The bizarre story of the 1904 Summer Olympics marathon

Yesterday I casually commented about the Sochi games, saying it would be the most dangerous games of our lifetime. Then somebody weighed in on Twitter, asking me if I’d read about the bizarre circumstances of the 1904 Summer Olympics Marathon in St. Louis. And well, prepare yourself for the most unbelievable story ever.


The race featured a man ingesting rat poison, a man who stopped to grab lunch in an apple orchard and a runner who rode to the finish line in a car.

Here is the Wiki entry. Prepare to be amazed.

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 at the finish line was Frederick Lorz, who actually rode the rest of the way in a car to retrieve his clothes, after dropping out after nine miles. The car broke down at the 19th mile, so he re-entered the race and jogged back to the finish line. When the officials thought he had won the race, Lorz played along with his practical joke until he was found out shortly after the medal ceremony and was banned for a year by the AAU for this stunt, later winning the 1905 Boston Marathon.[3]
Hicks and his supporters at the marathon

Thomas Hicks (a Briton running for the United States) was the first to cross the finish-line legally, after having received several doses of strychnine sulfate (a common rat poison, which stimulates the nervous system in small doses) mixed with 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. A Cuban postman named Felix Carbajal joined the marathon, arriving at the last minute. He had to run in street clothes that he cut around the legs to make them look like shorts. He stopped off in an orchard en route to have a snack on some apples, which turned out to be rotten. The rotten apples caused him to have to lie down and take a nap. Despite falling ill from the apples he finished in fourth place.

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). They were not in St. Louis to compete in the Olympics, however; they were actually part of the sideshow. They had been brought over by the exposition as part of the Boer War exhibit (both were really students from Orange Free State in South Africa, but this fact was not made known to the public). 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 aggressive dogs.[3]

Arriving without correct documents, Frenchman Arthur Coray was not included as part of the French team.[3] He is inconsistently listed as performing in a mixed team in the four mile team race and performing for the US in the marathon.[3]

So, let’s recap

-a guy ate a rotten apple, took a nap and finished 4th
-two people were chased off the course by a pack of dogs
-one dude rode in a car, finished the race like Geoffrey the Butler on Fresh Prince

-and the guy who won ingested rat poison with a side of brandy


IF you want to hear audio, I highly suggest this clip from The Memory Palace. It’s glorious.

Lastly, I’d like to thank SBNation writer Adam Jacobi for telling me about this. He is a fine gentleman, follow him on Twitter