St. Louis United States, 1904

Legacy of the Games

As with the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, the 1904 Games formed part of a much bigger event, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, and as a result were almost reduced to a side-show of that event. The Exposition consisted of many cultural exhibits, several of which proved more popular than the Olympic competitions. The President of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, David R. Francis, decided to open the Olympic Games himself, in a scaled-down ceremony, and the Games as a whole were poorly run, causing the Olympic movement to come close to breaking down.

Officially, the Games lasted for four and a half months, with attempts to hold an event every day for the duration of the Fair and with Olympic competitions mixed with other sporting events. However, the International Olympic Committee eventually declared only some of these events as Olympic and the bulk of the Games in reality lasted for only six days.

The participants of the Games represented 12 countries; however, only 42 events, less than half, included athletes from outside the United States. European tensions caused by the Russo-Japanese War kept many athletes from the Games, as did the difficulties of travelling to St Louis. In a number of events, due to the lack of competitors from outside the USA, the US national championships were combined with the Olympic events.

The marathon competition was filled with bizarre occurrences. The first man to break the tape on the finishing line was Fred Lorz of the USA. However Lorz had actually dropped out of the event after nine miles and had been driven back towards the finish by his manager. After the car broke down Lorz walked the rest of the way back to collect his clothes, crossing the finishing line ahead of the other competitors. Officials mistakenly awarded him the gold medal, with Lorz initially playing along until spectators claimed he had not completed the whole race. After Lorz’s disqualification, Thomas Hicks of the USA was awarded first place but Hicks himself had come close to death after the event due to being given strychnine sulfate mixed with brandy as an aid to performance. Another competitor in the marathon had been forced to stop during the race to sleep off the effects of eating some rotten apples from an orchard along the route.