Banned doping and language barriers: The story of the first Olympic Games in America

“The first Olympic Games in America were unsuccessful. The games in St. Louis actually turned out to be a competition between amateurs.” Such a sad conclusion was made by James O. Sullivan, the organizer of the third Games of our time. The story of the failed debut Olympics in the United States is in the material of Free News.

Cheeky neighbors from Missouri

Pierre de Coubertin planned to organize Games in the New World back in the 1890s. The idea of the baron was postponed since the majority of IOC members were in favor of holding the Olympics within Europe. The debut competitions in Athens went smoothly, but the Games in Paris dealt a blow to the reputation of the IOC.

The functionary’s long-standing dream has come true. Coubertin hoped that the Games would find a new breath in America, and at the same time gain fame on another continent. The head of the IOC was also bribed by external circumstances. Even during the OG-1900, American delegates addressed the baron. Permission to hold the competition was given immediately. The decisive argument was America’s interest in the Games. In Athens and Paris, the US Olympic team has always been the largest. After the conversation with Coubertin, the American colleagues got down to business, studying the shortcomings in the preparation of the Games in the French capital.

Finally, America presented the city where the Olympics should be held. Chicago left a vivid impression on the IOC: 13 influential people of the city guaranteed high-quality training in the application letter. The geographical location was also a plus for the City of Winds. The townspeople were looking forward to the sports festival until at one point they heard the shocking news. One day, Baron Coubertin received a letter from the rich residents and authorities of St. Louis. A city from the state of Missouri offered to organize the Games in parallel with the World’s Fair. The author of the idea was the director of the exhibition, David D. Francis, who promised good attendance and the creation of “a better atmosphere of the Games, unlike Paris.” After hesitating, the IOC declared St. Louis the host of the 1904 Games. The blow was fatal for Chicago: the city repeatedly applied to host the Games, but each time it was left with nothing.

The IOC later regretted the decision. “I had a premonition that the Olympics would be as mediocre as the city,” Coubertin wrote in his memoirs many years later. The fears came true: the 1904 Games suffered the fate of their French predecessor.

One debutant, a mass boycott

There was little time left for preparation. The head of the sports department of the exhibition, James O. Sullivan, transformed St. Louis in a short time. Some ideas turned out to be innovative: a universal stadium was built in the city. Competitions in all disciplines were held at the arena. The organizers have installed treadmills for athletes-runners.

The Organizing Committee approved the traditional set of medals, including gold, silver, and bronze.

At the same time, the IOC sent invitation telegrams around the world. The messages emphasized that the Olympics are being held on another continent for the first time.

The effort did not pay off. Some countries, initially interested in the Olympics, found a reason not to go to the United States. The Russian Empire missed the Games because of the war with Japan. The British and French delegations ignored the Olympics, citing high costs and the inconvenient location of St. Louis. The host party did not hide its resentment, considering the act of the Europeans selfish.

At the opening ceremony, the audience welcomed athletes from 11 countries. A little more than 50 Olympians from Europe got to America, and only one country made its debut at the Games — South Africa. The sluggish response of foreign guests forced the organizing committee to take a risk. Athletes representing colleges and universities of the USA got a chance to perform at the Games. The American media has repeatedly called the Games “a battleground between East and West.”

Mad dogs, an impostor, and a postman with peaches

On the first of July, the director of the fair, Francis, declares the Games open. Over the next four and a half months, St. Louis saw 95 competitions. Every day, interest in the Olympics faded due to the constant performance of American athletes. The marathon left the intrigue, but in the end, the race also caused only disappointment.

The marathon took place on an August evening. The twenty-five-mile distance on a dirt road included obstacles in the form of hills and wooded areas. To get rid of the heat, the athletes had to overcome 18 miles — the nearest spring was located there. An unpleasant surprise awaited the few “survivors”: the water was unsuitable for drinking. Some of the marathon runners ended up in the hospital due to intestinal problems.

Transport also caused inconvenience. During the race, the Olympians were accompanied by judges, doctors, and honorary residents of St. Louis in cars. The convoy provoked dusty tornadoes, which worsened visibility for athletes. In addition, the dust got into the lungs and caused coughing. The natural conditions of St. Louis made the marathon a race for survival.

However, there were a number of funny moments at the main race of the Games. Felix Carvajal ran the distance in the clothes in which he got from his native Havana. The Cuban postman’s outfit was in tatters, but Carvajal didn’t care. The marathon runner ran up to one of the cars. In the salon, the girl was eating peaches. Carvajal turned to her: “Can I borrow a couple of fruits?” The lady was even more confused when the Cuban suddenly plucked three peaches and accelerated the run.

Another episode occurred with Len Tau. The South African was leading in the marathon, but the triumph had to be forgotten because of the dogs. The animals importunately pestered Tau and prevented him from running along the route. Tau could not stand it and at one point left the race, but the African had to run an extra half hour through the cornfields of St. Louis.

The winner of one of the most terrible marathons in history was Thomas Hicks. The American’s triumph was preceded by other absurd events. Running through the route, Hicks learned about the disqualification of Fred Lorz. The compatriot decided to deceive everyone by driving most of the distance by car. The audience stared in amazement at the athlete, carelessly getting out of the car near the finish line.

Leading the marathon, Hicks bravely endured the scorching sun. The exhausted body could not resist: shortly before the finish, the athlete fell and lost consciousness. The referees were preparing to fix the gathering, but then Hicks ‘ coach intervened. The mentor injected a dose of a prohibited drug-strychnine with cognac. Doping helped Hicks cross the finish line. The tired champion was so weak that he could not even take the championship cup from the exhibition director Francis. After the medical examination, Hicks hurried home. But the marathon champion did not get to bed right away: he fell asleep on the tram and missed the right stop.

Ninja from Japan, the Coubertin Oath

Throughout the Games, the IOC’s discontent grew every week. Some measures of the American organizing committee were confused. The World’s Fair held Anthropological Games without notifying Coubertin and his associates. The American public saw the competitions of small nations at them. The performances were demonstrative, but the organizers presented an award to the winner — the US flag. Competitions of Eskimos, Indians, and Pygmies in archery or high jumping entertained Americans. The IOC, in turn, did not share the fervent moods.

European athletes also faced difficulties at the Olympics. Hungarian Bela de Mezo did not know English. At the start of one of the races, the athlete stood on someone else’s treadmill. Then the incomprehensible Hungarian made a false start three times, without waiting for the referee’s shot. After futile explanations of the rules, the judges ‘ patience broke: Mezo justly got disqualified.

The language barrier also prevented Savao Funi. The Japanese performed in St. Louis in the pole vault, but Funi performed the element according to his technique. The athlete stuck a strong pole into the ground, climbed on it, and jumped over the bar. The judges gave Funi a few more attempts. A Japanese man who spoke weak English repeated a unique trick. Following the Mezo, the referees suspended Funi from the competition.

At the end of November, the Games finally came to an end. The IOC and Pierre de Coubertin were inconsolable: the debut Olympics in America turned out to be a failure. After returning to Europe, the baron gave his word not to arrange the Games at the same time as other events. The unsuccessful union of the World’s Fair and the Olympics was vetoed.

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Author: Julia Harris
Graduated from Stanford University. Previously, he worked in various free news media. Currently, it is a columnist of the economy section in the Free News editors.
Function: Reporter
Julia Harris

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