St. Louis among four U.S. cities to stage Olympic Torch relay

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Associated Press Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Nearly a century ago, during a typically sweltering late summer in 1904, St. Louis was the first American city to host the modern-era Olympic Games, which had been revived eight years earlier.

Next summer, St. Louis will be among just four U.S. cities -- and 34 cities around the world -- participating in the International Olympic Torch Relay leading to the games' return to Athens, Greece. The other American cities are Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York.

The Olympic flame will be carried approximately 30 miles through the St. Louis region on June 17, 2004, the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games said. The relay day in St. Louis will culminate on Art Hill in Forest Park, where an evening celebration will mark the centennial of the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.

That memorable year in St. Louis included the World's Fair and the centennial of Lewis and Clark's departure from St. Louis.

Even some native St. Louisans are unaware of their city's role in Olympic history, said Frank Viverito, the St. Louis Sports Commission president, at a news conference Thursday announcing the torch relay.

According to Washington University, which leased land to fair organizers in 1904, the university's Francis Field and Gymnasium, and a 12,000-seat stadium were the sites of the Olympic track-and-field events, which included a marathon that featured cheating, drugging, and heat exhaustion.

The apparent winner of the marathon, which started in the peak of the afternoon heat and humidity, later confessed he'd ridden a third of the way in a car. Handlers for the second-place runner helped him keep his pace by administering a mixture of strychnine sulfate and raw eggs with a brandy chaser.

Coming in fourth was a Cuban mailman who became something of a folk hero. He had no strategy, no handlers, and no training program. He ran in a long-sleeved shirt, street shoes and long pants, and stopped along the way to practice his English with spectators and detoured into an apple orchard for a snack.

In addition to the Torch Relay, St. Louis will mark the centennial of the '04 Games by hosting the U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Trials April 3 and the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials June 9-13.

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