The Trials and Tribulations of 1904 Olympic Marathon Runners

The Trials and Tribulations of 1904 Olympic Marathon Runners


When the United States hosted the Olympics
for the first time in 1904, the games had yet to reach the high level of competition
and popularity we know today. Although athletes from countries around the
world were invited to participate, the games were less about the world’s best athletes
competing for medals and more about (actual) amateur athletes competing against each other. The ultimate decision to host the 1904 Olympic
Games in St. Louis, Missouri, created a huge obstacle for international athletes in that
travel to the innermost parts of the States was difficult and costly. The only way to travel between continents
was by a long and expensive ocean voyage, after which the athletes needed to take about
a 1,000-mile train trip. As a result, many countries decided not to
participate. Out of the 630 athletes from 12 nations that
competed that year, 523 were American, which explains why the United States won so many
medals that year (239, with the closest runner up being Germany who won 13). Perhaps one of the most surprising athletes
to compete for his country was Félix de la Caridad Carvajal y Soto, known as Andarín
Carvajal or Felix Carvajal, from Cuba. With no formal training and a running technique
that left much to be desired, this mailman raised his own money to travel to St. Louis
to represent his country in the Olympic marathon race. Despite his work as a mailman, Felix lived
his life in poverty and was denied financial assistance from his local government to cover
expenses he would incur on his journey to the Olympics. He spent days running around town square and
begging people for money to help him on his pursuit. His efforts paid off, and he raised enough
money for a trip to New Orleans, then promptly lost his remaining funds on a game of dice… Not to be deterred, he hitchhiked the remaining
650 or so miles to his destination. Due to his jovial nature, he befriended the
men on the American weightlifters team who gave him room and board as he prepared for
the marathon. The 1904 marathon for the Olympics started
around 3:00 pm in the afternoon in August, with temperatures above 90 degrees. Anyone who knows about summer weather in St.
Louis knows that the oppressive heat and humidity are not friends to anyone, certainly not to
the 32 men representing four different countries running a 24.85 mile marathon. To make the situation worse, the only access
runners had to water on the course was at miles six and twelve. For some, especially those who didn’t have
a support vehicle or support staff to aid them, that made for a very long and torturous
race. Felix_CarvajalCarvajal showed up to the starting
line wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and boots. Considering other runners were in shorts and
tank tops, we can only assume these were the only clothes he had with him. (Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe once did something
similar at the Olympics, wearing different sized shoes, neither of which fit him, that
he’d scrounged out of a garbage bin shortly before a race.) As for Carvajal, seconds before the start
of the race, an American discus thrower found a pair of scissors and made a mock pair of
shorts out of Carvajal’s pants for more athletic attire. The start of the race required runners to
complete five laps around the stadium before heading off into St. Louis County. The course was not shy on delivering obstacles
for the athletes. Through the streets of St. Louis, in order
to stay on the course, runners had to dodge cars, delivery wagons, railroad trains, trolley
cars, and people walking their dogs. In places, the roads were covered with cracked
stone that the runners had to pick their way through. If all that wasn’t enough, there was the
seven 100-300 foot hills, noxious exhaust fumes from the early automobiles (including
support vehicles and others following the runners along as they went), and the extreme
amounts of dust kicked into the air by these vehicles and horses. marathon-mapoCar fumes and dust, coupled with
the heat and humidity, soon took its toll on the runners. One of the first ones to drop out of the race
was John Lordon of Massachusetts. In 1903 Lordon won the Boston Marathon, but
he only made it ten miles in this Olympic marathon before he started vomiting and pulled
out of the race. The winner of the 1904 Boston Marathon, Michael
Spring of New York, started out the Olympic marathon strong, leading the pack, but when
ascending of one of the steep hills, he collapsed from exhaustion and couldn’t continue. William Garcia from San Francisco almost became
the first death in the Olympic Games when he was found lying unconscious in a ditch
on the course and was raced to the hospital. Fortunately, despite the extreme amount of
dust he had inhaled doing a major number on his esophagus and lungs, he eventually recovered
and was able to race again. len-taunyane-jan-mashianiAnother notable feature
of this particular marathon was that it saw the first two black Africans competing in
the Olympics. However, neither Len Taunyane nor Jan Mashiani
were seasoned marathon runners, but both had served as dispatch runners in the South African
Boer War. They were in town as part of the Boer War
exhibit at the World’s Fair and decided to enter the race on a whim. Both finished, placing ninth and twelfth respectively. It was reported that Tau probably would’ve
placed higher if he hadn’t been chased over a mile off the course by a wild dog. American Frederick Lorz was a contender for
one of the top spots early on in the race, but he suffered from severe cramps and at
nine miles was unable to continue. He decided to hitch a ride in one of the cars
back to the stadium, but the car broke down before arriving at its destination. Feeling refreshed, Lorz started running again. When he entered the stadium three hours after
the start of the race, the crowd erupted in applause for the “winner.” Unable to resist the crowd, Lorz went along
with the facade, racing toward the finish line and basking in the limelight. Perhaps he really was trying to take the credit
for the win, or perhaps he was in it for the fun and games like he later claimed. Either way, when it was quickly noted by certain
spectators that Lorz had been seen riding in a car during the race, the officials saw
no humor in his prank and banned Lorz for life from participating in amateur races. However, less than a year later, the ban was
lifted after Lorz apologized for his stunt; he went on to take first in the 1905 Boston
marathon. When another leading runner, Thomas Hicks
from the United States learned of Lorz’s supposed win, he begged his two assistants
to let him drop out because he was in so much pain. They refused to let him quit. Like many other runners, Hicks’s health
took a plunge early in the race and continuously declined as he ran. For some bizarre reason, his handlers refused
to give him water to drink during the race, and instead sponged out his mouth using warm
distilled water and then proceeded to feed him egg whites and strychnine. (Yes, strychnine.) At the time, strychnine was used in small
doses as a performance enhancing drug. Anything but small doses would, of course,
kill the athlete via asphyxiation due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. However, in small doses, strychnine was believed
to provide a performance boost via the muscle spasms it relatively quickly induces. Unfortunately for Hicks, besides refusing
him water to drink, his handlers didn’t stop with one dose of the poison. In total, during the race he was given approximately
2-3 mg of strychnine, plus accompanied raw eggs and brandy each dose. Unsurprisingly, with the extreme heat, humidity,
dust clouds, dehydration, and being fed rat poison, Hicks’ condition continually grew
worse and he ultimately became delusional. Nevertheless, he continued to put one foot
in front of the other and soldiered on. Thomas-hicks-1904Entering the stadium for
the last stretch of the race, Hicks required physical assistance from his handlers who
had to practically carry him over the finish line. Of course, this would result in a disqualification
in today’s Olympics, but in 1904 the act was completely legal. Hicks was unable to initially receive his
gold medal given that he fell unconscious at the finish line and it took doctors about
an hour to revive him. Close to death, fortunately, he eventually
recovered, though retired from competing in marathons. With a time of 3:28:53, Hicks’s feat is
the slowest time for a men’s Olympic marathon in history. The United States claimed the silver and bronze
medals in the marathon as well when Albert Corey crossed the finish line six minutes
after Hicks, soon followed by Arthur Newton with a time of 3:47:33. Although both runners struggled with the heat
and dust and slowed to a walk during certain parts of the race, neither seemed to have
it worse than Hicks. Meanwhile, Felix Carvajal ran at a comfortable
pace. Unable to resist charming the spectators who
lined up along the way, Felix often stopped to chat with them in his broken English and
crack jokes. With his upbeat and good spirited attitude,
he won the hearts of many along the course. When he begged for peaches from the occupants
of an accompanying car and was refused, he teasingly snatched a couple from them anyway
and kept on running, eating the peaches as he ran. Most accounts of the marathon say Carvajal
needed a bit more sustenance, so he snuck into an apple orchard and plucked two of the
juicy fruits from the boughs. Supposedly the apples didn’t sit well with
him and he suffered from cramps, which forced him to rest and purportedly take a cat-nap
before continuing the race. However, it should be noted that there is
no contemporary evidence that the apple/nap part of this story ever took place, with the
first account of it popping up in William Henry’s 1948, An Approved History of the
Olympics. Regardless, the contemporary accounts of Carvajal’s
approach to the race seem to describe an individual having a blast, while many other racers struggled
to overcome bodily limitations. Felix Carvajal crossed the line in fourth
place, though what his time was is unknown today. Compared to the other racers, he was described
as seeming to float across the finish line. Aside from probably being a bit tired and
hungry, the heat and humidity didn’t seem to have too much of an effect on the Cuban. While it’s not known how far behind third
place he was, accounts of the day indicate if it wasn’t for his numerous stops to chat
with people during the race, Carvajal may well have won. Whatever the case, the 1904 Olympics ended
up being the only international competitive race Carvajal would compete in. In the end, only 14 of the original 32 racers
managed to finish the race. hicks-goldAs for the victor, although the
“assistance” Hicks received mostly proved to be detrimental, he was able to finish the
race thanks to being carried along near the end- a fact that resulted in some feeling
like he should have been disqualified. After the race, a complaint towards this end
was filed by Everett Brown, the chairman for the Chicago Athletic Association. However, the Olympic Games director refused
to consider the matter and Hicks remained the winner. In the 1500s most Roman Catholic countries
& Scotland adopted the Gregorian Calendar (established by Pope Gregory XIII to compensate
for the errors in time that had built up over centuries) over the Julian Calendar (introduced
by Julius Caesar in 45 BC). A lot of protestant countries, however, ignored
this new calendar for another 200 or so years. England stuck to the Julian Calendar until
1751 before finally making the switch. Orthodox countries took even longer to accept
the change. Russia, for one, did not convert to the Gregorian
calendar until after the Russian Revolution in 1917. What does this have to do with the Olympics? In 1908, the Russian Olympic team arrived
12 days late to the London Olympics because of this.

100 Replies to “The Trials and Tribulations of 1904 Olympic Marathon Runners”

  1. Jon Bois at SB Nation did a really interesting video about this topic that's really worth checking out. It's called RAT POISON AND BRANDY: THE 1904 ST. LOUIS OLYMPIC MARATHON. Very in depth, funny, and worth watching

  2. 7:23 Don't you mean it was the slowest time in which a marathon was won? I assume the people who finished after him had to have slower times.

  3. Holy molly. I run marathons and this is the worst marathon ever. It was a complete torture for those runners. Good thing today's standards have no comparison with those of 1904

  4. Great content as always! Can you please put ads at the beginning of your videos. Every time an ad starts in the middle of a video, i will dislike the video.

  5. Awesome, the story of Felix the Fourth is not oft told these days! His story alone would make for a great comedy.

  6. This marathon is brought to you in partnership with the Mapleleaf Rag:
    Mapleleaf Rag, the perfect song for any old-time farce!

  7. What a bummer to miss the Olympics by two weeks because of calendar difference and the lack of acknowledging that the Olympics was scheduled using the other calendar.

  8. 4:09 I had to rewind.. I thought I heard "He was found lying unconscious in a ditch on the course and was raped at the hospital"

  9. Bonus fact: When you think on how slow where the orthodox countries when adopting the new Gregorian calendar and how stupid it was, think also on how stupid is not adopting the International Metric System as a standard measure.

  10. In 1908 marathon Donardo Pietri was disqualified for getting assistance. Even today one can legally get assistance from a fellow competitor but not from an outsider.

  11. I find it extremely embarrassing that these guys are not that professionally trained, running a fucking Marathon in freaking 90F and dusty air, getting chased by dogs, eating fruits and chat with spectators along the way, and STILL run faster than my sorry ass.

  12. Ehhhh! That one was in STL and it as a whole was reallllll fucked up🤣🤣!! I live here and it's kind of a joke about all the stupid ridiculous stuff that happened there

  13. This makes me wonder if I R smarter than everyone in 1904 and I don't think so. I'd cancel that race on the temperature factor alone!

  14. I find it amazing that these guys could just walk into an Olympic Event without an approving committee. Just picture a guy walking up to the starting line, the gun fires, and he runs. Then, at the end, that's when they ask him which country he's from… like they are just having a schoolyard race or something.

  15. You know those people who can quickly work out the day of the week for any given date? Do they know about the Julian/Gregorian switch? Surely that affects the algorithm.

  16. nobody would believe this. but Frederick Lorz is my great grandfather, i've heard this story for years and seeing it here it awesome.. sucks he cheated but still cool he won the Boston Marathon after

  17. Much as I like Simon, it would have been nice to have more pictures. Maybe pictures of each person mentioned?

  18. Keep your mind racing by watching this video about The First Woman To Officially Run in the Boston Marathon:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duFmGqWgOww

  19. Stop writing what you are saying. It only distracts and has no point to it (other than messing up attention, like all "good" american TV seems to do all the time). Also don't do cuts every 3 seconds, that is just upsetting. It is a narration, why can you not stand or sit still?

  20. St luis is on the Mississippi, no 1000 mile train trip is required, just have your ocean liner dock at the port of New Orleans and the take a river boat right up. New York isn't the only port in the United States.

  21. Strichnine? Stupid runners. Cyclists knew what's what. They would drink liquor during races to deaden the pain and enhance their performance.

  22. This was one of the best stories I ever heard. I heard it first from qxir's tales from the bottle video on it. It was hilarious! You forgot the runner who lacked proper identification to run for his team.. france I think? And they let him run for the us lol.

  23. I'm wondering if Stephen King ever heard about this marathon and the trials the sportsman had to endure… He has a book titled "The long walk" were youngsters walk without stopping for days, if they stop before reaching the finish line they're given "a ticket", the description of that makes it sound like a bullet to your head… The prior winner had finished the race along hallucinations so, maybe he heard of it?

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