St. Louis turnout was only fair War kept many home

Games shared stage

Olympics

March 03, 1996|By Bob Herzog | Bob Herzog,NEWSDAY

As part of the countdown to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a chronological look at past Olympiads will appear each Sunday.

When the United States said to the world, "Meet me in St. Louis" for the 1904 Olympics, most of the world said, "I don't think so."

The Russo-Japanese War was heating up, and many nations were on alert. The British navy was mobilized when the Suez Canal was threatened, and England sent only one competitor to St. Louis. Even International Olympic Committee President Pierre Coubertin, the French baron who founded the modern Olympics, did not attend. Only 12 nations competed in St. Louis, and of the 687 athletes (six women), only 107 were foreigners -- 52 of those from Canada.

But even on its home turf, American athletes shared the stage with the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, a World's Fair that celebrated the 100th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's acquisition of the Louisiana territories from Napoleon. So along with track and field, boxing (for the first time), gymnastics and swimming came a series of events known as "Anthropology Days."

In these "contests," native groups from Africa, the Far East, Turkey, Mexico and Sioux Indians competed in front of anthropologists in greased pole climbing, bolo throwing and mud fighting.

Still, there were some serious athletic achievements during the July-November Games. George Poage of Milwaukee became the first black to win an Olympic medal, finishing third in the 400-meter hurdles, and wasn't even the fastest man from his hometown. Archie Hahn, known as the "Milwaukee Meteor," won the 60, 100 and 200 meters. The 200 was notable because Hahn's opponents all were penalized 1 yard for false starts in accordance with the rules of the time. But Hahn won by at least 3 yards according to most accounts.

There were other multiple medal winners for the United States. Ray Ewry duplicated his 1900 feat by winning the standing high jump, long jump and triple jump. Harry Hillman won the 400 meters plus the 400- and 200-meter low hurdles. Long jumper Meyer Prinstein, who had lost the title in 1900 on a controversial default, redeemed himself in St. Louis with a gold-medal leap and also captured the triple jump.

For sheer athleticism, nothing could match the display put on by Ireland's Thomas Kiely. In the 10-event forerunner to the decathlon, Kiely outpointed the field to give Ireland its first Olympic medal. The events: 100-yard sprint, shot put, high jump, 880-yard walk, hammer, pole vault, 120-yard hurdles, 56-pound weight, long jump and mile. The kicker: All the events were held in one day. When the decathlon debuted in 1912, it was a two-day event.

1904 Games

Site: St. Louis

Dates: July 1-November 23

Men: 681

Women: 6

Nations: 12

Medals leaders:

................... G ....... S ....... B ....... T

United States ..... 80 ...... 86 ...... 72 ...... 238

Germany ........... 5 ....... 4 ....... 6 ....... 15

Cuba .............. 5 ....... 3 ....... 3 ....... 11

Canada ............ 4 ....... 1 ....... 1 ....... 6

Hungary ........... 2 ....... 1 ....... 1 ....... 4

Australia ......... 1 ....... 1 ....... 1 ....... 3

Greece ............ 1 ....... 0 ....... 1 ....... 2

Switzerland ....... 1 ....... 0 ....... 1 ....... 2

Ireland ........... 1 ....... 0 ....... 0 ....... 1

England ........... 0 ....... 1 ....... 1 ....... 2

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