The 1904 Olympic Gold Medal Winner In Marathon Running Won With Help From?
Answer: Rat Poison
To say that the Olympic marathon run held for the 1904 Summer Olympics was a bizarre spectacle would be a vast understatement. By the strict standards of modern-day Olympic events, the marathon was a mess of catastrophic proportions.
The marathon was held in St. Louis, Missouri and included 32 men from 4 countries. Of the 32 men, only 14 finished the race, and several of them nearly died. The race was held during the middle of the day with temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the majority of the race was over dusty country roads with only one water station at the 11 mile mark. To further compound the dust problem, race officials drove in cars in front of and behind the runners. The officials’ cars kicked up such enormous amounts of dust that many of the runners were choked out by it and one runner, William Garcia, was found unconscious by the side of the road with severe internal injuries.
The first runner to cross the finish line, Fred Lorz, wasn’t even the real winner as it was discovered he’d dropped out of the race at the 9 mile mark, then hitched a ride back to the stadium in a car. When the car broke down at the 19 mile mark, he jogged back under the pretense that he was the lead runner. Despite getting photographed with Alice Roosevelt (daughter of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt) and nearly receiving the gold medal, his ruse was discovered and he was banned from the sport, then ejected from the stadium.
Some time after that the real winner, Thomas Hicks, crossed the finish line. The term winner should be used loosely even here, however, as Hicks’ trainers kept him running through the last half of the race by feeding him shots of brandy laced with strychnine sulfate (the active ingredient in most rat poisons and, in small doses, a stimulant). He crossed the finish line delirious and draped over the shoulders of his trainers. If not for immediate medical attention off the field, he would likely have died from dehydration and poisoning.
As a result of the debacle and Hicks’ use of poison as a stimulant, marathon event planning was radically improved and strychnine was banned as a performance enhancing drug.
Image by Charles J. P. Lucas.