News Archive

News Archive

The First American Olympic Champion in the Marathon

The athlete participants in this marathon comprised an interesting mix of

talent. Particularly because there was no limit on the number of athletes

representing each nation, the United States contingent was logically the

largest: 18 athletes out of 32 starters. They included some experienced and

well-known stars. Thomas J. Hicks, of the Cambridgeport YMCA in Massachusetts,

had run four of the past five Boston-Marathons, placing very well in three:

sixth in 1900 and 1901, and second in 1904. Fred Lorz, from the Mohawk Athletic

Club in New York, placed fourth ath the Boston Marathon in 1903 and fifth in

1904. Olympian Arthur Newton placed fifth at the Paris Olympic race in its

infamous heat wave. In addition to Hicks, Lorz, and Newton, several other

outstanding American runners competed in the St. Louis Marathon, making this

race for the first time a true United States championship.

The international entrants were difficult to put into a performance

perspective, due in part to little race experience, but also in part because

some were not really athletes. There were nine Greeks, all of whom were living

in the United States and were in various stages of achieving citizenship.

Virtually nothing was known about their capabilities. Cubas lone marathon

participant, Felix Carvajal de Soto, was only five feet tall (152 cm). Born

near Havana he was about to run his first marathon at the age of 29. In his

native Cuba he was a mail carrier instead of a competitive athlete, running

long distances across the island carrying letters. Using entrepreneurial

expertise fuelled by Olympic aspirations, he gave demonstrations of his running

abilities in Cuba to earn money for his boat trip to New Orleans en route to

the Olympic Games. He then hitchhiked to St. Louis, learning some English along

the way, and arrived ready for the race of his life.

The course started and finished in the Francis track and field stadium of

Washington University. The stadium was specially constructed for the Olympics.

It still exists, and it remains the smallest and least imposing of all the

modern Olympic stadia. It accommodated about 9,000 spectators. The track had

six lanes and was one third of a mile around (536,44 metres). Its shape was

unique: one long straightaway and three shorter straightaways.

The start was at 3:03 pm, in the heat of the day. The temperature was about

28° C in the shade – but the route was bathed in sunshine. Fred Lorz

led the field from the gun, but by the first mile Thomas Hicks edged ahead of

him. His lead was short-lived. At six miles, the sequence was Arthur Newton,

Sam Mellor Jr., Edward Carr, Mike Spring, Fred Lorz, and Tom Hicks. Then, at 13

miles, in the village of Des Peres, Sam Mellor Jr. was in the lead, followed by

Arthur Newton, Tom Hicks, Albert Corey, William Garcia, Felix Carvajal de Soto,

and David Kneeland (Carr had retired).

The only places were fluids were available to athletes along the course were

a water tower at 6 miles and a roadside well 12 miles into the race. We do not

know how athletes obtained water at these two points. As runners proceeded and

began to suffer from dehydration, debilitating muscle cramping was the typical

cause for them to drop out of the race. Those who had not consumed adequate

fluids before the race became dehydrated – and paid the price. This in

fact happened to Frank Lorz at 9 miles, and he retired to an automobile moving

along with the runners. Also, not long after 13 miles, Corey and Hicks began to

tire noticeably. Mellor had a stitch, and Garcia had fallen to the side of the

road. Then Hicks overtook Mellor, who retired shortly thereafter. This was at

two hours and four minutes into the race, or at about 14.5 miles. The runners

were accompanied by cars, which raised dust and produced uncomfortable and

unhealthy conditions for the athletes.

Some of the runners were given preferential treatment. Charles P. Lucas, who

was the personal manager of the eventual winner Tom Hicks, later wrote a book

about the Games (Lucas 1904). He wrote the following: “From the 10-mile

mark to the finish, the winner, Hicks, was under the personal care of Hugh C.

McGrath and the author. Hicks was far from being the best man physically in the

race, for there were three men who should have defeated him … but they

lacked proper care on the road … Carvajal was the best physically

… On one occasion he stopped at the authors automobile, where a party

were eating peaches, and begged for some. Being refused, he playfully snatched

two, and ran along the road, eating them as he ran.“

In addition to water, Hicks was also administered ostensibly

performance-enhancing agents. “The marathon race, from a medical

standpoint, demonstrated that drugs are of much benefit to athletes along the

road“, says Lucas. Knowing what Hicks in fact was given, we wonder how

much faster he might have run if Lucas had not assisted him. Lucas reported

that at 19 miles he “was forced to administer 1/60th grain of sulphate of

strychnine, by the mouth, besides the white of an egg. Although French brandy

was in the possession of the party, it was deemed best to abstain from further

stimulants so long as possible.“

By 19 miles, Hicks, who had been alternately walking and jogging, had the

urge to retire due to exhaustion, even though he was already one and a half

miles ahead of Albert Corey and could afford to slow his pace even more.

Shortly after 20 miles, Lucas looked at Hicks and saw that “his colour

began to become ashen pale, and then another tablet of 1/60th grain of

strychnine was administered him, and two more eggs, besides a sip of brandy.

His entire body was bathed in warm water, including his head … and he

appeared to revive and jogged along once more.“ Once again, Hicks was

receiving preferential treatment unavailable to other athletes in the

competition.

Lucass description of the final one and a half miles puts into even clearer

perspectice the unknowing incompetence of those providing Hicks with alleged

assistance. Two sizable hills remained. Lucas writes: “As the brandy

carried by the party had been exhausted, Ernie Hjertberg, of New York, kindly

replenished Hickss canteen, and, though the Cambridge man had beef tea with

him, he was refused this liquid, as no chance of upsetting his stomach was to

be taken. After he had partaken of two more eggs, again bathed, and given some

brandy, Hicks walked up the first of the last two hills, and then jogged down

on the incline. This was repeated on the last hill, and as he swung into the

stadium, Hicks bravely tried to increase his speed, but could not, for, as it

was, he scarcely had strength enough left to run the last 440 yards of the

distance.“

As Hicks entered the stadium, he was cheered enthusiastically by the

assembled spectators, who were delighted that, as they saw it, he had finished

in second place with a time of 3:28:53. It was at this same moment that Alice

Roosevelt, wife of United States president Theodore Roosevelt, was about to

present the gold medal to Fred Lorz, who had finished nearly 16 minutes

earlier. Officials accompanying Hicks were incredulous and immediately rushed

to inform the appropriate officials that something terribly wrong was happening

– obviously Hicks had won the race.

Fred Lorz had dropped out at 9 miles. He rode in a car until nearly 19

miles, at which point the car broke down. By this time, he had recovered

sufficiently that he decided to leave the beleaguered car and driver, and run

into the stadium rather than remain out in the hot sun wondering when help

would arrive to fix the car. Passing Hicks shortly after 19 miles, he finished

in an estimated time of 3:13:00 and accepted the cheers of those in the stadium

as he proceeded around the track. Those applauding assumed he was the Olympic

champion.

When confronted, Lorz readily admitted that he had not run the entire

course. He had always been the practical jokester, and this was vintage Lorz

behavior. Officials did not see it that way, however, and fumed with

embarrassment. The wife of the president had almost presented the winners medal

to the wrong person! In the ensuing emotional aftermath, Lorz was banned

fromsport for life by the AAU, but this was later rescinded. He resumed racing,

performed quite well, and in 1905 won the Boston Marathon (2:38:25).

Following Hicks into the stadium by about six minutes was Albert Corey

– looking more like the fresh Fred Lorz than the exhausted Tom Hicks, and

who had covered the distance without assistance. A little more than twelve

minutes later came Arthur Newton, the first athlete to finish two Olympic

marathons. Felix Carvajal de Soto also entered appearing quite fresh, but no

time was recorded. Reportedly, he had stopped occasionally along the way, once

to pick some apples for replenishment of fluids and energy, and at other times

to query bystanders about the course. David E. Martin

 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter