It was the dawn of the modern Olympic era. St. Louis boasted the pleasure of being the 3rd host of the soon-to-be world-renowned games. Everything went off without a hitch. That is everything, except the men’s marathon. This race was so utterly unbelievable, so completely pathetic, so mind-numbingly stupid that it has gone down in the annals of athletic history with infamy. This is a tale littered with lies, cheats, unlikely heroes, near-death experiences, and honestly just some real wild storylines. This is the story of the 1904 Men’s Olympic Marathon, the worst race of all time (we actually think it’s the best, but it’s all just about your perspective).
The 1904 Olympic Games
St. Louis was eventually awarded the opportunity to host the 1904 Olympics, only the third olympiad in the modern Olympic era. However, they weren’t the original city to win the bid. St. Louis, as they had in many other areas, stole the Olympics from Chicago. The city of Chicago had originally won the bid to host the Olympics. That same summer St. Louis was scheduled to host the world’s fair. Not wanting to have another event distract from the world’s fair, St. Louis planned a rival sporting event to occur during their fair. The founder of the modern Olympic movement did not want the rival sporting events at the world’s fair to pull fans from the Olympics so he awarded the city of St. Louis with the title of the host. Honestly, this action may have resulted in a curse.
The Men’s Olympic Marathon
This race. Where do we begin? There has never been a more disorganized, disappointing, and disastrous sporting event in the history of organized sports. This was an absolute fiasco from start to finish and just when you think you’ve heard it all it hits you right between the eyes with more. Well, let’s just jump right in.
Let’s begin with the story of Andarin Carvajal. Carvajal, also known as Felix, was a mailman in Cuba who dreamed of competing in the Olympic race. Felix was not financially prepared for such a trip, so he began raising money by challenging other locals to races. Eventually, he raised enough money to make the journey to St. Louis. He, in a massive lapse of wisdom, lost it all gambling in New Orleans. Somehow Andarin managed to make his way to the city in time for the event.
At the starting line, it was apparent that Carvajal was out of place. The mailman was sporting boots, long pants, a button-down shirt, and a hat. An athlete preparing to compete in a separate event took the liberty of cutting Carvajal’s pants into shorts moments before the race began. A little rude, but Andarin was grateful due to the 90-degree weather that was garnished with Missouri humidity.
Asleep Among the Apple Trees
Now Andarin Carvajal was far from a professional runner. In fact, this was the first competitive race of his short career. Due to his inexperience, he began to struggle immensely about halfway through the race. In an effort to regain some energy he stopped at an apple orchard to eat some of the fruit. In yet another lapse of judgment, Felix partook of rotten apples. He decided to lay down under an apple tree and take a nap to recover from the bad fruit. After waking up from his slumber he rejoined the race and finished in, you’re not going to believe this, 4th place! That is how astonishing this race was. A no-name competitor took a full nap in the middle of the race and just narrowly missed the podium!
Thomas Hicks was easily the favorite to win the 1904 Olympic marathon. He was the most experienced and decorated professional runner in the lineup. This race seemed like an easy win for the expert. As fate would have it, though, this race would nearly take his life.
Hicks was aided for the last 10 mile stretch of the marathon. His trainers literally lifted him in the air while he shuffled his feet to give the illusion of running despite his feet being off the ground. The situation all began because Hicks was dehydrated during the race. Instead of giving Hicks any water, his trainer gave him a sponge, which obviously did nothing to quench his thirst. In yet another strange decision Hick’s trainer gave him rat poison in an attempt to hydrate the runner. Finally, his trainer gave him a bottle of Brandy. All of these together resulted in a near-death experience for Hicks in which he described hallucinating the entire back leg of the race. Doctors reported that if it weren’t for the medical attention he received at the finish line, he would have died that day.
This is just the beginning of the insanity of this race. To find out about an unsanctioned dehydration experiment, a cheating scandal involving a motor vehicle, a pack of feral dogs that chased runners off course, and much more watch or listen to this episode of Things I Learned Last Night. The 1904 Olympic Marathon is easily the most unbelievable athletic event of all time. It might even be the craziest story ever.
Things I Learned Last Night is an educational comedy podcast where best friends Jaron Myers and Tim Stone talk about random topics and have fun all along the way. If you like learning, and laughing a whole lot while you do, then you’ll love TILLN. Watch or listen to this episode right now!
Athletics at the 1904 Olympic Men’s Marathon – Wikipedia
The 1904 Olympic Marathon – Smithsonian
The 1904 Summer Olympics – Wikipedia
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