How have I never heard of the 1904 Olympic Men’s Marathon craziness?

The 2020 (er…2021) Tokyo Olympics are upon us this weekend and though there are have been lots of weird/shady instances with the IOC and the Olympics in general over the years, adding a COVID-19 pandemic to the mix is sure make this one of the more odd competitions in quite some time. But STILL, even with all the craziness, I am quite certain that nothing can compare to the event that was the 1904 Olympic Marathon.

How I made it this far in my running life without hearing about this, I will never know. Better late than never, in this case. If you too are learning about this for the first time, here are a few snippets (most pulled via Wikipedia):

The set-up

  • The 1904 Olympics were held in conjunction with the World’s Fair, and Track & Field events were spread out over a 2 month span. The first Track & Field event – the Triathlon – took place on July 1st and the final events wrapped up on September 30th. The marathon was conducted on August 30th.
  • In a sport currently focused optimal performance, the marathon started at 3pm.
  • Due to the afternoon start, the temperature was 90 degrees, and the race organizer only provided two sources of water – a water tower at 6 miles and a well at about the 12-mile mark.
  • Adding to the discomfort, the course included five laps around the stadium followed by the rest on dusty country roads with race officials riding in vehicles ahead of and behind the runners, obviously creating giant dust clouds in the humid St. Louis countryside.

The runners

  • The first to arrive at the finish line was NOT the winner. Fred Lorz dropped out of the race after nine miles, rode back to the stadium in a car, re-entered the race at mile 19 when the car broke down, and finished the race “first”. He was initially given the championship moniker (and took pictures with the president’s daughter) and only said he was “joking” when race officials called him on his deception. He was banned FOR LIFE… which actually turned out to be a year and he was reinstated to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.
  • The actual winner was Thomas Hicks, though his race was both bizarre and featured certain things that wouldn’t be allowed shortly thereafter. Leading at mile 14, he had to be forcefully stopped by his trainers from lying down. He was then administered a combo of raw eggs and rat poison, along with swigs of brandy throughout the remainder of the miles. Weirdest PED ever. Following this he continued, somehow moving forward while hallucinating, and was eventually literally carried over the finish line by his team, “holding him in the air while he shuffled his feet as if still running“. He lost over 8 pounds DURING the race. WTF. He also never ran another marathon.
  • The 2nd place finisher, Albert Corey, officially listed as an American to this day, was only done so because he – a Frenchman – did not have the correct paperwork upon arrival.
  • A Cuban runner, Andarín Carvajal, raised money for the trip by staging running exhibitions and running the entire length of Cuba. He arrived at literally the last minute due to a bad stretch of dice playing in New Orleans and being forced to hitchhike to the event because he had no more money. He had to run the event in standard clothes – heavy street shoes, long pants, a beret and a long-sleeved shirt – before eventually trimming his tops and bottoms to create shorts and a “t-shirt”. Also due to his gambling shortcomings, he hadn’t eaten in almost two days and stopped to “refuel” via a nearby apple orchard during the race – some of which turned out to be rotten and gave him severe stomach cramps that led to him needing to take a nap mid-race. HE RECOVERED AND TOOK FOURTH!
  • Len Tau and Jan Mashiani, the two South African entrants, and the first two black Africans to ever compete in the Olympics, took ninth and twelfth place. The former was chased nearly a mile off course by feral dogs.
  • Though many runners dropped out, at least one suffered so badly from the heat, dust, and lack of water, that he spent several days in the hospital near death. His esophagus was covered in dust and his stomach was hemorrhaging as a result.

Other randomness

  • As mentioned above, there were limited water options. Somehow, this was actually done by design – in an effort to research  “purposeful dehydration”. This theory is basically that dehydration could actually improve athletic performance. Again WTF. Unsurprisingly, less than half of participants finished (14 of 32) and it is by far the slowest winning time in Olympic history, 3:28:45 – almost 30 minutes slower than the second slowest winning time.

I mean… I don’t know what else to say. Just read more about this as it is sheer craziness. Another great article can be found here.

About Author

Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching hockey, going to as many breweries (618) and wineries (152) as he can, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010.

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