Although today's Olympic Games are filled with glitz, glamour and heart pounding drama, in its formative years many doubted the competition's ultimate survival.
As the 1904 host city for the 3rd Olympiad, St. Louis didn't exactly attract a diverse field. Of the 689 amateur athletes that competed (681 men and 8 women), 525 were Americans. For those living beyond North America's borders, the travel expense was cost prohibitive, especially without a home country's financial support. It was not until years later that the Games evolved into a serious country versus country competition.
Despite the geographically biased representation, St. Louis' Games marked a few firsts: These were the first Olympics held in North America; and the first time that Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals were awarded. Boxing, freestyle wrestling, and decathlon debuted, and by sending two hopefuls to compete in what was then deemed the premier event, Africa made its inaugural marathon appearance, a race shrouded in controversy.
As the first competitor to cross the finish line in just over 3 hours, New Yorker Fred Lorz received a standing ovation from the crowd, posed for pictures with celebrities and accepted a laurel wreath from President Theodore Roosevelt's daughter. Just prior to awarding Lorz with a Gold medal, officials discovered that 11 of his 26.2 miles were covered by car. Only after the vehicle overheated and broke down at mile 22 did he begin running. Caught red-handed, Lorz admitted to the deceit and was promptly issued a lifetime ban from competition. (He won the following year's Boston Marathon after his ban was lifted.)
The already tarnished event suffered another blow when the second man to cross the finish line did so with some-shall we say-help. At mile 16, Thomas Hicks was literally given a second wind when friends along the course loaded him with a dose of strychnine, a central nervous system stimulant. These friends proceeded to chase it down with several glasses of cognac and then dragged Hicks across the finish line.
And what ever happened to the Africans? They finished 9th and 12th, after the faster of the two was chased a mile off course by a wild dog.