St Louis 1904

Games History

The third version of the modern Olympic Games was originally scheduled for Chicago. However, in 1902 the decision was made to move the Games to St Louis to coincide with the Universal Exhibition and World’s Fair. This meant the IOC and the 1904 organisers were making the same mistakes that were made four years earlier in Paris by trying to piggyback a Games festival to another major event.

The Olympic events, spread out over four and a half months, were lost in the happy chaos of the World’s Fair. Of the 91 events generally accepted to have been part of the Olympic program, 49 were contested only by American athletes. This led to the US winning 77 gold medals – the next best national haul was four by both Germany and Cuba. Among the nations not attending were Britain and France, with the expense and logistics halving the number of nations and competitors seen in Paris in 1900. Even Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the IOC President, didn’t travel to the Games. He later declared that never again would the Olympics be organised alongside another international exhibition. 

The 1904 Olympics did have a few highlights. They were the first Games at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for first, second and third place. Tswana tribesmen, who were in St Louis as part of the Boer War exhibit at the World’s Fair, became the first Africans to compete in the Olympics.

Not surprisingly, American athletes were the stars. Gymnast Anton Heida was the most successful athlete at the Games, winning five gold and one silver medal. Charles ‘Archie’ Hahn, known as the ‘Milwaukee Meteor’, won the 60m, 100m and 200m – it would be 28 years before another runner won three individual titles. Jumper Ray Ewry successfully defended all three of his titles from 1900 in the standing long jump, standing triple jump and standing high jump. (Regular jump events were also held.)

The sport program continued to take shape. Boxing and rowing made their Olympic debuts. Wrestling was restored to the program in St Louis, but all entrants in both events were Americans. Weightlifting and a full gymnastics program made a return after not being part of 1900.

St Louis 1904 nearly ended the Olympic Movement. No women competed. Demeaning events for indigenous athletes from around the world were held. The status of the Olympics fell further. It took the unofficial 1906 Games in Athens, known as the Intercalated Games, to revive interest and faith in the Olympic Movement. The 1906 Games were arranged to mark the 10th anniversary of the first Modern Olympics.