Saturday, March 25, 2006

Sportsmanship revisited:

Take the 1904 St. Louis, Missouri Summer Olympics for example. These games were only the third summer games ever held (There actually were no winter games at this time - they were added in 1924.). The original games were held in 1896 at Athens and were then followed by the 1900 Paris games.

The St. Louis games could hardly be called an international competition. Since traveling overseas from Europe was extremely expensive at the time, the competition consisted mostly of Americans and Canadians (of the 681 athletes, 525 were from the United States.). It should be pointed out, however, that the Olympics were not intended to be a competition among nations at the time - it was a competition among amateur athletes from around the world. It was the job of the amateur athlete to find his way to the games at his own expense. No one cared if you couldn't get there.


To start, if you were considered to be a minority, you had to compete in separate games. These games came under the high-sounding name of "Anthropology Days" which were held on August 12 and 13, 1904. These games were designed to face "costumed members of the uncivilized tribes" against one another. Never-to-be classic Olympic games were included - mud fighting, rock throwing, pole climbing, spear throwing, and... you get the idea...


An American gymnast named George Eyser won two gold, two silver, and one bronze medal at the games. Quite a remarkable feat when you consider the fact that he only had one real leg - the other leg was solid wood

All amusing. But the real winner that year was:

The first man to cross the finish line was Fred Lorz from New York City. Lorz had completed the race in just over three hours time. When he entered the stadium, the crowd roared with excitement. Photographs were taken of President Roosevelt's daughter Alice placing a laurel wreath over Lorz's head.

Lorz's moment in the limelight did not last very long. Just as Lorz was about to accept his medal, officials learned that Lorz had been spotted passing the halfway mark in an automobile. It seems that Lorz had been suffering from cramps, so he hitched a ride at the 9 mile point. He then rode in the vehicle for another eleven miles, at which point the car overheated and broke down. He waived at the spectators and fellow runners along the way. Lorz, now rejuvenated from his ride, chose to run the rest of the race.

Lorz claimed that he never meant to fool anyone - he just couldn't resist the praise and adulation of the roaring crowd. Lorz was immediately banned for life from any future amateur competition. This ban was lifted a year later allowing him to win the Boston Marathon (we'll assume that he was closely watched).

So, if Lorz didn't win, who did?

It was a British-born man named Thomas Hicks who ran for the American team. Hicks ran the race in 3:28:53. When he ran into the stadium the crowd was less than enthusiastic. After all, they had already cheered for a winner, even if he had been disqualified.

Of course, good little Alice Roosevelt was again ready to pose with the winner. But she couldn't. Hicks had to be carried off of the track. It seems that Hicks had begged to lie down about ten miles from the finish line. Instead, his trainers gave him an oral dose of strychnine sulfate mixed into raw egg white to keep him going. This was not enough - they had to give him several more doses, as well as brandy, along the way. By the end of the race, Hicks had to actually be supported by two of his trainers so that he could cross the finish line (essentially, he was carried over the line with his feet moving back-and-forth). Hicks was very close to death's door. It took four doctor's to get him in good enough shape just to leave the grounds, eventually falling asleep on a trolley.

Wait! That's not the end of the story! (can it get any more bizarre?)

It seems that another entrant was a Cuban postman named Felix Carvajal. Once Felix heard about the marathon, he announced that he was going to run. He had no money, so he quit his job and went into the fund raising business. He ran around the central square in Havana and jumped on a soapbox pleading for donations. He repeated this several times until he raised the necessary cash.

On his way to the race, Felix managed to lose all of his money in a crap game in New Orleans. As a result, he had to hitchhike his way to the games (not an easy thing to do in 1904). When Carvajal arrived at the games, he lacked any type of running gear. The officials were forced to postpone the start of the marathon for several minutes while he cut the sleeves off his shirt and the legs off his pants. He ran the race in lightweight street shoes.

During the race, Felix didn't seem to fatigue easily. He constantly conversed with the crowd, even running backwards at times while he spoke to them in broken English.

But wait, in keeping with the 1904 tradition it had to get worse for poor Felix:

He blew any chance of victory by getting hungry. He first ate some peaches that he stole from a race official. He then took a detour into an orchard to munch on some green apples. Big mistake - he developed stomach cramps and had to temporarily drop out of the marathon. Eventually, Felix got back in the race and managed to come in fourth place. He probably would have won if he had not gotten the munchies.

Hold it - the marathon is still not over!

The marathon included the first two black Africans to compete in the Olympics - two Zulu tribesman named Lentauw (real name: Len Taunyane)and Yamasani (real name: Jan Mashiani). They wore bibs 35 and 36, respectively.

The only problem was that these two tribesmen were not in town to compete in the Olympics - they were actually the sideshow! Yes, they were imported by the exposition as part of the Boer War exhibit (both were really students at Orange Free State in South Africa, but no one wanted to believe that these tribesmen could actually be educated - it would have ruined the whole image).

Lentauw finished ninth and Yamasani came in twelfth. This was a disappointment, as many observers were sure Lentauw could have done better - that is if he had not been chased nearly a mile off course by a large, aggressive canine!

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