The 1904 St Louis Games: Not One to Remember

Fred Lorz at 1904 Olympics preparing for the marathon.
Fred Lorz, center in dark jersey, at 1904 Olympics preparing for the marathon.

The third Olympic Games were held in St Louis, Missouri in the United States in 1904, after the first two modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896, and then in Paris in 1900.

The early years of the Olympics were a struggle as organizers fought for mindshare. As was true in the Paris Games, the St Louis Olympic Games were second billing to the World’s Fair, which were highly popular expositions in the early to mid-20th century.

According to the book, A Picture History of the Olympics, the organizers promised to arrange a ship to visit all major European ports to bring athletes to the first Games outside of Europe, but somehow the ship never crossed the Atlantic. Despite the Olympic rings representing the five continents, really only one had significant representation. Of the 650 athletes present, 580 were from America.

Swimmers had to swim in an assymetrical lake that made it hard for swimmers to stay in their lanes. The only item on the menu for the athletes was buffalo meat. And a new contraption called the car kicked up so much dust and spewed so much exhaust that marathoners had to cough their way through 42 kilometers.

The initial winner of the 1904 marathon was Fred Lorz, who stopped running after 16 kilometers, hopped on a vehicle for nine miles before it broke down, and then ran the rest of the way. He finished first easily, and was greeted by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Eventually, Lorz’s ruse was uncovered and he was banned for a year. Thomas Hicks, from Boston, was declared the winner. Lorz, a New Yorker, apologized for his “joke”, was allowed to compete before the year was up, and went on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.

Rosie Ruiz
Rosie Ruiz

Which all reminds me of a New Yorker named Rosie Ruiz. She won the 1980 Boston Marathon in a record 2:31:56, about 25 minutes better than her previous race in the New York City Marathon six months earlier. How did she improve so greatly? She simply started the race about 800 meters from the finish, emerging from a crowd of spectators on Commonwealth Avenue.