals and their honor intact.


Et Tu, Nero?

At the 67 CE Olympic Games, Roman Emperor Nero supposedly made frequent use of bribes—the first of which might have been to allow him to compete, as the early Games were traditionally limited to Greeks. Perhaps the most blatant example of his bribery occurred in the four-horse chariot race, in which he was allowed to compete with 10 horses. According to some reports, he fell from the chariot and did not complete the event. Nevertheless, officials still named him the winner.


Top 10 Standings

National medal standings are not recognized by the IOC. The unofficial point totals are based on 3 points for a gold medal, 2 for a silver and 1 for a bronze.

Gold Silver Bronze Total Pts
1 USA 78 84 82 244 484
2 Germany 4 4 4 12 24
3 Canada 4 1 1 6 15
4 Hungary 2 1 1 4 9
Cuba 3 0 0 3 9
6 Austria 1 1 1 3 6
Britain/Ireland 1 1 1 3 6
8 Greece 1 0 1 2 4
Switzerland 1 0 1 2 4
10 Cuba/USA 1 0 0 1 3

St. Louis1904

Unfortunately, the St. Louis Games repeated all of the mistakes of 1900. The various competitions were spread out over four-and-a-half months and became lost in the chaos of a World’s Fair celebrating the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France.

Debuts and Firsts

The 1904 Olympic Games were the first at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for first, second and third place. Boxing, freestyle wrestling, decathlon and a dumbbells event all made their debuts on the programme.

A Marathon Drive

Thomas Hicks of the U.S. won the marathon after the disqualification of his fellow countryman Fred Lorz, who had covered a large part of the 40 kilometres in a car, getting out just before the finish!

Memorable Champions

Archie Hahn, known as the Milwaukee Meteor, won the 60m, 100m and 200m. In the 200m, he ran an Olympic record time of 21.6 seconds—a record that would stand for 28 years. One of the most remarkable athletes was the American gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals even though his left leg was made of wood.

Athletes: 651

Volunteers: N/A

Ceremonies

St. Louis 1904. F.J.V. Skiff, Director of Exhibits, presenting the Skiff Cup to Archie Hahn of the United States, donated as a prize to winner of the 100m dash.

Official Opening of the Games by:

Mr David Francis, president of Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Lighting the Olympic Flame by:

A symbolic fire at an Olympic Summer Games was first lit in 1928 in Amsterdam.

Olympic Oath by:

The athletes’ oath was first sworn at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp.

Officials' Oath by:

The officials' oath at an Olympic Summer Games was first sworn in 1972 in Munich.


1. Rosters

Originally only two teams showed up for this event. However, a number of other players were available and formed a team at the last minute. As they were all members of the U.S.G.A. member golf club, they competed under the title of that organization.

Edward Cummins Kenneth Edwards Chandler Egan Walter Egan Robert Hunter Nathaniel Moore Mason Phelps Daniel Sawyer Clement Smoot Warren Wood

Trans-Mississippi Golf Association

John Cady Albert Lambert John Maxwell Burt McKinnie Ralph McKittrick Francis Newton Henry Potter Frederick Semple Stuart Stickney William Stickney

United States Golf Association

Douglass Cadwallader Jesse Carleton Harold Fraser Arthur Hussey Orus Jones Allan Lard George Oliver Simeon Price John Rahm Harold Weber

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H. Chandler Egan Champion, Architect, and Ambassador of Golf.

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Deliberate Dehydration and NDEs

The starting pistol fired at 3:03 in the afternoon as the heat beat down at temperatures in the 90s. What proceeded was less a marathon race than an unethical human-limitation experiment over a winding, hilly course inches thick with dust. As coaches and doctors rode in cars and horses alongside the runners, they spewed dust into the runners lungs igniting several hacking spells. American competitor William Garcia was discovered lying on the road along the marathon course with near-fatal internal injuries caused by breathing in dust.

Despite the dangerous levels of heat and humidity, the runners were only able to secure water from two locations on the course at the 6-mile and 12-mile markers. That’s because the chief organizer of the games, James Sullivan, wanted to “minimize fluid intake to test the limits and effects of purposeful dehydration, a common area of research at the time,” according to the Smithsonian magazine . What better opportunity to do a bit of experimenting on the topic?


The 1904 Olympic Marathon

The 3rd Olympic Games held in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri was unquestionably the greatest train wreck of an Olympics ever held. In fact, the Olympics in ancient Greece were probably better organized and better attended than the 1904 Olympics.

Nothing quite exemplifies the hot mess which was the St. Louis Olympics quite like the 1904 Olympics Marathon, which was such a disaster, it almost killed several competitors, and almost permanently removed the marathon as a competitive event.

Learn more about total failure which was the 1904 Olympic marathon on this episode of Everything Everywhere daily.

The problems in St. Louis started when the Olympics were first awarded.

To paraphrase Dante from the movie “Clerks”, “the Olympics weren’t even supposed to be here.” The original city which was awarded the Olympics wasn’t St. Louis, but Chicago.

However, in 1903 St. Louis had scheduled the Louisiana Purchase Exposition which was supposed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. However, they couldn’t pull it off in time, so it was delayed until 1904.

They didn’t want another international event taking place at the same time in the United States, let alone a neighboring state, so they threatened to host their own sporting event during the world’s fair to compete with the Olympics.

At the time, the Olympics wasn’t the big deal it is today, so the threat was real could have affected the long term prospects of the event.

Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, eventually relented and awarded the Olympics to St. Louis.

The games were scheduled over a 5 month period, from July to November of 1904, which coincided with the world’s fair.

The games were also held during the Russo-Japanese War which limited the number of countries attending. It was also located in the middle of the United States at a time when there was no air travel. Athletes coming from Europe would have had to cross the Atlantics by ship, then work their way overland to St. Louis.

As a result, the vast majority of the competitors were from North America. Of the 96 gold medals awarded at the games, 86 were awarded to the United States, Canada, or Cuba. The games were so lopsided in favor of the United States that it almost shouldn’t be counted as a real Olympics.

The marathon took place on August 30th.

The temperature at the start of the race was 33 °C or 92 °F. That in and of itself was pretty bad, but the near 100% humidity at the time made it even worse. The heat index, which is what the temperature feels like with humidity, reached 57 °C or 135 °F. It was one of the hottest races ever run in history.

To put this in perspective, the ideal temperature to run a marathon is considered to be around 49°F or about 10°C. Modern race organizers are advised to postpone a race if temperatures get above 70°F or 21°C. This is why all the major marathons in the world are almost always run in the spring or fall.

The reason why cool temperatures are preferred is because of the amount of heat someone will produce when running. Even putting aside the humidity heat index, there is a specific heat index for runners which takes into consideration how hot it would feel for a runner. The index doesn’t even calculate it over 85°F or 30°C and 60% humidity because it’s just too dangerous.

In summary, you don’t want to run when it’s hot, and on this day it was REALLY hot.

The route through St. Louis began and ended in the stadium, but the majority of the route was on a dusty dirt road. The word “dusty” isn’t just a throwaway adjective here. One of the competitors, William Garcia of California, had to drop out of the race because his esophagus and had become coated in dust and tore up the lining of his stomach causing it to bleed.

The organizer of the games, James E. Sullivan, wanted to use the marathon to run an experiment on “purposeful dehydration”. Sports science hadn’t really reached the level of a “science” in 1904. Not only was the idea of running a dehydration experiment in the middle of an Olympic event crazy, but doing so on one of the hottest days of the games was doubly so.

There were only two places on the route where the competitors could get water. A water tower at the one-quarter mark, and a well at the half waypoint. That meant for the entire second half of the race, on one of the hottest days of the year, on a route where everyone was inhaling dust, there was no water.

To put this in perspective, the average marathon today will have around 8 to 12 hydration stations along the route.

The entry with the most fascinating story was probably Félix Carvajal, a mailman who traveled from Cuba. He was not a competitive runner. He didn’t qualify for the Cuban Olympic team, and the Cuban delegation had no idea he was even going to appear. He just showed up the day of the race, and they let him run.

After arriving in the US, he lost all his money in New Orleans in a dice game and had to hitchhike to get to St. Louis. He arrived just before the start of the race and had nothing but his street clothes to compete in, which consisted of long underwear and a long sleeve shirt. One of the competitors cut off the legs of his pants so he could run easier, which was the only adaptation he was able to make for the race.

By the start of the rase, Felix hadn’t eaten for 40 hours and along the way stopped to eat some apples from an orchard. Unfortunately, the apples were rotten and gave him stomach cramps. He decided to lay down and take a nap.

….taking a nap in the middle of the Olympic marathon.

Despite all of that, he finished fourth.

(A side note about Felix, he was chosen to represent Cuba at the 1906 Olympics in Athens, which would be paid for by the Cuban government. On the way there, he got off the ship in Italy and disappeared. The Cubans thought him dead and published his obituary. He showed up several months later in Havana on a Spanish steamer.)

There were two entries from South Africa who were members of the Tswana tribe. They were first two African competitors in Olympic history. They too were not accomplished runners. They just happened to be in St. Louis working at the South African exhibition at the world’s fair, so they thought they’d give it a try.

During the race, they ended up running over a mile off course because they were both chased by wild dogs.

They finished in 9th and 12th place.

The first “winner” of the race, (and I am putting air quotes around winner), was Fred Lorz. Lorz was an actual runner, insofar as there were runners back in 1904. He would go on to be the winner of the 1905 Boston Marathon and placed in the top 10 in several other marathons.

However, in this race, Lorz didn’t exactly run a marathon. About 9 miles into the race he gave up and was driven in a car the next 11 miles by his trainer. He then ran the remainder of the way, re-entering the stadium on foot to the applause of the crowds.

At the time, they didn’t have an official medal ceremony, so after he crossed the finish line, he was awarded the gold medal and had his photo taken with dignitaries such as the current president, Theodore Roosevelt’s, daughter.

However, someone in the stands witnessed Lorz getting in the car, and he quickly confessed and said it was just a joke. Ha ha. Very funny.

Lorz was given a lifetime ban by the Amateur Athletics Union, which was quickly rescinded just a few months later.

The actual winner of the race was American Thomas Hicks, and his story might be the most interesting of them all.

Hicks won the marathon with a time of 3 hours and 28 minutes, which is far and away the worst time ever for any Olympic marathon winner by over a half an hour.

Hicks won the race even though he had what was arguable the worst trainers in the history of sports.

At the 10 mile mark, he asked his trainers for water, and they refused to give him any. They just gave him enough distilled water to coat the inside of his mouth.

With 7 miles to go, his team gave him a concoction of strychnine and egg whites. At the time, small doses of strychnine was thought to be a stimulant. It is a chemical that is probably best known as a rat poison.

Their intent was to help Hicks’ performance, which would have made it the first use of a performance-enhancing drug in Olympic history. In reality, it just became the first use of rat poison in Olympic History.

After a few more miles they gave him another rat poison, egg white cocktail, but this time with some french brandy.

…Yes, they actually gave him hard liquor during an Olympic marathon.

With just 2 miles to go, he was told of Lorz win being revoked which gave him some extra energy, but he soon began hallucinating thinking the finish line was over 20 miles away.

His team gave him still more brandy, and as he entered the stadium, he was barely walking and his trainers had to assist him by the shoulders to get him across the finish line. Something which would have been totally against the rules, assuming they actually had rules.

He immediately collapsed after crossing the line, exhausted and dehydrated. It took four doctors an hour to get him back on his feet, and he had lost 8 pounds, or 3.6 kilograms, during the 3.5 hours of the race.

Of the 32 runners entered in the race, but only 14 actually finished, the lowest percentage of entrants to finish an Olympic marathon by a wide margin.

Given the circumstances, it is amazing that anyone did.

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George Eyser’s Big Day at the 1904 Olympics

Here’s what I typed into Google a few days ago:

“What is that clicky thing on an Olympic bow?”

While enthralled with NBC’s archery coverage of the Rio Olympics over the past week, I kept noticing this little piece of metal (or maybe it’s plastic) on an archer’s bow flip down and “click” (it makes an audible “click”) just before an arrow was released. And I was sure Google would give me some fancy techno-archery term to describe something only what an Olympic archer would know.

Well, it turns out it’s just a clicker. Seriously. They call it a “clicker”.

Anyway, the purpose of a clicker is to let the archer know that the arrow has been drawn back enough to effectively fire it. It’s usually made of strong wire or carbon, and the audible “click” is the signal to fire away. And once again, I’m enlightened.

Actually, this little nugget of information helps explain why I am so happy the Rio Olympics are finally here. The Olympics are filled with great history, and each time I watch the games, I find myself wanting to know more. So my Olympic experience is not just watching the games. I use the time as an opportunity to flip through reference books, click-through Wikipedia, and ask Google for the stories behind the sports that are played, where they have been played, and most importantly, the people who have played them. As I figure out what a “clicker” is, I’m also learning that the South Koreans are the best archers in the world (at least in the Olympics), that humans have been shooting arrows at things for over 70,000 years, and that the only sport women could participate in at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics was in fact, archery.

And speaking of St. Louis, all of this reminds me how great it is that the city I now call home once hosted the Summer Olympics.

The St. Louis games suffer a poor reputation in most Olympic histories, but it’s still fun to know we had one. Only twenty-two cities in the world have hosted the summer games, and it’s a feather in our cap to say we are one of them. Even better, we flat-out stole the Olympics from our midwest rival Chicago, the city the games were originally awarded to. That’s a story (and a good one) for another day, but I first have to tell the story of George Eyser, a story I’ve been saving since I last wrote about the Olympics in 2012.

George Louis Eyser was born on August 31, 1870 in Kiel, Germany. His family emigrated to the United States when he was fourteen, first settling in Colorado and then in St. Louis. He became an American citizen in 1894, was a bookkeeper by trade, but other than two remarkable facts, little else is known about George Eyser’s story. The first fact is that at some point in his youth, George Eyser was run over by a train and lost his left leg. The second is that despite this tragedy, George Eyser became an Olympic champion, winning six gymnastics medals (three gold, two silver, and one bronze) in a single day at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.

Before I get to the details of Eyser’s special day, let me set the table a little bit. A key reason why many Olympic historians believe the St. Louis games came up short is that many of the world’s best athletes didn’t bother to show up and compete. Many even use George Eyser to help make this point. If a man with a wooden leg could win gold, the guy who won silver must have been a pushover. It’s an argument that does have some merit. Getting to the middle of North America in 1904 wasn’t an easy task, and the 1904 Olympic organizers decided to stretch the Olympic events out over four months to coincide with the 1904 World’s Fair. To complicate things, organizers also broke the gymnastics competition into two separate events. One competition was held in early July of 1904, and the other in late October. As a result, many of the best European athletes decided not to make the trip. And although Germany sent a team of athletes to compete in the July competition, they didn’t stick around to compete in October.

But I believe George Eyser’s accomplishment shouldn’t be diminished. The level of competition he faced certainly wasn’t as skilled as it is today, but the sport of gymnastics was in its infancy in 1904. Despite this, Eyser undoubtedly faced athletes skilled in gymnastics. One example is Anton Heida, a 25-year old Austrian from Philadelphia who won six gymnastics medals of his own, including five golds. Heida was also the 1902 national champion in the long horse vault, and was a respected gymnastics athlete. In fact, the only event in which Heida did not win gold was the parallel bars competition. And it was George Eyser who beat him.

In what must have been a fascinating event to watch, Eyser and Heida also tied in the long horse vault (known simply as the “vault” in today’s Olympics), and each man was awarded a gold medal. Eyser’s performance is remarkable because unlike events that didn’t require the use of leg power, such as rope climbing or the horizontal bar, the vault competition certainly did. And the 1904 event didn’t include a springboard like it does today. George Eyser was required to launch himself over the apparatus and safely land not just once, but three times. His impressive final score matched that of a national champion who had both legs intact.

Another reason I’m inclined to believe George Eyser was exceptional is because of how popular gymnastics was among German Americans at the time. This was due to an actual gymnastic movement, or Turnverein, founded by man named Friedrich Ludwig Jahn at a time when Germany was occupied by Napoleon’s forces in the early 19th Century. Established for the purpose of cultivating health and vigor through gymnastics, the Turnverein movement came to America when German immigration was at its peak in the mid-1800’s. As a result, hundreds of Turnverein (also known as “Turner”) societies were founded all over the country. In large cities like St. Louis, Turner halls became the athletic, social, and political centers for thousands of German immigrants settling into a new life in America. More than a dozen Turner halls were founded in St. Louis, and each one contained a gymnasium filled with German athletes learning gymnastics, practicing gymnastics, and making gymnastics a part of their daily lives. It was also common for Turner clubs to participate against each other in organized gymnastic competitions and athletic meets, with members representing their club first and country second. And this is how George Eyser became an Olympian. Along with the South St. Louis Turnverein, St. Louis was represented by the Concordia Turners at the 1904 games against clubs from cities like New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and many others. In fact, no fewer than thirteen Turnvereins participated in the 1904 Olympics, and one must assume that George Eyser was just one of many with sufficient gymnastic ability to win gold.

The popularity of gymnastics among German Americans could be one reason why the 1904 Olympic organizers decided to hold two separate gymnastic competitions. The events contested in July were restricted to Turners only, and were even referred to as the “Turner Games”. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in the days before the competition that “It will without doubt be the greatest competition ever held by Turner societies”. The Post-Dispatch also reported that the German Turnverein en route from Berlin was favored to win, but it wasn’t to be. When the German team arrived in St. Louis, it was discovered that the German athletes didn’t all belong to the same Turnverein. And since that is how the American athletes were organized, the Germans were barred from the team competitions.

George Eyser didn’t find Olympic glory in the July competition. His Concordia team finished fourth in the team event (Anton Heida’s Philadelphia club won gold), and the all-around competition included track and field events that didn’t suit George Eyser’s unique disability. Not surprisingly, Eyser finished 118th (dead last) in the 100 yard dash, 118th in the long jump, and 76th in the shot put. However, despite a wooden leg, Eyser’s time of 15.4 seconds in the 100 meter dash is certainly impressive. The winner of the event, Max Emmerich of Indianapolis, won with a time of 10.6 seconds, just five seconds faster than Eyser.

On October 29, 1904, when the second set of gymnastic events began, George Eyser’s prospects for success were far better. The October events were apparatus-only, allowing Eyser to capitalize on his upper-body strength and technical gymnastic ability. As a result, he won gold in the parallel bars, rope climbing, and as mentioned earlier, tied for gold with Anton Heida in the long horse vault event. To round out his impressive day, Eyser won silver medals in the all-around and side horse, and won a bronze on the horizontal bar. Regardless of how the St. Louis Olympics are viewed today, George Eyser’s accomplishment of six medals in a single day is an impressive one. He faced quality competition in a sport that was widely contested at the time. And it wasn’t until 2008, when Natalie du Toit swam for South Africa at the Beijing Olympics, did another Olympic athlete compete with an artificial leg.

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t able to find much else about the rest of George Eyser’s life. But it certainly seems that his competitive fire continued to burn. Along with continuing his gymnastics career with the Concordia Turners, I found George Eyser in a newspaper article published six months after the St. Louis Olympics ended. It seems there is more to the story between Anton Heida and George Eyser’s Olympic competition. The article states that the 1904 parallel bars gold medal was originally awarded to Anton Heida as the result of a scoring error. But when the scoring error was identified and Eyser proclaimed the winner, Heida refused to relinquish the gold medal. And as the article suggests, the matter was likely headed to court. Unfortunately, I can find no record of the resolution.

But I have another week of Olympics, so I have plenty of time to keep digging.

With all the Turners jumping, swinging, and flipping in this post, I suppose I should be celebrating the Olympics by drinking something at least a bit German. But with the games set in Rio De Janeiro, I simply couldn’t resist toasting George Eyser with anything but Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.

Prior to the opening ceremonies of the Rio games, the caipirinha is actually a drink that I have never tried. I’ve been told often that is delicious, but for one reason or another, I’ve never ordered it. But as the Rio Olympics drew closer, I made sure to have a bottle of cachaça on hand.

Cachaça is the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil and the key spirit in the caipirinha. It’s distilled from sugarcane juice and has close ties to rum (but I’ve also been told not to call it a “Brazilian rum”). Anyway, it’s safe to say I became well-acquainted with the caipirinha since the opening ceremonies a week ago. I had a splitting headache the next morning, but it reminded me that I now have another cocktail for the bar book. It is a tart, refreshing drink that is not only perfect for Olympic watching, but for surviving the dog days of summer St. Louis is so eager to provide.

My caipirinha recipe:

Muddle sugar cubes and lime wheels in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and 2 ounces of cachaça (or maybe a bit more if you are in the fourth hour Olympic opening ceremonies) and shake vigorously. Pour into a rocks glass and enjoy.

And don’t forget to raise your glass to George Eyser, a true St. Louis Olympic champion.


Closing Out the 2016 (& 1904) Olympics

Well, the Rio games are finally over.

And I can say that it went well. Meaning, my absurd Olympic appetite was fully sated in the last two weeks. I watched hours upon hours of every badminton match, fencing duel, and steeplechase that I could.

During my sixteen-day obsession, I took the opportunity to post daily Olympic history tidbits over on the Distilled History Facebook page. Many who follow Distilled History on social media may have seen a few of them, but I’m not so sure. I still can’t figure out how Facebook handles “pages”. Unlike personal pages, Facebook seems to think Distilled History is a business (despite being classified as a “personal blog”) and keeps insisting that I pay to “boost” my posts to more readers. It’s a bit frustrating because I’m really not trying to make money off the page (or the blog). I just want to use it as a place to post fun St. Louis history finds and additional content that was edited out of larger blog posts.

Anyway, since I didn’t “boost” any of my Olympic history facts, I think Facebook made sure fewer people saw them. So, I decided to combine them all into a single post here. So, this isn’t a “new” post, but I have four or five in the works that should be coming along soon.

Finally, a few of these facts are related to my post about Olympian George Eyser that was published when the Rio games got underway. Click here to get caught up on that great story.

112 Years Later, Golf is Back

In the Rio games, the first Olympic gold medal in golf was awarded (to Justin Rose of Great Britain) since Canadian George Lyon won the event at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis. A Canadian who didn’t pick up a club until the age of 38, Lyon amused spectators during his final round in 1904 by cracking jokes and doing hand stands while waiting for his turn to hit. The event was contested at the Glen Echo Country Club, a course that still exists in the suburb of Normand y, just west of St. Louis. Glen Echo was not only the first 18-hole golf course in St. Louis, but the first 18-hole course west of the Mississippi River. But wait, there’s more. The 1904 American golf team also included a man named Albert Lambert. Lambert’s father was Jordan Lambert, the founder of a pharmaceutical company that is known for creating Listerine. Lambert was also an aviation nut, and not only was he one of the primary financial backers of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, he is the “Lambert” in our “Lambert-St. Louis International Airport”.

They Ran on a Trapezoid

Like many events at the 1904 Olympics such as cycling, lacrosse, roque, archery, and weightlifting, George Eyser’s gymnastics events were held in the infield of the Olympic Stadium (now known as Washington University’s Francis Field). Built in 1902, the stadium could hold 19,000 spectators and featured a track that looks much different from what we saw in Rio. Unlike the 400 meter track (1/4 mile) that is standard in track & f ield today, the 1904 games featured a 536.44 meter track (1/3 mile). The track featured one very long straightaway, four turns, and three shorter straights. In 1984, the facility underwent a major renovation which included a new 400m synthetic track and the spectator capacity was reduced to 4,000. In the attached photograph, the octagonal “Women’s Magazine Building” (now University City’s City Hall) can be seen in the background.

Bantams and Feathers

Along with events such as freestyle wrestling and the decathlon, the sport of boxing made its Olympic debut at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis. Held in the Physical Culture Gymnasium (next to the Olympic Stadium) on September 21st and 22nd 1904, the boxing competition had only seventeen boxers compete in seven weight classes. And since the event lacked world-class competition (only Americans participated), the boxing competition is not regarde d as one of the highlights of the games. However, it did produce a bit of good Olympic history. Oliver Kirk, a fighter from the Business Men’s Club in St. Louis, won the gold medal in the men’s bantamweight division. But when only two boxers entered the featherweight class, Kirk fought the winner and was awarded a second gold medal. To this day, Kirk is the only man in Olympic history to win two gold medals in two separate weight divisions at the same Olympics.

Austrian or American? Both.

Anton Heida, George Eyser’s primary gymnastics foe at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, has a good story to tell himself. Heida had one of the greatest Olympics of all time in 1904 when he won five gold medals and one silver medal in a single day. Heida is also the only athlete to have competed in the Summer Olympics for two different countries in the same games. An Austrian by birth, Heida competed as an Austrian during the first gymnastics competition held in July 1904. But in October 1904, Heida became a citizen of the United States. When Heida won six medals during the second gymnastics competition held on October 29, he competed an as American.

That’s a Pretty Painting! Here’s a Medal.

Many people aren’t aware that the Olympics used to contain art competitions. From 1912 to 1948, medals were awarded for works of art, including architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. These five subjects were even broken into sub-categories, with awards for subjects like “lyric literature”, “graphic arts”, and “municipal planning”. Remarkably, the reason why the art contests were removed from the Olympic program is not because they weren’t sports (although all art entries were required to be “inspired by sport”), but because the artists were considered professionals and not amateurs. At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, it can even be said that the stadium itself was a gold medalist. The stadium’s design was the gold medal winner for architect Jan Wils.

The Irish Whale

I was a discus thrower in high school, so as the track and field events got going in Rio, I decided to take a look at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics discus results. The winner was an Irishman named Martin Sheridan from New York. Part of a group of athletes known as the “Irish Whales”, Sheridan also won three medals in the 1908 London Olympics (one being the successful defense of his 1904 discus title). When he wasn’t throwing things for sport, he worked as a New York City policeman. I also found discus isn’t the only thing I have in common with Sheridan. When Sheridan died in the 1918 (in the notorious flu epidemic), he was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, the same cemetery my great-great grandfather is buried in. The photo below shows Sheridan competing in the 1908 games (and note the awesome garters he’s sporting).

Dick Roth’s Appendix

It wasn’t just the St. Louis Olympics that had me saying “no way”. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, American swimmer Dick Roth was stricken with an acute case of appendicitis just days before the swimming events started. Japanese doctors insisted on an immediate operation, but Roth adamantly refused. He also refused medication, so it was decided to simply pack him in ice and hope for the best. When he swam the 400 meter individual medley three days later, he not only won gold, he broke the world record. Interestingly, his post-swimming career has been just as interesting. In 1999, he wrote a book titled “No. It’s Not Hot in Here: A Husband’s Guide to Understanding Menopause”.


They Didn’t Come in Gold Back Then

When I was a fledgling freshman shot putter and discus thrower in high school, I actually dropped something like $100 on a pair of shoes designed specifically throwing shot puts and discuses. Such shoes have no tread whatsoever, making it easier for hurlers to spin and slide inside throwing circles. But I also remember hiding them from my coach, because I knew he would scoff at my insistence that I’d throw farther as a result of wearing them. Well, I can say that I scored a grand total of TWO points that year, and I’ll go to my grave believing those shoes are the reason it wasn’t zero. Anyway, while flipping through old records of the 1904 Olympics, I found an A.G. Spalding advertisement for track and field gear. Back then, a pair of running shoes would cost the 1904 version of Usain Bolt a whopping five bucks. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $130 in 2016.

It Runs (Or Maybe Shoots?) in the Family

In the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, the only official event in which women competed was archery. And the archery competition was dominated by one woman in particular: Matilda Scott Howell. Born in Warren, Ohio and representing the Cincinnati archers, Howell swept the field, winning gold in both individual events and the team event. Interestingly, her father also competed as an archer in the 1904 games. His name was Thomas Foster Scott, and he was 71 years old when he finished in 17th and 13th place in his two events. He may not have won a medal, but to this day, Thomas Scott still holds the record for being the oldest competitor at an Olympic games.

Tennis, Anyone?

In the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, the tennis competition was held from August 29 to September 5, 1904. The event was dominated by the Americans, which makes sense since only one of the competitors (a German) wasn’t American. And although he didn’t win a medal, the American team featured a historic figure of note. Dwight F. Davis, a prominent citizen from St. Louis finished 10th in the singles event and 5th in the doubles. Today, Dwight Davis is known for his political career (h e was Coolidge’s Secretary of War), and the international tennis event he helped create as a member of the Harvard Tennis Team in 1900. The tournament was originally known as the “International Lawn Tennis Challenge”. Today, the tournament is known for the trophy Dwight Davis commissioned (and paid for himself) that was awarded to the winner: The Davis Cup.

Don’t Call it Croquet

The Olympics have always featured sports that many Americans aren’t familiar with, and the 1904 Olympics were no exception. The only time the sport of roque was contested during the Olympics was at the 1904 St. Louis games. A variant of croquet, roque is unique in that it is played on a hard surface (such as clay or packed sand) and the court is surrounded by a short wall. The fast surface allows players to apply spin to a ball and the wall can be used to bank balls (like in billiards). Croquet and roque also feature similar playing implements including mallets and stakes, but in roque “wickets” are known as “arches”. At the St. Louis games, the roque competition was held on the infield of the Olympic Stadium from August 3 until August 8, 1904. The event was won by the “Father of American Roque”, a 64 year-old from Springfield, Massachusetts named Charles Jacobus.

Abandoned Venues? Not in St. Louis!

A big knock on the Olympics these days is that host cities are forced to spend millions building event venues that are quickly abandoned once the games are over. What happens in Rio remains to be seen, but recent hosts such as Athens, Beijing, and even Sochi are now faced with high maintenance costs for facilities that are no longer needed (for example, a baseball stadium in Greece) Well, at least St. Louis got that part of their Olympics right. Not only does the Olympic Stadium still stand, it is now home for Washington University athletics. Same with the gymnasium (also at Washington University) that held the 1904 boxing and fencing events. The 1904 golf course is still here (Glen Echo Country Club), and Creve Coeur Lake, which hosted the rowing events in 1904, is still where someone can watch a regatta. The only venue that no longer exists today is the “U.S. Life Saving Exhibition Lake”, where the swimming and diving events were held. More information about this man-mad lake (created specifically for the 1904 World’s Fair), can be found in this post I wrote back in 2012.

Some Were Olympic, Some Weren’t

To this day, Olympic historians bicker about what was an Olympic sport in 1904 and what wasn’t. Organizers filled the entire summer of 1904 with all sorts of athletic contests, including handicap events (assigning advantages through scoring), high school and college competitions, and various amateur organization championships. Today, the International Olympic Committee officially recognizes only seventeen of the sports contested, including athletics, gymnastics, golf, tennis, and others. Even tug of war, a sport contested at every Olympics from 1896 to 1920, is included in that list. However, many other sports contested that summer, including baseball, basketball, water polo, lacrosse, and even hurling, are not considered “Olympic” for one reason or another.


11. Live Pigeon Shooting

During the 1900 Games in Paris, more than 300 pigeons were shot and killed in the live pigeon shooting event. The pigeons were released from spring boxes stationed in the middle of a fenced ring. For someone to score a point, the bird they shot had to fall inside that ring. Competitors had to be a good shot: They were eliminated if they missed two birds in a row. It was a serious event, with a prize of 20,000 francs—about $120,000 in today’s money. It was the only time the event featured in the Olympics, and it’s safe to say it won’t be returning in the future.


Watch the video: Κατέρρευσε πριν τερματίσει, και έχασε τη θέση στο βάθρο στον Ημιμαραθώνιο Αθήνας


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