1904 Summer Olympics

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The 1904 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the III Olympiad, were held in St. Louis from July 1, 1904 to November 23, 1904. Chicago had won the original bid to host the games, but the Louisiana Purchase Exposition would not accept another international event in the same timeframe. The organization began to plan for its own sports activities, informing the Chicago OCOG that the Exposition intended to eclipse the Olympic Games unless the games would be moved to St. Louis. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, gave in.

Considered the lesser of two evils by de Coubertin, St. Louis repeated the mistakes made at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. Competitions were reduced to a side-show of the World's Fair and were lost in the chaos of other, more popular cultural exhibits. The games lasted for months; in fact, James Edward Sullivan tried to hold an event every day, for the duration of the fair. The Olympic events were again mixed with other sporting events, but where Paris hardly ever mentioned the Olympics, Sullivan called all his sports events "Olympic". From all such events, the IOC is taken to have declared 94 events Olympic. The participants totaled 651 athletes - 645 men and 6 women, representing 12 countries. However, only 42 events actually included athletes who were not from the United States.


  • First games at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for first, second and third place.
  • European tension caused by the Russo-Japanese War and the difficulty of getting to St. Louis kept many of the world's top athletes away.
  • In a number of sports, the U.S. national championship was combined with the Olympic championship, because there were no competitors from other nations.
  • Boxing, dumbbells, freestyle wrestling, and decathlon made their debuts.
  • One of the most remarkable athletes was the American gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals even though his left leg was made of wood.
  • Chicago runner Jim Lightbody won the steeplechase and the 800 m and then set a world record in the 1500 m.
  • Harry Hillman won both the 200 m and 400 m hurdles and also 400 m dash.
  • Sprinter Archie Hahn was champion in the 60 m, 100 m and 200 m. In this last race, he set a new Olympic record in 21.6, a record broken finaly 28 years later.
  • In the discus, after American Martin Sheridan had thrown exactly the same distance as his compatriot, Ralph Rose (39.28 m), the judges gave them both an extra throw to decide the winner. Sheridan won the decider and claimed the gold medal.
  • Ray Ewry again won all three standing jumps.
  • The top foreign athlete was Emil Rausch of Germany, who won three swimming events.
  • Zoltan Halmay of Hungary and Charles Daniels of the United States each won two swimming gold medals.
  • In one of the more embarrassing moments in Olympic history, the organizers of the games held "Anthropology Days" on August 12-13. Various indigenous men from around the world, who were at the World's Fair as part of the exhibits competed in various events more for anthropologists to see how they stacked up to the white man than for the sake of sport.


Hicks and his supporters at the marathon.
Felix Carvajal during the marathon.

The marathon was the most bizarre event of the Games.

  • It was run in brutally hot weather, over dusty roads, with horses and automobiles clearing the way and creating dust clouds.
  • The first to arrive was Frederick Lorz, who actually was just trotting back to the finish line to retrieve his clothes, after dropping out after nine miles. When the officials thought he had won the race, Lorz played along until he was found out shortly after the medal ceremony. Banned for life by the AAU for this stunt, Lorz was reinstated a year later and won the 1905 Boston Marathon.
  • The Briton Thomas Hicks, running for the United States, was the next to cross the finish-line, after having received several doses of strychnine sulfate, and of brandy, from his trainers. He was supported by his trainers when he crossed the finish, but is still considered the winner. Hicks had to be carried off the track, and possibly would have died in the stadium, had he not been treated by several doctors.
  • The marathon included the first two black Africans to compete in the Olympics; two Tswana tribesmen named Len Tau (real name: Len Taunyane) and Yamasani (real name: Jan Mashiani). But they weren't actually there to compete in the Olympics, they were actually the sideshow. They had been brought over by the exposition as part of the Boer War exhibit (both were really students at Orange Free State in South Africa, but no one wanted to believe that these tribesmen could actually be educated, that would have ruined the whole image). Len Tau finished ninth and Yamasani came in twelfth. This was a disappointment, as many observers were sure Len Tau could have done better, if he had not been chased nearly a mile off course by a large, aggressive canine.
  • Another entrant was a Cuban postman named Felix Carvajal. He raised the funds to get to St. Louis by running around the central square in Havana, appealing for funds between laps. But he lost his money on the way in a crap game in New Orleans. Lacking any proper equipment he ran the race in lightweight street shoes. A very amiable competitor, he often stopped to chat with members of the crowd. But during the race he felt peckish and stole some peaches from a race official. He then took a detour into an orchard to munch on some green apples. He developed stomach cramps and had to temporarily drop out of the marathon. Eventually, Felix got back in the race and managed to come in fourth place after many others that finished ahead of him had been excluded.
  • Two of the patrolling officials driving in a brand-new automobile were forced to swerve to avoid hitting one of the runners. They ended up going down an embankment and were severely injured.


Recently, the 1904 Olympics have been called the "Worst Olympic Games Ever" by some Austrailian Olympic experts.[1]


A tug of war match from the 1904 Aolympics

19 disciplines, comprising 17 sports, were part of the Olympic program in 1904.

Participating Nations


Athletes from only 12 nations competed in St. Louis.

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Cuba
  • France
  • Germany
  • Great Britain
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • United States

Medal Count

At these Games, only 42 of the 94 events included athletes from outside the United States.

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 United States 78 82 79 239
2 Germany 4 4 5 13
3 Cuba 4 2 3 9
4 Canada 4 1 1 6
5 Hungary 2 1 1 4
6 Great Britain 1 1 0 2
Mixed Team 1 1 0 2
8 Greece 1 0 1 2
Switzerland 1 0 1 2
10 Austria 0 0 1 1
Total 96 92 92 280


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