Fred Lorz’s fraud
MISSOURI, US, 1904
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.