American’s first time hosting the Olympics took place in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904. While this should have been a memorable moment in the US’ history, the marathon will forever be remembered as one of the most bizarre things in the world of competitive sports.
Coincided with the World’s Fair
Hosting the Olympics is a prideful event for the host’s countrymen, but the summer games took place at the same time as the World’s Fair, which celebrated American Imperialism following the Louisiana Purchase. The fair had its own share of sporting events, such as the Anthropological Days, in which “savages” were hired to showcase their athletic prowess by climbing a greased pole, mud slinging, and through exotic dances. These events upset the foreign athletes competing in the Olympics.
Disorganization of the Highest Order
It seemed like the Olympics’ organizers made it a personal mission to screw up the marathon as much as possible. Apart from a handful of trained athletes, the organizers also recruited people from the World’s Fair Anthropological Days’ event to participate. This included a barefoot runner from South Africa, ten Greeks who had never participated in any sporting event in their lives, and a mailman from Cuba who had lost all of his money and had to hitchhike to the starting line.
At 3:03 PM on August 30, 1904, the racers were off, and spectators got front-row seats of the fiasco. At over 90 degrees, the athletes—many of which didn’t have the slightest clue of what to do—began their 24.85-mile journey to the finish line. There were hilly roads that were as high as 300 feet with deep cracks, dust on the racetrack that was kicked up by the runners’ feet, and a pack of wild dogs even chased the South African man a mile away from the road.
In addition to the less-than-ideal conditions, the organizers had also only set up two rest points along the racetrack, each at 12-mile intervals. For whatever reason, the chief organizer wanted to test how far a man could push his limit by denying them water during the most important day of their lives. By the tenth mile, many of the racers were exhausted, and the support crew in carriages refused to provide them with water.
Fred Lorz was one of the runners who was leading the pack when from the start. However, at the ninth mile, he came to a complete halt. Instead of pushing his limits as the organizers had hoped, he hitched a ride in one of the support crew’s vehicles, waving at spectators and fellow competitors along the way. Fred dismounted from the vehicle fully refreshed at the eleventh mile and ran the rest of the way. Unsurprisingly, due to his flagrant cheating, he won first place. In spite of this, the crowd was cheering for Fred since “an American had won!” Fred would participate in the Boston Marathon the following year and receive the gold medal without the help of an automobile.