“The games included 630 athletes, 523 of them Americans…. The slightly skewed numbers resulted in 239 medals awarded to American athletes, the largest sweep in Olympic history. And hey, here’s a fun fact: the 1904 Olympics were the first in which gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the winners.”
With the Olympics this month, it seems only appropriate to reflect on the history of the Games and, of course, their relatively rare overlap with the lacrosse world. Lacrosse was included as an official Olympic sport in both 1904 and 1908, and then again as an exhibition game in 1928 and 1932. Let’s spend the day exploring that first appearance, shall we?
First of all, according to the History Channel, the 1904 Olympics were kind of a disaster. The Olympic Committee pushed for Chicago as host, but St. Louis was already preparing for the Louisiana Purchase Centennial World’s Fair and wanted to combine the events. They were hosting a track and field competition as part of the World’s Fair, as well as an Irish sports festival, so why not tack on a hundred more? Better to consolidate everything in one city than have conflicting athletic events.
But that barely scratches the surface. The games included 630 athletes, 523 of them Americans. Turns out the Europeans were not thrilled about the high cost or time commitment of a trip to the U.S. interior, specifically to what was considered a relatively small frontier town. The slightly skewed numbers resulted in 239 medals awarded to American athletes, the largest sweep in Olympic history. And hey, here’s a fun fact: the 1904 Olympics were the first in which gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the winners.
Possibly the most entertaining competition was, surprisingly, the marathon. Or at least, entertaining in hindsight. It was over 90 degrees, dry and dusty, and the chief organizer of the games had decided on only two water stops, at miles 6 and 12, to test the effects of dehydration. Well, the effects became quite clear. The athletes dropped like flies. Only 14 out of 32 participants finished the race, with William Garcia nearly dying of a stomach hemorrhage and a pack of wild dogs chasing South African participant Len Tau a mile off course. Fred Lorz famously hitched a ride back to the finish, but when the vehicle broke down at mile 19, he decided he felt well enough to run again. He finished first, but when the reality of the situation was exposed, the gold was given to Thomas Hix, with a time of 3 hours, 28 minutes. But Hix, too, was struggling. Over the last ten miles, assistants pumped him full of egg whites and strychnine until he practically crawled over the finish.
Compare that to today’s Olympic marathon, which takes place in Rio de Janiero on August 14. Just to give you an idea, American Galen Rupp ran this year’s U.S. Olympic Time Trail in 2 hours, 11 minutes—another race with historically hot and dry conditions. Tune in next Sunday to see it all live!
As for lacrosse, only three teams participated: the Winnipeg Shamrocks from Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Mohawk Indians, and a team from upstate New York. The 1904 Olympics was the first in which lacrosse appeared, and the last in which golf did…. until the Olympic Committee decided to include golf in this year’s games. So the next time one of my Tenacity players asks me if lacrosse is an Olympic sport, I might just answer “not yet” and tell her to shoot for the moon! Hey, it worked for golf!
For an in-depth look at Thomas Hix’s insane marathon win, check out this awesome Smithsonian Magazine article: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-1904-olympic-marathon-may-have-been-the-strangest-ever-14910747/?no-ist
And for more on the spectacle of the 1904 Olympics, including the “outrageous charade” of the “Anthropology Days” competitions, check out the History Channel’s List of Fun Facts: http://www.history.com/news/8-unusual-facts-about-the-1904-st-louis-olympics
For more pictures, take a look at: https://www.olympic.org/st-louis-1904
Written By: Courtney Bird
August 4th, 2016