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A North American Perspective on the Olympics

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Medal count: France 92; USA 49; Canada 2. U.S. congressmen immediately convene a subcommittee to develop derisive French jokes.

1904 : The Olympics come to America. St. Louis, already host to the World’s Fair, inherits the Games when the organizers of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Chicago, where the games are supposed to be held, refuse to allow another international event to run concurrently. The Games last for months when the World’s Fair organizers decide to hold an event every day for the duration of the Fair. Many top European athletes refuse to travel to the US Midwest but the Games produce some memorable moments.

• American gymnast George Eyser wins six medals. Eyser’s left leg is made of wood.

• Fred Lorz, returning to the finish line of the marathon to retrieve his clothes after having dropped out nine miles into the race, is declared the winner. He goes along with the judges and accepts the victory. Shortly after being awarded the win, Lorz is outed and banned for life by the American Athletic Union (AAU). He is reinstated the next year and wins the 1905 Boston Marathon.

• Thomas Hick, a Brit running for the US team, is next to finish, having been liberally dosed with strychnine sulphate and brandy by his trainers who physically support him across the finish line.

Canada shines in lacrosse competition, winning both gold – 1904 being the first Olympics to designate medals gold, silver and bronze – and bronze. A total of three teams competed; the Americans won silver. The Shamrock Lacrosse Team, consisting of ‘white’ men with names like Sandy Cowan and Ben Jamieson, won gold. The Mohawk Indians team won bronze. Team leader, Spotted Tail, a Brulé Sioux chief, singled out the fierce play of teammates Man Afraid Soap, Rain in Face and Almighty Voice as key to the team’s victory.

Medal count: USA 238, Canada 2.

1908 : The Games are held in London instead of Rome due to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius two years prior that left the Roman air highly visible. The modern marathon’s length is fixed for the first time at 26 miles, 365 yards and is won by American Johnny Hayes after Italian Dorando Pietri is first declared the winner and then disqualified because he is physically helped across the finish line by his trainers.

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