Interesting article on the 1904 Olympic Marathon.
A marathon hoax at Olympics in 1904
by A. C. de Silva
OLYMPIC GAMES... A doped American athlete wins an Olympic gold medal, a practical joker is banned from athletics for alleged cheating, a coloured South African runner is chased by a savage dog, a Cuban hitch-hiker runs against champion athletes in everyday clothes and ordinary walking shoes!
Such are the ingredients that make up the most incident-packed race in Olympic Games - the Marathon of the Third Olympic Games at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904.
The Olympics are regarded as the most looked forward to sporting event in the world and never before or since has one athletics event featured such a strange mixture of human drama and comedy, triumph and tragedy.
It’s on record that the comedy was provided by a colourful Cuban called Felix Carvajal, a policeman from Havana. This small made athlete, with no competitive experience, throw up his job to compete in the world’s greatest long-distance race. He raised funds for the trip to St. Louis by giving exhibitions of running around the great public square of Havana and then making speeches about the glory he hoped to win for his native land.
But on his way to St. Louis, Felix lost all his money in a dice game in New Orleans. He hitch-hiked the rest of the way, arriving half-starved, very tired, and with no formal running-kit. When the little Cuban “clown” lined up for the most gruelling test of strength and stamina in an athletics event - the Marathon, the rocked with laughter. He stood there in ordinary walking shoes, long trousers and long-sleeved shirt. To complete the circus act, he was “given” a more fitting dress by a Irish-American shot-putter - Martin Sheridan who was also a discus-thrower.
The genial giant strode across to little Felix and produced a pair of shorts and some sort of a banian. No formal entry was necessary for the early Olympic Games and because of transport problems the 1904 Games were little more than American inter-club championships. Britain and France did not officially send a single athlete; only nine countries were represented and the Americans won all but one of the athletic events.
The marathon produced the most interesting international event. There were 31 starters, comprising 17 Americans, ten Greeks, two Kaffirs from South Africa, a Briton - and Felix Carvajal.
It was a hot day and the marathon men raced in appalling conditions over roads inches deep in dust, which were churned up by escorting motor cars to make vision difficult for the runners and send some, choking, off the roads. Around ten thousand spectators saw the start from the stadium and American Fred Lorz of the Mohawk Athletic Club went into the lead, but he dropped out after about nine miles with cramp and was forced to quit the race.
Lorz rested for a while, then hailed a passing car for a lift back to the stadium. There was no secrecy about the ride. Several runners saw him climb aboard the car and he waved to his fellow athletes as they passed them by. Meanwhile, Thomas Hicks, an American citizen born in Birmingham of British parents, had taken the lead at the halfway stage from Sam Mellor of New York and forged far ahead of the rest. The two Laffirs were still in the race, though one of them, Yamasani, has been chased for a mile off the route by a savage dog.
And inexperienced Felix Carvajal was well placed, picking and eating apples as he ran and often pausing for a friendly chat with spectators in his amusing broken English. But many other athletes were falling out, eight miles from the finish he collapsed with serious stomach trouble, brought on, some suspected, by the dust raised by passing cars.
Signs of collapse
Thomas Hicks - the American citizen, still led seven miles from the finish, but he had begun to show signs of collapse. At this stage, his coach gave him one-sixtieth of a grain of Sulphate of Strchine together with the white of an egg.
Three miles later, Hicks wanted to lie down and rest but his advisers told him to slow down to a walk for a while. He still had a comfortable lead. Meanwhile, Fred Lorz was merrily riding along in a car, though he did not even travel as far as Hicks had done on his feet. Five miles from the stadium his car broke down and Fred, now fully recovered and refreshed, decided it would be quicker to run the rest of the way.
Later he explained he also ran to keep from stiffening up and catching cold. Lorz of New York passed Hicks nearly four miles from home and to the astonishment of the crowds, who had heard that Hicks was leading, he was the first man to enter the Olympic Stadium. Thousands rose to cheer him as he circled the track and crossing the finishing line.
Fred sensed the enormous comedy of the situation and could not resist carrying the joke a little further. He took a deep bow before Alice Roosevelt, the President’s daughter, who was presenting the awards. And as she was just about to crown him with an slice wreath and present the gold medal, someone shouted out that he was an imposter.
The joke was over - Lorz readily admitted that he had taken a lift and explained that he had no intention of going completely through with the hoax. Anyway there was never any question of real deception since many people had seen Fred’s car ride.
The authorities, however, were not amused. The hoax was taken out of all true proportion: the American Athletic Union suspended Lorz for life and he found himself an object of public ridicule. Fortunately, he was soon reinstated and proved his running ability by winning the 1805 Boston Marathon.
Ironically, the man who most certainly would have been disqualified under modern rules went unpunished. Instead, Hicks was hailed as the great hero of the Olympic marathon - despite having taken drugs to keep going. After 21 miles, Hicks was so pale and worn that he was given another one-sixtieth grain of strychnine, together with two more eggs and a sip of brandy. He was also bathed from head to foot in water kept warm by being placed on boilers of cars. With two miles left, he was running as though in a trance.
His legs moved mechanically, but his eyes were dull and pale. He had the hallucination that there were still 20 miles to run. Hicks was now bathed again, given two more eggs -and more brandy.
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