It's incredible that millions upon millions of people tune in to the Olympics every two years to appreciate the pageantry of sports we'd otherwise not care about if they were happening in our own front yards, but that's the magic of the games. They have this unique ability to capture the entire world's attention in a way nothing short of a celebrity suicide can.
Every Olympics will have one or two crazy stories (Tonya Harding, that thing in Munich), but the 1904 Olympics takes the cake. It takes the batshit insanity cake and eats it with its hands.
Seeing as President Teddy Roosevelt considered sport an essential part of manliness, outmatched only by shooting foreigners and bullying pulpits, it's not a huge surprise he would bring the U.S. its first Olympics in 1904. The only problem was that the games were scheduled for Chicago and were, at best, an afterthought to St. Louis' World's Fair.
World's Fair organizers made it known that they weren't willing to compete for crowds that summer, and eventually they just straight up threatened to hold their own way cooler athletics competition if the Olympics didn't comply. IOC President Pierre de Coubertin fought the relocation tooth and nail, but after word spread that Roosevelt supported the shift to St. Louis and that Chicago was woefully unprepared to host much more than a child's birthday party, the IOC voted 14-2 against the Second City.
With President Roosevelt too busy creating the America we now know and love, David Francis, the former mayor of St. Louis and head of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, presided over a relatively small opening ceremony on July 1, with only the American team and a few disparate foreign athletes in attendance. Because the foundations of peace and goodwill that the games were built on just couldn't compete with America's need to be a dick to everyone about everything all the time.
As if that organizational clusterfuck wasn't bad enough, the games, which were supposed to take place during the week of August 29 to September 3, actually lasted from July 1 to November 23, when organizers had finally exhausted a seemingly endless string of 94 events. That's four months of Olympics, which is insane, because it only takes like six days to remember that bobsled is bullshit and curling is basically sweeping.
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Can't you at least switch the rock to a Roomba or something?
Thankfully for the host country's collective confidence ...
In 1904, the first transatlantic flight was still 15 years away, and that shit was so dangerous, we basically invented the Bermuda Triangle to explain the death toll. So, holding the Olympics anywhere outside of Western Europe would have made travel long, difficult, and incredibly expensive for any countries hoping to participate.
Of course, placing them in the dead center of the relatively massive U.S. exaggerated this issue to the point that not even Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics, was willing to attend the games. Coubertin later said he "had a sort of presentiment that the Olympiad would match the mediocrity of the town," and then he urinated on a Cardinals baseball cap in case the general public had failed to understand what he was getting at.
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He was immediately declared mayor of Chicago.
All told, 526 of the 651 athletes competed under the American flag (including plenty of foreign-born sportsmen poached to boost the host's count), and 49 of the 94 events exclusively featured American athletes. The U.S. went on to win 239 medals, including 68 of the 74 track and field trophies and an honorary award for imperialism.
The next closest nation in the medal count was Germany, with 13 total. Despite Canada's relative ease of travel and having nearly three times the athletes of any country aside from the States, the Canadians faithfully squandered their advantage by winning six medals, or as many medals as an American gymnast with only one leg.
Those familiar with athletes wearing prosthetics at the Olympic Games probably think of them all as heroes who triumph over adversity and eventually shoot their girlfriends. Luckily, George Eyser is part of the rare breed who avoided any alleged homicides.
He also won six Olympic medals in a single day.
While wearing this.
Despite having his left leg amputated as a child after it was run over by a train, the German-born bookkeeper slash amateur gymnast wore a wooden prosthetic I'm pretty sure he carved himself from a tree struck down by lightning, which he peed. Eyser stayed in fighting shape with sights set on his hometown Olympics, but things didn't start out well, as he finished 10th, 71st, and dead last during his first set of events in early July.
The 34-year-old got another shot later in the competition and on October 29 won gold in the men's parallel bars, the rope climb (admittedly carrying less weight), and the vault, which at that time was performed without the use of a springboard. Eyser also won silver in the men's side horse and individual all-around and bronze in the horizontal bar, and he helped his local athletic club finish fourth in the overall team competition.
Eyser's in the middle, keeping his teammates upright by the gravitational pull of his balls.
And in case you didn't feel like enough of a lazy jerk reading this while at work, Eyser also competed in the 100m race and long jump and went on to help his club win national and international events over the next five years while he was well on his way to 40 years old. But please, tell me how difficult your day was. I'm very interested.