Marathon Running in 1904

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Cuban marathoner (and former mailman) Félix Carbajal
Photo: Britannica.com

America’s first Olympic Games were, by far, one of the strangest the country has ever partaken in and the Olympic Marathon event was no exception. Including a Cuban in trousers, 10 Greeks who had never run a single marathon in their lives, and two barefoot tribesmen from South Africa, the marathon event was more of a sideshow than anything else.

The 1904 Games were undoubtedly tied to that year’s World Fair, which not only included athletic events of its own, but was imbued with less-than-subtle racism. American Imperialism was all the rage, but French historian and Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin disapproved, calling the racist events at the World Fair an “outrageous charade.

The Marathon event was as ridiculous as the rest of the Games; a runner from California nearly died during the first mile, and “cracked stone was strewn across the roadway, creating perilous footing, and the men had to constantly dodge cross-town traffic, delivery wagons, railroad trains, trolley cars and people walking their dogs,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were only two places where men could get fresh water: a water tower at mile 6 and a water well at mile 12.

The Olympic Games have come a long way since then, and thank goodness. Not that our runners aren’t well-trained, but having to ward off wild dogs while running should be an Olympic event all its own.

Read more on the 1904 Olympic Games here.

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