Dumbest and Worst Olympics Event Ever: 1904 St. Louis Marathon


1904 olympics st louis marathon

Another Olympics commences the day after tomorrow, prompting us to ask- what was THE WORST and STUPIDEST Olympics event of all time?

It’s a tough question to answer because the International Olympic Committee is notorious for being a cesspool of corruption and the results of their grifting have often been pretty ugly. For argument’s sake though, we’ll go with the marathon in the 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics. First of all, it was an Olympiad held in a city that never should have hosted an Olympics, and the right to host the games was stolen away from a rival city, one that St. Louisians often have an inferiority complex towards.

Secondly, the race was run as an extremely sinister social experiment, in which the runners were treated as human guinea pigs. It was pure evil what happened here from an infrastructure standpoint.

olympics marathon

Thirdly, look at the graphic above. Out of the 1,421 runners to officially complete and record a marathon time in the Olympics, 1,397 finished with a BETTER time than the WINNER of this event.

Then you have the fact that it was run in 90 degrees in the shade kind of heat, on toxic dust and hard rocks, without hydration stations. It was also part of an Olympics and World’s Fair that was put on by white supremacists and…well, that’s another article altogether and beyond the scope of this post here. The story of the race itself and the runners who competed is the focus, and WOW! This is all completely batshit crazy.

It’s like a darker episode of Comedy Central’s Drunk History, except more informational and less light-hearted.

The prohibitive favorite, John Lorden dropped out after running just over a mile due to bouts of violent vomiting. There was just one water source, halfway through and it was dysentery causing well water. American runner William Garcia passed out, and almost bled to death internally, due to all the dust he inhaled while running along the route. The dust was tearing apart the insides of his stomach and suffocating him. He was lucky he pulled through.

Only 14 countries even bothered to send athletes to these games, and only 14 participants finished the marathon. The man who finished ninth, only did so after being chased a mile off course by feral dogs.

1904 olympics

Pictured above is Felix Carvahal, a Cuban mailman who was not representing any country in the Olympics, wasn’t invited and had not actually run a sanctioned, organized race in his life. However, he ran his mail route every day and legend has it once ran the entire length of Cuba. No one sent him to these games, but he scraped together enough money to take a boat to New Orleans, where he promptly lost all his money gambling.

He then hitch-hiked, snuck onto train cars and ran the rest of the way up river to St. Louis. Remember, this was only a couple decades after the peak of the steamboat era and St. Louis was peaking as a city due to their riverboat superiority. These Olympics took place in the same exact year that the classic musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” was set.

Carvahal was so penniless he ran the race in his mailman uniform, which seemed to be the only outfit he had. It was not suitable for the weather, but he finished fourth anyway. He finished fourth despite stopping to steal apples (he had to eat somewhere, somehow), getting food poisoning and taking a nap.

Yes, he took a nap in the middle of the race!

Jon Bois of SB Nation did a much more detailed recapping of this absurd moment in Olympics history, in a video that comes complete with many visual aids. It’s embedded below and I suggest you watch it:

The 1904 Olympics marathon also included a competitor named Fred Lorz, who gave up 9 miles in due to cramps, got in a car for much of the route until the car broke down about 10 miles away from the finish. Lorz felt better, finished the race and put on the charade that he reached the finish line legitimately. Lorz admitted he cheated, but seriously might have gotten away with it had he not confessed.

Oh, and the marathon winner was Thomas Hicks, who had the worst coach/trainer in all history. Hicks was falling apart in the middle of the race due to dehydration, but his dumb ass coach wouldn’t give water, no matter how hard Hicks pleaded. Instead he was given strychnine, which is RAT POISON. He was also given raw eggs and brandy.

Because that’s what every top athlete needs- alcohol and rat poison. Hicks was suffering from hallucinations towards the end of the race and he was barely able to even stand by his own power towards the end. He collapsed after accepting the winner’s trophy and he lost eight pounds during the three and a half hours he was running the race.

st louis

Oh and why was there no water? Because Olympics official James Sullivan used this race to conduct a human being science experiment. Sullivan, who is today in the track and field all of fame, was testing the effects of dehydration on runners.



Repugnant on all levels.

This was only the third modern Olympics, but this story naturally inspires flash backs to what we hearing in the news heading into Rio 2016. No matter what disasters might occur in South Korea this month, they won’t be anything compared to the stupidest, worst and most dangerous sporting event in all history. For more, be sure to watch the fantastic video Bois and SB Nation put together.


You can also read up on it at Smithsonian magazine, Jalopnik and Wikipedia.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune corporation blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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  1. Strychnine was actually used as a medicine, similar to today’s caffeine pills, during the time of these Olympics. Just because it is used as rat poison today doesn’t mean it didn’t have other uses previously. You must be a millennial.

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