Fred Lorz’s fraud

MISSOURI, US, 1904

Runner's World (UK) - - Coffee Perks -

Iwould prefer even to fail with hon­our than win by cheat­ing,’ ob­served the Greek drama­tist Sopho­cles. A fine sen­ti­ment in­deed, but one that was lamentably lost on Amer­i­can longdis­tance runner Fred Lorz.

The scene was the men’s marathon at the 1904 Olympics, the third Games of the mod­ern era, staged in St Louis, Missouri, US, and Lorz was one of 32 run­ners en­tered in the race. The de­bil­i­tat­ing 32C heat on the day, and a dust storm, meant only 18 run­ners com­pleted the race and, when the crowd saw Lorz romp­ing home in first place, there was much re­joic­ing. Alice Roo­sevelt, daugh­ter of Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt, was even on hand to crown Lorz with a lau­rel wreath, but it was then that the mut­ter­ing started and his tri­umphant day be­gan to un­ravel.

Lorz had been spot­ted in the pas­sen­ger seat of a car for part of the race and, con­fronted with his crime, he cracked and con­fessed that for 11 miles of the marathon he’d let the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine take the strain. More specif­i­cally, he ad­mit­ted that af­ter nine miles he’d jumped into his man­ager’s car and only dis­em­barked when it broke

down, run­ning the last six or so miles to ‘win’ the event.

The or­gan­is­ers im­me­di­ately stripped Lorz of his gold medal and awarded it to his com­pa­triot, Thomas Hicks, who had fin­ished sec­ond in a time of 3:28:53 (the slow­est win­ning time in the event in the Games’ his­tory).

Hicks also needed some help to com­plete the race, though – it later emerged that he had taken per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs en route to vic­tory. ‘I de­cided to in­ject him with a mil­ligram of sul­phate of strychnine and to make him drink a large glass brim­ming with brandy,’ ad­mit­ted his trainer. ‘He set off again as best he could but he needed an­other in­jec­tion four miles from the end to give him a sem­blance of speed and to get him to the fin­ish.’

Tech­ni­cally, strychnine wasn’t il­le­gal in the early 20th cen­tury – it was sub­se­quently banned in ath­let­ics – but Hicks cer­tainly couldn’t claim to be the clean­est of ath­letes.

Aside from Lorz’s out­ra­geous cheat­ing and Hicks’ du­bi­ous re­fu­elling, the rest of the 1904 marathon was some­thing of a com­edy of er­rors. The South African runner, Len Tau, was forced to aban­don the race af­ter be­ing chased by a pack of wild dogs, while Cuban Felix Car­va­jal got hun­gry dur­ing the event and stopped in an or­chard to snack on some ap­ples. Un­for­tu­nately, the fruit was rot­ten and Car­va­jal was struck down by stom­ach cramps, though he still re­cov­ered suf­fi­ciently to fin­ish fourth.

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