The Craziest Marathon in History


Every Marathon that is run anywhere around the world is a special event for a multitude of reasons. Just the distance, in its own right, is enough to make many of us cringe at the effort required just to finish the race. To compete at the Olympic level requires grit and determination that is only found in a select few. In any given marathon, we can find an amazing story. Be it the world record time, currently held by Eliud Kipchoge in Berlin 2018 or an unexpected event such as Yuki Kawauchi’s legendary victory in the middle of a storm in Boston 2018. Sometimes the event might produce a funny story such as German Silva’s wrong turn at the New York Marathon in 1994, costing him the victory. There is, however, was one specific Marathon that had it all. This particular race had drama, heroic performances and even near-death experiences!

Today, through our Black Blogs, we bring to you the 1904 Olympic Marathon held in St. Louis, Missouri.

It was the summer of 1904 and the Marathon distance event was experiencing just its third appearance at the Olympic Games. The event was relatively new and the organisation in charge of the planning and safe development of the race had very little experience in working in events of such magnitude. It was decided that the event would be raced over 40 kms, which is slightly different from the official 42.2 kms over which an official marathon is run these days. What made this race so incredibly unique was the stories that developed over that particular 40km race.

The Disqualified Fred Horz: The first person to cross the finish line. He was awarded the medal, the champagne, the prizes and had the opportunity to get a photo with Alice Roosevelt who was the United States President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter. It was only when another official, with the help of a journalist, exposed Fred moving in a car for at least 16 kms, that the first-place prize was stripped from him. When confronted by officials, Fred said that he finished the race as a joke and didn’t know that riding a car in a Marathon would be considered such a bad thing!

Official First Place Thomas Hicks: 1904 Olympic Games Marathon official winner. Interestingly, he is also the first recorded case of doping in an official Olympic competition. While passing though the 25th km, he began to fall victim to extreme dehydration. His trainer, wanting him to finish, decided to give him a combination of strychnine, more commonly known as rat poison, and brandy. By the time Thomas got to the last kilometre of the race he had to be held up by his support team and helped across the finish line. In order to avoid being disqualified, one of the team members grabbed his legs and shuffled them on the floor simulating a running motion. After this event, it was implemented that any assistance from the public was banned on future Marathons. *It should also be noted that doping was not a banned behaviour back in 1904.

The fluid countryman Albert Corey: This amazing athlete was a French immigrant who wanted to compete for his country. The problem was that the documentation that he brought with him was ambiguous, and as such, he was allocated in some listings as French and in others as American. This wouldn’t have been a problem had he not got second place in the Marathon. To this day, almost 120 years later, there is no clarity on whether he won the Silver Medal for the United States or for France with both countries claiming the 2nd place as their own!

The Disqualified William Garcia: The US Runner could not finish the Marathon due to severe internal injuries caused by breathing in the clouds of exhaust emanating from the race officials’ cars. What is interesting about this, is that he was found by officials just laying on the ground many hours after the race had finished.

The Cuban Felix Carvajal: The only representative from Cuba, Felix joined the marathon at the very last minute. After gambling all of his money in the “Big Easy” of New Orleans, in the days leading up to the race, he was forced to hitchhike all the way to St. Louis in order to race. Realising that he had no proper clothing to race in, he decided to cut the street pants he was wearing to make them look like shorts. Too distracted by his gambling, he had eaten nothing in the previous 2 days as he had no money to spare on food. He stopped midway through the race to eat some apples that he had found, but the apples were rotten. He fell ill and was forced to take a nap in order to regain his strength from the food poisoning. Despite all of this, he managed to finish fourth in the Marathon.

The Dogged Len Taunyane: Len was part of the South African representation. Spectators claim that his performance was one of the best they had ever seen and that Len should have won the 1904 Olympic Marathon. The problem was that he was chased by dogs in the wrong direction for 2 kilometres.

Dehydration: James E. Sullivan, chief organizer of the Olympics, decided to test the limits of human dehydration by providing only 2 water stations during the whole 40km event. It was not a decision that would pass todays OH&S standards, especially given that it was a day of 90% humidity and 32C degrees C.

The Greek Marathon Team: It must be mentioned that none of the athletes sent by Greece to the Marathon had ever run a full Marathon in their lives. Three out of the 10 athletes managed to finish the course, six of them retired, and one of them did not even start the event.

These are just some of the stories that made this marathon one of the craziest events in Marathon running history. This Marathon, on its own, almost instigated the event being removed from the Olympic Games. Luckily it wasn’t, otherwise, we would missed out on witnessing some of the most amazing sporting events in history. If you are planning on running a marathon, contact us at Davey Black Triathlon. We are a Melbourne triathlon club that can cater for your needs and write a training plan to suit your lifestyle.

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