World of Sport

Olympic history: St Louis 1904

World of Sport

After the shortcomings of Paris, the fledgling Olympic movement could have done with a successful event in 1904. It didn't get one, though.

Having selected the United States as hosts, and Chicago in particular, the IOC then acceded to a request from Theodore Roosevelt, President of the nation and its Olympic committee, to take the Games instead to St Louis in order to align itself with another trade fair.

Numbers vary according to which source is consulted, but the Games lasted from July until

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An Olympic medal from St Louis 1904

November, were attended by 12 to 15 nations and featured upwards of 650 competitors. But because of the difficulties of actually getting to St Louis, 85 per cent of those were Americans. Even Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, didn't make the trip.

Accordingly, American athletes swept up the proportion of medals. Debate dragged on about the legitimacy of some of the events, but observers at the time admitted the standard of the performances was generally high.

Sources also disagree about the nationalities of some of the medallists, with double gymnastics champion Julius Lenhart variously listed as American (because of the club he represented at the time) or Austrian, in line with the country where he was born and to which he later returned.

What is not disputed, though, is that only two non-Americans won track and field events, French-Canadian Etienne Desmarteau in the 56-pound weight throw and Irishman Tom Kiely, who finished first in the forerunner of the decathlon as a representative of Great Britain.

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Hilllman closes on the line in the one-lap

Elsewhere, Meyer Prinstein struck gold in the long jump to make up for his disappointment four years previously in Paris and he made it a double with success in the triple jump. Harry Hillman went one better with victories in the 400 metres, 200m hurdles and 400m hurdles, while there were also golden trebles for Jim Lightbody (800m, 1500m and steeplechase) and Archie Hahn (60m, 100m and 200m).

Meanwhile, Anton Heida collected five golds for the US in gymnastics and swimmer Charlie Daniels contributed three more. In archery, boxing, tennis and water polo the Americans swept the board, but in fencing they were no match for Ramon Fonst, who had won gold for Cuba in Paris at the age of just 16 and who picked up three more golds in St Louis.

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Competitors in the St Louis marathon line up at the start

A bizarre marathon was claimed by Tom Hicks after the first man home, Fred Lorz, was disqualified after hitching a lift in a car! Hicks, it was later revealed, had taken strychnine as a stimulant, but it was perfectly legal at the time.

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Hicks is sponged down after 23 miles

Even more remarkable was the story of George Eyser. Born in Germany and competing for the United States, Eyser was beaten out of sight in gymnastics' 12-event, all-around competition and the athletics triathlon.

However, Eyser took the bronze in the horizontal bar, silver in the four-event all-around and another silver on the side horse. He then added gold in the horse vault, parallel bars and rope-climbing to finish the 1904 Games with six medals. Not bad for a man with a wooden left leg!

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