Monday, July 30, 2012

Those Weren't the Days

The XXX Olympiad has put me in the mood to read about the III Olympiad, among other things. I'm funny that way. But it's interesting to read about, mainly because the St. Louis Games had fiasco written all over them.

Back when Chicago made its futile pitch for the 2016 Games, I thought one claim the city had on the event was the fact that St. Louis had snatched the Games away from Chicago in 1904, to complement the Louisiana Purchase Exposition -- the Meet Me in St. Louis world's fair. Some sources say the fair organizers essentially bullied Baron de Coubertin by threatening to hold separate athletic events to overshadow the Olympics. In any case, the Games ended up being overshadowed by the fair anyway. Also, they were badly run; hardly international at all, since most of the best European athletes didn't want to come; and marred by various notorious incidents, both in the opinion of people at the time and more recently.

The story of the marathon that year is bizarre in the extreme, and well-told at Marathon & Beyond. This amusing podcast is about the runner who actually won the race, as opposed to the guy who cheated. Throw in a Cuban who stops to eat apples along the way, some Zulus recruited to the race at the last minute, and racers having to dodge auto-mobiles and horse-drawn vehicles on dusty, pre-modern roads, and you've got kinetic comedy. I'm surprised no movie along the lines of The Great Race or Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines was ever made from the story.

The disgraceful history at "Anthropology Days" at the Games is discussed by Slate in 2008 and the Daily Mail this year. Go to the IOC web site, and the incident is downplayed considerably in the short page about the 1904 Games. That is, not mentioned.

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