The Marathon at the 1904 Summer Olympics Was a Bizarre Spectacle

The 1904 Summer Olympics, held in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, were a strange event. They were initially set to take place in Chicago, Illinois, before being made part of St. Louis World’s Fair, saw just 12 nations taking part, and spanned across five months. Additionally, its marathon was a bizarre spectacle.

The marathon at the 1904 Summer Olympics was scheduled to take part at the hottest time of the day, with most of the route involving country roads full of dust. Thirty-two athletes started the race, with a large number of them having no previous marathon experience. This included Andarín Carvajal, a former mailman from Cuba, and several members of the Tsuana tribe from South Africa, who were there for the World’s Fair.

Upon the start of the race, many contestants found the marathon to be extremely difficult. Besides hot and humid weather and dust, the runners also only had two water stops for the entire race. One member of the Greek team collapsed due to dust after a couple of miles, while runners from the Tsuana tribe were chased from the correct route by a pack of wild dogs.

Eventually, American Frederick Lorz crossed the finishing line first but was soon disqualified. It was discovered that Lorz actually gave up after nine miles, hitched a ride to the stadium in a car that broke down, and eventually jogged the remaining distance.

Thomas Hicks, who came in second, was awarded the golden medal, but his win was also controversial. Ten miles before the finish, he was administered strychnine, a performance-enhancing chemical, in the mix of eggs and brandy by his trainers. Hicks barely arrived at the finishing line and experienced hallucinations.

Carvajal had a wild race himself, eating a couple of rotten apples that caused him cramps. He decided to take a nap and still finished the race, coming in at fourth place.

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