The original winner of the 1904 Olympic marathon rode in a car for most of the race.

  • 1904 Olympic runners
1904 Olympic runners
History and Art Collection Alamy Stock Photo

The marathon at the 1904 St. Louis Games is one of the most unusual events in Olympic history, in no small part because it was initially won by an athlete who rode in a car for most of the race. That man was American Fred Lorz, who led the field of 32 runners right out of the gate. At the 9-mile mark, however, Lorz began suffering from terrible cramping, as the combination of sweltering heat and dirt being kicked up from the unpaved route made it difficult to breathe. It was then that Lorz opted to hitch a ride with a passing vehicle, which he rode in for 11 miles before hopping out to complete the race on foot in just under three hours.

Just as President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice was set to award Lorz his medal, a spectator accused him of cheating. Lorz admitted to riding in a car, claimed it was just a joke, and stated that he didn’t actually plan to accept the trophy. With Lorz disqualified, American Thomas Hicks emerged as the new winner, though he too ran an unconventional race. At various points throughout the marathon, Hicks was helped by his trainers, who fed the athlete a combination of poisonous strychnine, egg whites, and brandy in hopes of stimulating his body. The result was that Hicks began to hallucinate around the 20-mile mark, and he was eventually carried over the finish line by trainers with a time of 3:28:53 — still taking home the gold.

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