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6 Ways the 1904 Olympics Were the Craziest Event Ever Held

#3. Three of America's Medals Were in the Tug of War

Wiki Commons

Hahaha. What the fuck.

Along with croquet, the rope climb, art and poetry, speedboat racing, hot air ballooning, the horse long jump, pigeon shooting, dueling pistols, and something called korfball, all of which were real, great, and somehow now discontinued sports of Olympics past, there's one event people have been fighting to get back in for nearly a century: tug of war.

Wiki Commons
If only there was a term to describe the battle between the pro and con sides ...

The tug had been added to the schedule four years earlier at the 1900 Paris Games, with only two teams competing. The burly Americans were too busy sweeping the hammer throw to be bothered, but, needing to prove something to our fathers and/or former lovers on our own soil, America fielded four of the six teams that competed in the 1904 event from local athletic clubs in Milwaukee, St. Louis, and New York.

After Greece and South Africa were easily defeated in the preliminary rounds, all four American teams made the semifinals, with Milwaukee eventually beating New York in the gold medal match. Then, in an impressive show of early New York spite, the brooding hipsters refused to show up for either the silver or bronze medal matches, allowing the St. Louis teams to win medals the only way they knew how: by default.

If we're going to bring back the tug of war, there's really only one way: After all the events are decided, the top eight teams in the medal count compete in a final ToW tournament to decide the world's greatest country, and only gold medal winners from those Olympics are allowed to be on the team. The winners get a nuclear weapon. The losers? A head start.

Keith Tsuji/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Although if Japan succeeds in getting sumo recognized for the games, we're fucked.

#2. Felix Carvajal Runs Marathon in Dress Shoes, Gets Food Poisoning, Almost Wins

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If any sexy Hollywood types are searching for an inspirational underdog story to rewrite for their own amusement, look no further than Cuban marathoner Felix Carvajal, the penniless Havana postman who was pretty sure that being the fastest kid on his block meant he should travel to America and run in the Olympics. And he was kind of right.

Since the newly independent nation of Cuba wasn't willing to sponsor the unknown, Carvajal raised his own funds for the games by begging people on the streets and putting on "grand athletic demonstrations" that amounted to running in circles around Havana's town square because, holy shit, life before TV was terrible and meaningless.

Harris & Ewing
"If I had to pretend to enjoy bridge for one more night, I was going to go on a murder spree."

The 5-foot 1-inch, 95-pound amateur eventually ran around Cuba enough to get in Olympic shape and pay for his fare on a steamship to New Orleans, where he proceeded to lose his life savings gambling at dice. Despite not having cash for room or board, Carvajal just said fuck it and ran or hitchhiked the rest of the way to St. Louis.

Having not really slept or eaten in 40 hours, Carvajal arrived at the starting line exhausted only minutes before the race, ready to compete in heavy wool trousers, dress shoes, a puffy pirate shirt, and a beret. The start was delayed a few minutes so a friendly American could cut Carvajal's only pants into wool running knickers, which are ... slightly better than wool pants? I've never run in either.

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"You could power these entire games by the static charge in my loins right now."

It would be reasonable to assume that this exhausted, unprepared gambling maniac lost the race handily. But that's just because you don't know Carvajal. Carvajal not only kept pace with the leaders, but did so well that the scamp had time to practice his English with spectators. While running backward. He also stole peaches from a bystander for no reason and left the course to pick some apples because did you forget what you were supposed to be doing, you maniac? The apples, unfortunately, were bad and gave Carvajal a stomachache, so he did what anyone would do if they had to run a marathon: He went to the side of the road and took a nap.

He came in fourth.

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"Shit, but I already had this shirt made up and everything."

Carvajal returned to Cuba a national hero for his persistence, and then humbly returned to his mail route, never to run competitively ever again. He died poor and alone because, you know, Cuba. Actually, that's probably the part Hollywood should rewrite. Oh! Let's make him a handsome American who wins against all odds!

#1. Handsome American Marathoner Thomas Hicks Wins Gold Against All Odds

IOC

Oh yeah ... Thomas Hicks became the first American to win the Olympic marathon, doing so against such odds as barely avoiding sure death on the race path after being poisoned by his own coaches, presumably for his benefit.

But first let's talk about original winner Fred Lorz, who glided to the finish amid rampant cheers and was crowned with a wreath by President Roosevelt's daughter Alice before Lorz quickly admitted it was all a joke. He had led for 9 miles before dropping out due to cramps, rode half the distance by car, and then, re-energized, jogged the rest of the way to the stadium. He just couldn't resist the unwarranted adulation of strangers.

Pach Brothers
Yeah, because embarrassing this guy's daughter was totally a smart life choice.

The crowd was less enthused when Hicks entered the stadium about 15 minutes later. Hicks had wanted to quit after 15 miles, but his handlers had other plans, so they fed him small doses of strychnine sulfate (basically rat poison), raw eggs, and brandy chasers for the last 10 miles just to keep him upright and effectively carried him across the finish. Or, in short, USA! USA! USA!

Onlookers said Hicks was babbling nonsense the last 2 miles and could hardly keep his head up during his "graceless shuffle" to victory. He passed out before Alice could offer him her wreath and was only kept alive thanks to a team of doctors on the scene. But what would have been a sure DQ today was allowed to stand because Hicks was American, the second place finisher was French, and who really gives a shit anyway.

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*Play for full heroism*

There's no telling how history would have been different if Carvajal hadn't eaten those apples, though. Or if Hicks' coaches had allowed him to quit at the 15-mile mark like he had begged. Or if Len Taunyane, the ninth place finisher and first black African to compete in the games, hadn't been chased more than a mile off course by a wild dog.


Matthew Kitchen used to write about the Olympics for NBC Sports, but then ... something happened. He hasn't said what it was, but now he's writing for us. You do the math. Follow him on Twitter here for tons of links back to this same article you just read.

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