COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS AND FALSEHOODS
The St. Louis Games were Unorganized,
Chaotic, and Underfunded
Quite the contrary, after the disastrous 1900 Paris Games, St. Louis had a tall order to keep the Olympic movement alive. Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics and president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), lost control of his hometown Games to the French government, as well as his dreams of building state-of-the-art sports facilities.
The director of the Paris World’s Fair considered sports utterly useless and absurd. As such, the II Olympiad suffered from poor organization, underfunding, and marketing, with events conducted over a period of five months in existing venues that were often grossly inadequate.
The “track” was a grass field, with 500-meters of several dips and mounds, and a grove of trees at the beginning of the final straightaway. Broken telephone poles were used to make hurdles, and hammer throwers occasionally found their efforts stuck in a tree. The swimming events were contested in the Seine River, whose strong current carried athletes to unrealistically fast times. There was such confusion about schedules that few spectators or journalists attended the events—as well as some athletes who missed their own competitions.Officials and athletes often had no idea that they were participating in the Olympics, and weren’t made aware until the IOC went back over a decade later to decide which competitions during the Paris World’s Fair qualified as Olympic events.
Further, the awards for winning an event were inconsistent, some winners receiving trophies, some cups, some medals, one Olympic swimmer received a 50-pound bronze statue of a horse as his prize. But the biggest blow to Coubertin and the movement was that the words “Olympic games” or “Olympic” never appeared in reference to any of the international athletic events. Many historians rightly make a case that the 1900 Olympics did not even take place. In the aftermath, Coubertin stated about the games of 1900, “…nothing Olympic about them,” and later commented to friends: “It’s a miracle that the Olympic Movement survived that celebration.”
In contrast, from the moment St. Louis was awarded the Games over Chicago, St. Louis officials had the financial resources and constructed the state-of-the-art Olympic sport facilities that Pierre Coubertin had only dreamed of in Paris. St. Louis was the first host city to build state-of-the-art venues—the world’s largest reinforced-concrete stadium with the first modern Olympic track and the first modern Olympic gymnasium.
For the first time, all winners received either a gold, silver, or bronze medal for first, second, or third place. What was considered the main contests of the Olympic Games—track & field—were held between August 31 and September 3. These games were highly promoted, well attended, and well organized. The bulk of the Olympic events all occurred between the two weeks of August 29 – September 10: track & field, weightlifting, tennis, fencing, swimming and diving.
During the track & field events, it was the first time they used chalk and signage to demarcate the individual field events within the stadium, and the first time they used a stadium announcer so the crowd could better follow the competitions, cheering uproariously when the announcer exclaimed: “A world’s record.” The games were touted on newspapers throughout the world and were universally held as a great success in the United States and abroad.
At the time, Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics and IOC president, even awarded his archrival James Sullivan, director of the III Olympic Games, a medal for his wonderful work in keeping the movement alive.
The perpetuated myth of “confusion” or “chaos” during the III Olympiad in St. Louis mainly stemmed from Pierre de Coubertin himself. Determined that the St. Louis Fair organizers not disregard the “Olympic” name as the Paris organizers did, he insisted that any athletic competition conducted during the 1904 World’s Fair be labeled “Olympic.” This caused some of the non-Olympic athletic contests staged by the Department of Physical Culture to be labeled with the name Olympic in the official program. However, the organizers of the 1904 Games and most of the audience knew what games qualified as part of the III Olympiad—the bulk of which occurred between August 29 – September 10.
Very Few Foreign Athletes Competed
Only in today’s standards is this true. In 1904, the St. Louis Olympic Games was the largest gathering of foreign competitors on U.S. soil. Even compared to the two prior Olympics, St. Louis had a very respectable showing of foreign athletes at that time, with most of the top athletes in the world competing.
Given this was only the III Olympiad, the first in the Western Hemisphere, an ocean away from the first two Olympic host cities, and tensions were rising in Europe over the Russo-Japanese War, St. Louis had a very respectable showing. Not only was it a larger number of foreign athletes than the Athens Games eight years earlier, but it comprised a lot more of the top international competitors. In Athens, no world records were set as few top international competitors competed. In St. Louis, out of 26 track & field events, 13 Olympic records and four world’s records were broken, and 1 Olympic record was equaled.
While the numbers were smaller than the competitions held in 1900 Paris, this was more a result of proximity and logistics. To put it in context of 1904, travel to St. Louis from Budapest, Hungary required about a 2-3 day train trip to Cherbourg, France, a five-day trans-Atlantic crossing, then another 2-3 days by train from New York to St. Louis. The same logistics apply to Chicago (had the games been contested there). Athletes traveling from New York or California to St. Louis traveled a further distance than most European competitors at the Paris Olympics.
To make it more prohibitive, athletes often had to pay for their own travel and lodging to compete in the Olympics. Athletic clubs and associations would help with costs but that was not guaranteed and there were no National Organizing Committees (such as the USOC/TeamUSA) to financially support athletes and teams. That said, the IOC’s website states approximately 651 athletes competed at the St. Louis Olympic Games, which was more than double the 241 athletes whom competed in the I Olympiad in Athens eight years earlier. Approximately 121 athletes at the III Olympiad came from foreign soil, compared to approximately 72 foreign athletes in Athens. The IOC website states 14 countries participated in the I Olympiad.
Eight years later, and an ocean away, the official IOC record lists 12 countries as participants in the III Olympiad: Australia (3); Austria (2); Canada (56); Cuba (3); France (1); Germany (22); Great Britain (6); Greece (14); Hungary (4); South Africa (8); Switzerland (2); and United States (526). However, historians now include Italy (1), Norway (2), Newfoundland (1), and Ireland (1). Like Athens and Paris before, the host country had a disproportionate amount of athletes due to the difficult logistics of travel at the time. Such as in Paris before, this left certain Olympic events with no foreign athletes to compete against the host country.
While Paris listed approximately 277 foreign athletes (720 French athletes), it should be noted that the United States sent 75 athletes to Paris in 1900, while France, the home country of IOC president Pierre Coubertin, was represented by only one athlete in the U.S four years later. In comparison, the U.S. sent 14 athletes to Athens in 1896, and Greece reciprocated by sending 14 to the U.S. in 1904.
Even back then, James Sullivan, director of the 1904 Olympic Games, dismissed the international athlete issue by stating: “World’s records were made, Olympic records were equaled and surpassed and the competitions were keen and interesting. When one reads over the list of Olympic winners and then over the list of eligible men in the world, there are perhaps two men living today who were not in the stadium who could have won Olympic honors.”
The St. Louis Games Were Not Well Promoted
The American public in 1904 was very much aware that the Olympic games were taking place in America. President Theodore Roosevelt served as Honorary President of the Olympic Committee, and welcomed the Olympic games to St. Louis and America in his remarks from the White House opening the World’s Fair on April 30, 1904.
According to George R. Matthews book, America’s First Olympics: The St. Louis Olympic Games of 1904, “Newspaper coverage of Olympic events and personalities saturated the nation, not only in St. Louis but in the major population centers of Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well. Even the lesser cities and towns received reports of Olympic news.
The April 7, 1903, edition of the Topeka Journal published a photograph of Coubertin with the headline, ‘A Sporting Baron.’ Prior to the St. Louis Games, Mathews states, “America’s awareness of the Olympic games had been confined to a narrow corridor of the northeastern United States in 1886, and had only expanded to the Midwest with the Paris games of 1900. The awarding of the Olympics to Chicago in 1901 had increased interest in the games still further, but the newspaper reporting of the transfer controversy between Chicago and St. Louis raised awareness of the Olympics to new heights.
From late October 1902, when news of the contest between Chicago and St. Louis for the games first surfaced, until the official proclamation transferring the Olympics to St. Louis was made by Coubertin on February 10, 1903, the American public, from coast to coast, was fed a steady diet of Olympic news. The transfer controversy whetted the appetite of the American public for Olympic news.”
The Controversial Anthropology Days Were
Part of the Olympic Program
False. The Anthropology Days were in no way part of the III Olympiad. Referred to as Anthropology Days, or the Anthropological athletic meet, it was an athletic affair amongst “primitive peoples” occurring on the afternoons of August 11 and 12. The local newspapers’ official daily World’s Fair Program listed it as an Anthropology athletic meet, an “Intertribal anthropology athletic event,” or an “Athletic meet of savage and primitive peoples.”
The event was organized and overseen by Dr. William J. McGee, an Iowan who served as chief of the Department of Anthropology and Dr. S. C. Simms, anthropologist of the University of Chicago’s Field Museum. James Sullivan, a New Yorker, in his role as chief of the Department of Physical Culture (not under his other capacity as director of the Olympic Games), discussed the Anthropology contests with McGee and agreed to allow them to take place in the Stadium. The program of the Anthropological athletic meet was arranged by Dr. S. C. Simms and Dr. Luther Gulick, an assistant of Sullivan’s in the Physical Culture Department.
Certainly racist and demeaning and rightly condemned, Anthropology Days sprung from the popularly espoused social Darwinism and imperialistic movement at the time. While these contests were a dark mark on the 1904 World’s Fair, and an unfortunate sign of the times, they were not part of the Olympic program. The word “Olympic” never appears in the newspapers or on the program of events, and this is significant given that the name “Olympic,” under strict orders from the head of the IOC, Pierre Coubertin, was to appear on all athletic contests conducted during the 1904 World’s Fair.
Further, the winners in the Anthropology Days contests received cash prizes and American flags, not Olympic gold, silver, and bronze medals. Nor did the participants receive a 1904 Olympic participation medal. It is a gross misrepresentation to say they were in anyway associated with the Games of the III Olympiad.
What About the Marathon Cheater?
Many of the world’s top runners were unable to finish the 1904 Olympic Marathon due to the difficult 90-degree heat and limited water stops. Of the roughly 32 runners who started, only 14 finished. Automobiles carrying officials rode along the race course to judge and offer assistance, and if runners were unable to continue, drove them back to the stadium—or in one case, shuttled them to the hospital. Many runners, including three Boston Marathon Winners, needed to quit and received rides back to the city.
Fred Lorz dropped out of the race around mile 9 after suffering cramps and was assisted into an official’s automobile for the ride back. After riding for what was reported to be about three or four miles, Fred felt better and decided to disembark and again run. He was informed that it would be of no use, for his assistance by a motor vehicle had disqualified him, but Lorz insisted he wanted to run anyway. A race official riding in an automobile ordered Lorz off the course, since he was disqualified, but Lorz claimed the automobile broke down and he was just running to get back to the stadium.
When Lorz passed the struggling lead runner, Thomas Hicks, officials quickly informed Hicks that Lorz was no longer a qualified participant. When Lorz entered the stadium, the crowd initially mistook him as the winner and burst into applause. Some claimed Lorz was a notorious jokester and couldn’t resist playing up to the cheers of the crowd as he ran the final lap. Lorz himself would claim he was dazed at the time of his action, due to the exertion of the race, and did not know what he was doing. Whatever the reason, after crossing the finish line, Lorz readily admitted to officials that he had been given a ride and at no time claimed he won the race.
With Lorz’s disqualification noted, the spectators renewed their vigilance for the true marathon champion—Thomas Hicks. However, James Sullivan, director of the 1904 Olympic Games, was not amused by Lorz’s antics and temporarily banned him from amateur competition for life. Lorz insisted he had no intention to deceive officials, and within a few months the ban was unanimously rescinded.
Upon Lorz’s reinstatement, James Sullivan said: “It is the belief in the East that Lorz has been sufficiently punished. One of the most important things considered by the committee in taking the action it did was the physical condition of Lorz at the finish at the race, and the statements of the experts who examined him immediately afterwards. Lorz at no time claimed to have won the race, but admitted that he had ridden several miles in an automobile.” While Lorz’s antics inside the stadium make him guilty of a bad joke and questionable sportsmanship, labeling him a cheater is extreme.
That label has mostly stuck because of an inaccurate report by Bill Henry. In Henry’s An Approved History of the Olympic Games, which was “approved” by Olympic founder, Pierre Coubertin, who never attended the St. Louis Games, Henry makes several inaccurate accounts about the 1904 Olympics, if not outright fabrications. Henry falsely reported that Fred Lorz, after completing the run, took a picture with the President’s daughter Alice Roosevelt, who then placed a wreath of laurel on Lorz’s head and was about to award him the championship trophy when it was brought to the official’s attention that Lorz had been given a ride. In reality, Alice Roosevelt was not in St. Louis when the marathon occurred, nor did Lorz ever receive any such decoration or award, or pose for any victory picture.
It’s just a false report that has been perpetuated as fact and sensationalized over the decades. It is interesting to note that in April, shortly after Lorz’s reinstatement by the AAU, Fred Lorz won the 1905 Boston Marathon.
What About Claims of Doping During the Marathon?
This refers to the winner of the Marathon, Thomas Hicks. The day of the Marathon, runners endured 90-degree heat. Journalists and bloggers often mention that Hicks was doping during the race or that he was given ‘rat poison.’ This is good ‘click bait’ and makes for sensational headlines, but is not totally accurate. Seven miles from the finish, after many world-class runners already dropped out, Hicks began to show positive signs of collapse. Automobiles had been dispatched with racing officials to judge and assist runners during the race.
One of the racing officials in a nearby automobile, by his own account and in front of witnesses, aided Hicks by administering a tablet of one-sixtieth grain of sulphate of strychnine, along with the white of one egg. Four miles from the stadium, when Hick’s again faltered and his color looked ashen, officials aided him with another tablet of strychnine, two egg whites, and a shot of brandy in order to revive him. At the time, the aid Hicks received seemed to be acceptable by officials.
Further, strychnine was not a banned substance. It was an ingredient used in medicinal tonics at the time. Given in large doses it was poisonous—and was, in fact, an ingredient found in rat poison. However, given in very small doses it acted as a stimulant, like caffeine, and was not viewed as taboo or improper. Mixtures of stimulants, like strychnine, caffeine, and even heroin and cocaine (an ingredient found in the original Coca-Cola and not made illegal until 1914), were used by athletes until the 1920s.
These substances are now banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), except for caffeine. Throughout Olympic history, substances that were once permissible for athletes to use have later been banned, with no retroactive penalties imposed—and rightly so. Again, like Hicks, these athletes did not act outside the rules at the time. No one filed a protest about the aid Hicks received from race officials. The only complaint filed to officials was on behalf of the silver medalist which claimed that Hicks was paced by two automobiles, one in front and one in back.
The referee vehicle containing Dr. Luther Gulick, Mr. Charles Senter, the judge of the course, and the female photographer, Jessie Beals, all witnessed the aid given to Hicks, and Dr. Gulick reiterated that everything adhered to the rules of the race: “Hicks won his race in a clear, honest manner, and was the best runner at the distance.” Other than to provide a sensationalistic headline that would be taken out of context given the times, the substances administered to Hicks by officials — although a stimulant — was not prohibited by the rules at the time and should not be categorized in the level of illegal doping of banned substances that the Olympics have endured over the decades by individual athletes and teams.
The 1906 Athens Games Were Held to
Correct the Mistakes of the St. Louis Olympics.
False.In the words of author George Matthews, America’s First Olympics, “The 1906 Games were held to fulfill the agreement made by Coubertin and the IOC after the first Olympic games in Athens in 1896. Greece wanted to be the permanent host for the Olympics, but Coubertin would not abandon his vision of rotating the quadrennial games among the major cities of the world. As a compromise Coubertin agreed to have Greece host quadrennial games between each Olympiad.
Thus, Athens was scheduled to host Olympics in 1898, 1902, 1906, etc. Political and economic turmoil in Greece prevented games in 1898 and 1902, but Greek society reached a point of sufficient stability in 1906 that the Greek government decided it was again capable of hosting the games,” which were called the Intercalated Games—and are not recognized by the IOC as official Olympic Games.
In 1910, a war in the Balkans prohibited the Intercalated Games from occurring. World War One prevented the Intercalated Games as well as the planned 1916 Berlin Olympic Games. After the war, the Intercalated Games were dropped.