Early last week, scores of media from around the globe encountered some problems with their working conditions. That coupled with the environmental and social issues of China gave the 2008 Olympics a negative connotation before the games officially began.
Now that the spirit of athletic competition has taken over, the issues of smog and government oppression have taken a backseat -- if only for short period of time. Regardless of how severe an impact the smog has on outdoor events, it's a safe bet things were much worse for the marathon runners in St. Louis 104 years ago.
In an era where tug of war was a primary Olympic event, 31 participants competed in the marathon at the 1904 games on the dusty roads of Forest Park. To make conditions worse, runners had to avoid the traffic of cars and horse carriages which caused an added
an element of danger and forced clouds of dust to take control of the race. Oh and there was that brutal St. Louis heat that knocked out 17 participants, leaving only 14 to cross the finish line. The extreme conditions led to one of the most bizarre finishes to an event in Olympics history.
New York native Fred Lorz was the first to cross the finish line, or so it seemed. What fans didn't realize was that Lorz was sidelined with cramps at the nine-mile mark and hitched a ride on a car before it broke down near the end. He then made his way to the finish line on foot and entered the stadium to a raucous crowd of 35,000 people under the impression he was the first runner to complete the race.
Perhaps swept away by the false praise being heaped upon him, Lorz played along and prepared to accept the champion's crown from Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt. Lorz’s secret was ultimately revealed and he was promptly banned for life by the Amateur Athletic Union. Yes, the car was 1904's version of the performance enhancing drug, and Lorz suffered the consequences.
The real marathon winner was American Tom Hicks, who stumbled to victory in 3 hours and 28 minutes, the worst winning time in Olympic history. During the race, Hicks was openly given doses of strychnine sulfate, a rudimentary performance enhancer, and was ultimately carried to the finish line by his trainers.
They didn't deem strychnine sulfate illegal in 1904, nor did they deem it illegal to hitch a ride on your trainers' backs. It was only the cars that got you in trouble.
photo via IOC Olympic Museum/Getty Images