Think the Tokyo Olympics are a bad idea? St Louis 1904 sets the bar high | Olympic Games
TThe Delta variant of the coronavirus is in full bloom. Japan is in a state of emergency. Less than a quarter of the Japanese population has been stung. In a few days, USA Swimming’s Michael Andrew and other anti-vaccines will descend on Tokyo and the surrounding areas to seek gold in stadiums without fans. On the one hand, it could be a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, persisting with deeply mistaken ideas is very much in line with the Olympic spirit.
Let us take the case of the Games of 1904, the first world Olympic Games organized outside Europe. The decision to hold them in the United States almost threw the Olympic experience as we know it into failure. Not only was the host country an ocean away, but the host city, St. Louis, was in the Midwest, making travel extremely expensive and slow. A total of 12 countries participated, with some events running as US National Trials (meaning the field was entirely US). In the end, the host country won 238 medals ‚223 more than Germany, second. A German-American gymnast named George Eye won six medals that year on a left wooden leg, including gold in the vault after jumping over a long horse without a springboard.
A boxing winner was caught using a false name. Thirteen runners competed for medals in the 400m on a track without lanes. The swimming qualifiers took place in an asymmetrical lake. The whole show was a bip show, according to David Wallechinsky’s Complete Olympics Book. But it figured, given that the 1904 Olympics were also held in conjunction with the World’s Fair – which featured its own list of events themed around the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase and others. great visions of US imperialism. One of these events, titled Anthropology Days, recruited members of the Pygmy, Sioux and Patagonian tribes to dance and throw mud. They were further invited to run and throw themselves between them. You know, like the white men who compete in the Olympics, but not alongside them.
When these non-athletes were disappointed on the track, World Expo organizers were quick to view them as “savages” who “turned out to be inferior, vastly overrated athletes.” Pierre de Coubertin, the French historian who founded the International Olympic Committee, did not come to St Louis for the Anthropology Days. But, to his immense credit, only the accounts have made him despise the spectacle as a “scandalous charade” which “will of course lose its appeal when black men, red men and yellow men learn to run, jump and jump. launch, and leave the white men behind them ”.
As a programming alternative, the St Louis Games offered the marathon, a flagship event that would undoubtedly highlight the true physical limitations of man. But this event also became a spectacle of monsters. Apart from a handful of experienced runners, many participants were amateurs. Fred Lorz, a bricklayer from New York, was one of eight runners to win a spot in the Olympic marathon thanks to a “special seven mile run” in Queens. Felix Carvajal, a Cuban mailman who viewed his delivery routine as “training,” nearly missed the Olympic marathon after losing his sponsorship money on a dice game. After hitchhiking to St Louis from New Orleans, he took to the start line wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, dark pants, brogues and a beret. Meanwhile, two men from the Tswana tribe of South Africa in town for their country’s exhibition at the World Expo took their places barefoot and became the first black Africans to compete in the Olympics.
When the starting cannon was fired after 3 p.m. on August 30, the 32-man marathon field kicked off on a bubbling Midwestern afternoon that saw the heat index soar to 135F. A fair official said the 24.85-mile marathon course was “the most difficult a human has ever been asked to run.” In addition to the steep streets and hills 300 feet from the road, runners had to negotiate road and rail traffic and even people walking their dogs because the marathon route was not cut off from everyday life. Worse, marathoners were limited to of them water breaks – at miles six and 12 – because James Sullivan, secretary of the Amateur Athletic Union turned organizer of the St Louis Games, was keen to observe the effects of “intentional dehydration,” the sadist. If the lack of fluid did not win these runners, the dusty roads of St Louis – and the procession of judges, doctors and journalists framing the marathoners – would choke the competitors like waves of amber grain in the Dust Bowl – this which was not that great. far away.
Unsurprisingly, the race quickly collapsed. William Garcia of Oakland was the first to collapse on the side of the road; dust had covered his esophagus and torn his stomach, causing bleeding. (If Garcia had endured an extra hour, those who treated him said, he would surely have bled to death.) Wild dogs chased one of the South Africans a mile and a half down the road. All the while, the game’s factor Carvajal has bypassed hydration restrictions by ripping off fruit along the way. But after using too many apples in a roadside orchard, he succumbed to stomach cramps.
Lorz, the mason, didn’t let the cramps stop him at the nine mile mark. Instead, he hitchhiked in a car, waving to spectators and rivals as he walked past them. Thomas Hicks, the Anglo-American brewer who took the lead after the first mile, was so dehydrated at mile 10 that a two-man training team rushed to his aid and backed him up for a few miles. When Hicks’ demands for water exhausted them, they compromised by sponging his mouth with lukewarm distilled water. When he cried for relief around mile 18, they served him a cocktail of egg whites and strychnine – marking the first recorded use of performance enhancers in the modern Olympics. It didn’t matter if the elixir was killing him gently.
As Hicks raced toward the light, a refreshed Lorz descended from an 11 mile ride, his car overheating in the dust. Paying no attention to Hicks’ handler ordering him off the course, Lorz walked to the stadium finish line and crossed it just under three hours as the crowd roared and chanted “an American won! ” Just as Alice Roosevelt, Teddy’s 20-year-old daughter, was about to lower a gold medal to Lorz’s crowned head, a lone onlooker called him an impostor, the cheers transformed. in hoots and Lorz shrugged his shoulders like a joke. .
At this point, Hicks is barely hanging on. But when news of Lorz’s disqualification reached him, Hicks lit up. His two-man team produced another strychnine eggnog (with a brandy hunter) and gave him a hot water sponge bath for his whole body. That steady diet was enough to keep him from putting one foot in front of the other like a zombie for the last two miles, even though a delusional Hicks believed the finish line was another 20 miles. In the last mile he begged to lie down, drank more brandy and climbed the last two hills before slipping into the stadium. His two-man crew hoisted him across the finish line, his feet still pedaling as they hoisted him into the air as he was declared the winner. The guys who do so much transport probably deserve their own medals – for “distinguished service” at the very least. But alas, the only bragging Hicks drivers could make after the race was that he was 10 pounds lighter.
After an hour-long visit with four different medics, Hicks finally felt well enough to get back on his feet and leave the field on his own. “Never in my life have I run such a difficult course,” he said. Without a doubt, this was the low point for a Games historian William O Johnson Jr. would pronounce as “Olympic Games better to forget”. Hopefully no one is saying the same after the postponed Tokyo edition. But right now, they look a little too much like Hicks: poisoned, desperate and dragging, like zombies, toward the finish line against better judgment – and all for the show.