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The First American Olympic Champion in the Marathon

Thomas Hicks

2003-09-22

The athlete participants in this marathon comprised an interesting mix of talent. Particularly because there was no limit on the number of athletes representing each nation, the United States contingent was logically the largest: 18 athletes out of 32 starters. They included some experienced and well-known stars. Thomas J. Hicks, of the Cambridgeport YMCA in Massachusetts, had run four of the past five Boston-Marathons, placing very well in three: sixth in 1900 and 1901, and second in 1904. Fred Lorz, from the Mohawk Athletic Club in New York, placed fourth ath the Boston Marathon in 1903 and fifth in 1904. Olympian Arthur Newton placed fifth at the Paris Olympic race in its infamous heat wave. In addition to Hicks, Lorz, and Newton, several other outstanding American runners competed in the St. Louis Marathon, making this race for the first time a true United States championship.

The international entrants were difficult to put into a performance perspective, due in part to little race experience, but also in part because some were not really athletes. There were nine Greeks, all of whom were living in the United States and were in various stages of achieving citizenship. Virtually nothing was known about their capabilities. Cubas lone marathon participant, Felix Carvajal de Soto, was only five feet tall (152 cm). Born near Havana he was about to run his first marathon at the age of 29. In his native Cuba he was a mail carrier instead of a competitive athlete, running long distances across the island carrying letters. Using entrepreneurial expertise fuelled by Olympic aspirations, he gave demonstrations of his running abilities in Cuba to earn money for his boat trip to New Orleans en route to the Olympic Games. He then hitchhiked to St. Louis, learning some English along the way, and arrived ready for the race of his life.

The course started and finished in the Francis track and field stadium of Washington University. The stadium was specially constructed for the Olympics. It still exists, and it remains the smallest and least imposing of all the modern Olympic stadia. It accommodated about 9,000 spectators. The track had six lanes and was one third of a mile around (536,44 metres). Its shape was unique: one long straightaway and three shorter straightaways.

The start was at 3:03 pm, in the heat of the day. The temperature was about 28° C in the shade – but the route was bathed in sunshine. Fred Lorz led the field from the gun, but by the first mile Thomas Hicks edged ahead of him. His lead was short-lived. At six miles, the sequence was Arthur Newton, Sam Mellor Jr., Edward Carr, Mike Spring, Fred Lorz, and Tom Hicks. Then, at 13 miles, in the village of Des Peres, Sam Mellor Jr. was in the lead, followed by Arthur Newton, Tom Hicks, Albert Corey, William Garcia, Felix Carvajal de Soto, and David Kneeland (Carr had retired).

The only places were fluids were available to athletes along the course were a water tower at 6 miles and a roadside well 12 miles into the race. We do not know how athletes obtained water at these two points. As runners proceeded and began to suffer from dehydration, debilitating muscle cramping was the typical cause for them to drop out of the race. Those who had not consumed adequate fluids before the race became dehydrated – and paid the price. This in fact happened to Frank Lorz at 9 miles, and he retired to an automobile moving along with the runners. Also, not long after 13 miles, Corey and Hicks began to tire noticeably. Mellor had a stitch, and Garcia had fallen to the side of the road. Then Hicks overtook Mellor, who retired shortly thereafter. This was at two hours and four minutes into the race, or at about 14.5 miles. The runners were accompanied by cars, which raised dust and produced uncomfortable and unhealthy conditions for the athletes.

Some of the runners were given preferential treatment. Charles P. Lucas, who was the personal manager of the eventual winner Tom Hicks, later wrote a book about the Games (Lucas 1904). He wrote the following: “From the 10-mile mark to the finish, the winner, Hicks, was under the personal care of Hugh C. McGrath and the author. Hicks was far from being the best man physically in the race, for there were three men who should have defeated him … but they lacked proper care on the road … Carvajal was the best physically … On one occasion he stopped at the authors automobile, where a party were eating peaches, and begged for some. Being refused, he playfully snatched two, and ran along the road, eating them as he ran.“

In addition to water, Hicks was also administered ostensibly performance-enhancing agents. “The marathon race, from a medical standpoint, demonstrated that drugs are of much benefit to athletes along the road“, says Lucas. Knowing what Hicks in fact was given, we wonder how much faster he might have run if Lucas had not assisted him. Lucas reported that at 19 miles he “was forced to administer 1/60th grain of sulphate of strychnine, by the mouth, besides the white of an egg. Although French brandy was in the possession of the party, it was deemed best to abstain from further stimulants so long as possible.“

By 19 miles, Hicks, who had been alternately walking and jogging, had the urge to retire due to exhaustion, even though he was already one and a half miles ahead of Albert Corey and could afford to slow his pace even more. Shortly after 20 miles, Lucas looked at Hicks and saw that “his colour began to become ashen pale, and then another tablet of 1/60th grain of strychnine was administered him, and two more eggs, besides a sip of brandy. His entire body was bathed in warm water, including his head … and he appeared to revive and jogged along once more.“ Once again, Hicks was receiving preferential treatment unavailable to other athletes in the competition.

Lucass description of the final one and a half miles puts into even clearer perspectice the unknowing incompetence of those providing Hicks with alleged assistance. Two sizable hills remained. Lucas writes: “As the brandy carried by the party had been exhausted, Ernie Hjertberg, of New York, kindly replenished Hickss canteen, and, though the Cambridge man had beef tea with him, he was refused this liquid, as no chance of upsetting his stomach was to be taken. After he had partaken of two more eggs, again bathed, and given some brandy, Hicks walked up the first of the last two hills, and then jogged down on the incline. This was repeated on the last hill, and as he swung into the stadium, Hicks bravely tried to increase his speed, but could not, for, as it was, he scarcely had strength enough left to run the last 440 yards of the distance.“

As Hicks entered the stadium, he was cheered enthusiastically by the assembled spectators, who were delighted that, as they saw it, he had finished in second place with a time of 3:28:53. It was at this same moment that Alice Roosevelt, wife of United States president Theodore Roosevelt, was about to present the gold medal to Fred Lorz, who had finished nearly 16 minutes earlier. Officials accompanying Hicks were incredulous and immediately rushed to inform the appropriate officials that something terribly wrong was happening – obviously Hicks had won the race.

Fred Lorz had dropped out at 9 miles. He rode in a car until nearly 19 miles, at which point the car broke down. By this time, he had recovered sufficiently that he decided to leave the beleaguered car and driver, and run into the stadium rather than remain out in the hot sun wondering when help would arrive to fix the car. Passing Hicks shortly after 19 miles, he finished in an estimated time of 3:13:00 and accepted the cheers of those in the stadium as he proceeded around the track. Those applauding assumed he was the Olympic champion.

When confronted, Lorz readily admitted that he had not run the entire course. He had always been the practical jokester, and this was vintage Lorz behavior. Officials did not see it that way, however, and fumed with embarrassment. The wife of the president had almost presented the winners medal to the wrong person! In the ensuing emotional aftermath, Lorz was banned fromsport for life by the AAU, but this was later rescinded. He resumed racing, performed quite well, and in 1905 won the Boston Marathon (2:38:25).

Following Hicks into the stadium by about six minutes was Albert Corey – looking more like the fresh Fred Lorz than the exhausted Tom Hicks, and who had covered the distance without assistance. A little more than twelve minutes later came Arthur Newton, the first athlete to finish two Olympic marathons. Felix Carvajal de Soto also entered appearing quite fresh, but no time was recorded. Reportedly, he had stopped occasionally along the way, once to pick some apples for replenishment of fluids and energy, and at other times to query bystanders about the course. David E. Martin


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