Andarín Carvajal

A Look Back at the Bizarre 1904 Olympics Marathon

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The year 2020 has been a strange year for many of us and for the first time ever, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been postponed. With the Summer Olympics being pushed back, we thought it would be interesting to look back and learn more about past Olympic events. After some research though we learned that this year’s postponement is not the strangest thing to ever happen, in fact, the 1904 Olympics Marathon held in St. Louis takes the bizarre cake!

It starts off with a marathon held in honor of the classic heritage of Greece. This event was meant to underscore the connection between ancient and modern times. However, it quickly turned into its own scandalous spectacle. So much so that the Olympics committee considered abolishing the event for good after only 14 of the 32 runners finished.

Not only was it a particularly hot day in St. Louis with a heat index of around 90- and 92-Degrees Fahrenheit but the only source of water for the competitors was at a well at the 11-mile mark. The reason? James E Sullivan (a chief organizer of the Olympics) decided to allow only one water station on the 24.85-mile course. He was set on conducting research on “purposeful dehydration” even though it was known at the time that dehydration could be potentially fatal. The marathon ended with the worst ratio of entrants to finishers (14 of 32) and with some of the slowest recorded times ever at the Olympics.

Fred Lorz, an American marathon runner, was the first to arrive at the finish line. During the marathon event, Lorz stopped running because of exhaustion after 9 miles. It was then that his manager gave him a lift in his car and drove him the next 11 miles. After which, Lorz continued to the finish line on foot back to the Olympic stadium, where he was declared the winner. To celebrate he had his photo taken with Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and was about to be awarded the gold medal when it was revealed he had cheated. When confronted by officials and being heckled by the crowd as an imposter, Lorz admitted to his deception and claimed he was joking. His joke did not resonate well with officials as the AAU responded by banning him for a year.

Another runner, Thomas Hicks, ended up the winner of the event although his involvement was not exactly a fair win either. Ten miles from the finish line, Hicks was leading the race by a mile and a half, it was then that he tried to lay down and was stopped by his trainers. From then until the end of the race, Hicks received several doses of strychnine (a rat poison that stimulates the nervous system) mixed with brandy. As Hicks finished the race, barely able to walk, he began hallucinating. When he did reach the stadium, his support team and trainers carried him over the line, while he shuffled his feet as if he was still running. During the race, Hicks lost a total of 8 pounds and would have died if medical staff had not been available at the finish line where he collapsed.

But Hicks wasn’t the only runner who almost had a fatal experience during the marathon event. William Garcia was found lying on the road along the marathon course with several internal injuries. Garcia had accidentally breathed in clouds of dust that were kicked up by the race officials’ cars. Another bizarre incident during the race was when postman Andarin Carvajal (aka Félix Carbajal) joined the marathon, arriving at the last minute. He had hitchhiked to St. Louis from New Orleans where he had lost all his money. Since he had nothing with him, he ran the event in street clothes that he had cut around the legs to make them look like shorts. Carvajal also had not eaten in almost 40 hours leading up to the marathon race, so he stopped off in an orchard while on the way to St. Louis and helped himself to rotten apples. Because of food poisoning and stomach cramps, he ended up lying down during the race and taking a nap. Despite being very ill from the rotten apples and napping, he ended up finishing in fourth place. Even though both Lorz and Hicks did not win by today’s Olympics standards, they did meet again in 1905 at the Boston Marathon where this time Lorz won fair and square.

While we may not be able to indulge in the Summer Olympics this June, we can take pride in the fact that Olympic events are now well-organized and properly officiated. Thankfully, the Olympic Marathon lives on despite the bizarre 1904 Olympics. And don’t worry, we won’t have to wait forever to watch the Summer Olympics, Tokyo’s Opening Ceremony will now be held on July 23, 2021.

Photo Credit:
Cuban marathoner (and former mailman) Félix de la Caridad Carvajal y Soto, known as Andarín Carvajal / Photo: