1904 - St Louis

Olympics taken for a ride in more than one-way

A decision by the International Olympic Committee to reward the United States for supporting the first two Games so enthusiastically by awarding the 1904 Olympics to Chicago proved controversial.

St. Louis had scheduled to hold a world fair the same year and threatened to stage a rival sports event if they were not allowed to hold the Olympics. The support of the US President Theodore Roosevelt proved decisive and the IOC voted to move the Games from Chicago to St. Louis.

The row could have been avoided because, ironically, the fair had originally been billed as the centennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Construction delays, however, necessitated the fair open a year later.

The lessons of Paris four years earlier had failed to be learned and Olympic events were held over a four-and-a-half-month period and their significance were lost among the many other events going on. Many countries did not bother to send athletes, with only half of the 84 events including competitors that were not American.

The first runner across the line in the marathon was New York's Fred Lorz but he was disqualified after it was discovered he had stopped running after nine miles and ridden 11 miles in a car before resuming competing.

The true champion of the race was Thomas Hicks, who was born in England but represented the Cambridgeport YMCA. Hicks also had some help. The hilly course had taken its toll on Hicks by the time he approached the stadium. Seeing his man labouring, Hicks' trainer mixed up a pick-me-up that included 1/60 grain of strychnine and egg whites, washed down with brandy.

An invigorated Hicks was able to finish in a winning time of 3 hours 28min 53sec. However, he was unable to stand to receive his trophy and had to return the next day to accept it.

Two others finishers were South Africans, probably the first black Olympic marathoners. When they were not competing in the event, they were working at a concession at the fair grounds. One of them ran barefoot, remarkable considering the terrain, and either might have won had they not run into a little interference - they were chased off the course by dogs.

These Games may otherwise have been largely forgettable but they were notable as being the first at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to athletes finishing first, second and third. The St. Louis world fair also marked the debut of the ice cream cone and hot dogs with mustard.

Date Games held: July 1-November 23

Number of nations represented: 12

Number of competitors: 627 (6 women)

Number of medal events: 84


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