04 8 / 2012
Cheating, Stealing and Strychnine: The Insane Olympic Marathon of 1904
The 1904 marathon was one of the most bizarre Olympic events of all-time. The organizers knew almost nothing about staging a race. It was run in afternoon heat that reached 90 degrees. It was run over dusty roads made dustier by automobiles that were permitted to drive alongside the athletes. To top it off, there was only one usable water station: a well at the 12-mile mark.
No one noticed that American Fred Lorz hitched a ride at mile 12. Not until he was being awarded his medal by Alice Roosevelt did he confess that it was all a practical joke.
Winner Thomas Hicks (pictured) wasn’t entirely legitimate either, as he was given preferential treatment by his handlers who bathed him head to toe in warm water and administered a concoction of eggs, brandy, and strychnine when he insisted on quitting at mile 19.
Perhaps the most colorful participant in the race was a Cuban mail carrier with no race experience. Felix Carvajal de Soto hitchhiked his way up the Mississippi River from his initial port of entry in New Orleans. The race was delayed because his long trousers and street shoes were deemed unsuitable for running. Carvajal stopped regularly to chat with bystanders about the progress of the race and practice his English, raided an apple orchard (which caused him to cramp up and lie on the side of the road for a few minutes) and playfully stole some peaches from race officials.
Amazingly, Carvajal finished fourth.
[by Orrin Konheim]
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