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Lorz of the Rings

Distance runner Fred Lorz's Olympics disgrace in 1904

by John Gettings

Lorz was the first competitor to cross the finish line. He was greeted with cheers from the American crowd and Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, placed a laurel wreath on his head. Shortly thereafter Lorz admitted the truth.

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Long before today's notorious scandals involving Tonya Harding, Michelle Smith, and Ben Johnson there was distance runner Fred Lorz. Lorz set the standard for Olympic disgrace during the marathon event at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.

An event usually rich in prestige and tradition, the 1904 race included a bizarre cast of characters whose antics made it a perfect example of the circus sideshow that was the St. Louis games. The race began in the afternoon despite oppressive August heat, which eventually kept more than half of the 31 starters from finishing.

Lorz was the first competitor to cross the finish line. He was greeted with cheers from the American crowd and Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, placed a laurel wreath on his head. Shortly thereafter Lorz admitted the truth. Suffering from cramps early in the race, he hopped into an official's car at the nine-mile mark and rode the next 11 miles of the race. He said he decided to run into the stadium and break the winner's tape as a joke.

Olympic officials weren't laughing, and they promptly suspended him from any future amateur competition. (He was later re-instated and won the Boston Marathon in 1905.)

Unfortunately the story doesn't end there. The "real" winner of the race was Thomas Hicks, who had to be helped across the finish line after 3 hours, 28 minutes and 53 seconds—the worst marathon time in Olympic history. During the race, Hicks became the first Olympian to be guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. His trainers gave him some strychnine and egg whites as a stimulant to keep him going. It wasn't enough, though, and a woozy Hicks had to be helped over the finish line.

And finally, there was Cuban postman Felix Carvajal who reportedly ran in street clothes; got hungry during the race and stopped in an apple orchard for something to eat; got sick from eating the rotten fruit; stopped to rest; got up, completed the race, and still finished fourth.




Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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