The Marathon From Hell
By Eileen P. Duggan
From Marathon and Beyond, 2004
The 1904 St. Louis Olympics Were Scabbed onto the World’s Fair, a Recipe for Disaster That Only the Hot August Marathon Could Top.
© 2004 42K(+) Press, Inc.
Modern-day marathon runners are fond of recounting their tribulations on Boston’s Heartbreak Hill. But imagine the hardships endured by the runners in the 1904 Olympic Marathon as they navigated hilly, unpaved roads while choking on dust and exhaust fumes and fighting oppressive heat. Even those who availed themselves of a little spiritual, medicinal, or physical help from their friends along the way found the course unforgiving.
One hundred years ago, the first modern-era Olympic Games to be held in the Western Hemisphere came to St. Louis, Missouri, a bustling river city that was in the midst of a world’s fair to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase.
The marathon, which kicked off at Washington University in St. Louis, was certainly the most colorful event of the III Olympiad. The Games received mixed reviews and were overshadowed on the world stage by the 1904 World’s Fair. The Olympics were included under the umbrella of the fair’s Department of Physical Culture.
“At no time during the race was the Greek record for the distance in danger,” understated Charles J. P. Lucas, in his book, The Olympic Games 1904. No record breaker, the marathon at least deserves points for its grueling conditions, unique cast of characters, and bizarre occurrences.
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