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1904 Olympics

Site: St. Louis, Missouri (USA)
Dates: July 1 - November 23
Nations: 12
Total Athletes: 687
Sports: 14

It can be honestly stated that the 1904 Games was as unorganized and as pitiful as the games hosted by Paris four years earlier. Apparently the IOC failed to learn its lesson of four years earlier, and as such, disorganization ran rampant.

IOC President Baron Pierre de Coubertin thought it was important to take this international event to the English-speaking world for the first time. Coubertin, who had shared his visions of the Olympics with William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago in 1893, used his influence to award the 1904 Olympics to Chicago in 1901. Chicago community leaders did a masterful job of coordinating, planning and commissioning projects such as the world's first stadium with a retractable roof.

Unfortunately, Chicago ran into fierce pressure from St. Louis civic and business leaders that were in the process of planning their own international event, the World's Fair in the same year as the Olympics. The St. Louis contingent became frightened that they would loose visitors away from their event and put pressure on Chicago to postpone the Games to 1905. Chicago offered to allow cheap transportation to take visitors back and forth from the Games to the World's Fair, but this was not a fitting compromise to St. Louis officials and Fair commissioners. The IOC, in an effort to protect the symbolic quadrennial chronology, refused to postpone the Games an additional year.

This pitted city against city. Ironically, Coubertin was quick to shift the games from Chicago to St. Louis, instead of standing his ground against World's Fair commissioners. It was a fait-a complis when U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt gave his stamp of approval for the transfer of games to St. Louis. Historians are still perplexed as to why Chicago surrendered its rights so easily, other than it is believed that many Chicago Olympic officials, also had interests in the fair. Coubertin was a no-show to the Games.

Some of the events of the 1904 Olympics were basketball (as a demonstration sport only), baseball and lacrosse, the plunge-for-distance (included in the swimming program), and a form of water polo. Boxing also made its debut in St. Louis, although it was limited in participation to Americans. Americans dominated the events in participation and in medals, as out of the 687 athletes participating, 525 were Americans. It was not hard to reason why Americans walked away with 87 medals.

There was a variety of reasons for the low number of foreigners, not the least of which was the Russo-Japanese War, which required the attention of Great Britain. The dual celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, in which Thomas Jefferson's 1803 deal of the Century doubled the size of the United States, was still not enough time for the French government to forget.

Blacks participated for the first time. Two Zulu tribesmen from Africa participated in the marathon and George Poage of Milwaukee, third in the 400- meter hurdles final, was the first black to win a medal.

The true hero of the games turned out to be Ireland's Thomas Kiely, who participated in the 10 event all-around competition, the precursor to the decathalon, which would debut in 1912. Kiely would go on to win the first ever medal for Ireland.

On a positive note, St. Louis seemed to be better prepared and better organized in the staging of events than did its predecessors in Paris four years earlier. However, much like Paris, the ceremonies were limited and run poorly and there was mass confusion as to which events were designated Olympic and which were termed exhibitions.

In the end, crowds were modest at best and there were very few national dignitaries.


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