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Marathon Runner Goes For a Ride: Olympic Marathon Controversy


The 1904 marathon was probably the most chaotic event in Olympic history. The organizers of the St. Louis Games laid out a dusty, hilly course and started the race in mid-afternoon on August 30, when the temperature was about 90 degrees (32° Celsius). Conditions were worsened by officials riding in cars and stirring up dust in front of the runners. Only 14 of the 32 competitors reached the finish line.

American Fred Lorz found a unique way of dealing with these obstacles. He ran for nine miles, then rode in a car for 11 before resuming his run. He entered the stadium first, crossed the finish line and was about to receive the gold medal when the hoax was revealed.

That left another American, Thomas Hicks, as the gold medal winner. But even though he actually ran the full distance, his victory remained controversial. Tiring to the point that he had to slow to a walk when facing a steep hill late in the race, Hicks’ handlers gave him strychnine mixed with egg whites or brandy several times during the event. Despite protests of unfair assistance, Hicks’ victory stood up.

Lorz went on to win the Boston Marathon – without automotive assistance – the following year.

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