Site: St. Louis, Missouri (USA)
Dates: July 1 - November 23
Total Athletes: 687
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
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
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
In the end, crowds were modest at best and there were very few national