As you all know, we love our sports, we love our stats. Hence the name Sport Stats Guru. We are also very fond of sports history, so we decided to pick the best stories and share those hidden gems with you all.
“For the love of sports”Clas Glenning, Sport Stats Chief, covers all the best untold tales via a brand new Youtube series.
We kick off this series with a look at the marathon race of the 1904
Olympic Games held in St Louis, the “River City”.
The 3rd Olympics were held in connection to the Worlds Fair which celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana purchase.#
The games were largely overshadowed by the fair, which had its own sporting events, for example the so called Anthropology Days (but that is another matter).
The 1904 marathon was one the most controversial events to be held in Olympic history. Despite its massive importance to the Olympic movement – with its connection to antiquity – it was nearly discontinued after the St Louis games.
What was the reason for this? That is what we are going to examine:
“[…] from the start the 1904 marathon was less showstopper than sideshow, a freakish spectacle that seemed more in keeping with the carnival atmosphere of the fair than the reverential mood of the games.” – quote from the Smithsonian online article of this race.
Some of the competitors were experienced long distance runners while others had not run a marathon before. Two men of the Tswana tribe who were in St. Louis as part of the South African World’s Fair exhibit arrived at the starting line barefoot, which was a bit dangerous when we learn about the conditions that fateful day.
Heat and humidity was grueling (over 30 degrees Centigrade), the course was a tough one including seven hills from 30 to 100 meters in height with some rather steep ascents. Also, the course was strewn with cracked stones and the runners had to watch out
for oncoming traffic, like delivery wagons, railroad trains, trolley cars and the occasional person walking their dogs. To make things even worse, cars carrying coaches and physicians motored alongside the runners kicking up dust.
As if this wasn’t enough, there were only two stops where the runners could drink fresh water. It was the rage back then to test to the utmost what a human being could endure.
Len Tau, a member of the aforementioned South African team had endured all these hardship and might have fared better if he hadn’t been chased more than a km off course by a pack of wild dogs!
Fred Lorz, who had qualified for the race by winning a five mile show race, eventually began to feel that the strain was too much for him. At about the 15 km mark he decided he had had enough and hitched a ride with an oncoming car! He waved to the other runners and the crowd as he passed them by!
Thomas Hicks, one of the pre-race favorites, began to suffer from cramps and about 11 km from the finish line he was administered a dose of strychnine and egg-whites! The first recorded doping incident in Olympic history! However, this was not at all illegal back then. Strychnine was at the time believed to be a stimulant in small doses.
While all this happened to Hicks, the aforementioned Lorz had recovered from his cramps and re-joined the race! He arrived at the finish a celebrated first. However, as he was to receive his medal from the American president Theodore Roosevelt, it was announced that he had cheated and the boos filled the stadium.
Hicks, meanwhile, had heard that the winner had been disqualified and picked up the pace. He also received a second dose of strychnine and egg-whites, this time with a dose of brandy to wash the concoction down!
Hicks entered the stadium in a terrible state, staggering, falling over and nearly didn’t finish the race at all. He was more or less carried over the finish line. It took four doctors more than an hour to revive him just enough to leave the stadium. He later said that the race had been the toughest he had experienced.
What about Lorz then? Well, he said afterwards that he had not intended to accept the honor and only finished the race as a joke!