ST. LOUIS – Organizers of the 1904 Olympic games wanted them in Chicago. Instead, they were in St. Louis with Francis Field at Washington University as the epicenter. So what happened? Did St. Louis actually steal the Olympics from Chicago?
Chicago won the bid unanimously to host the Games in 1901. They even reportedly rubbed it in St. Louis' face.
"They said ‘well, St. Louis wanted the Olympic games. They wouldn’t have known what to do with them if they got them," said Jody Sowell, director of exhibitions and research at the Missouri History Museum.
But that taunting would soon haunt the Windy City. Celebrating the Louisiana Purchase Expansion, St. Louis was scheduled to host the World’s Fair in 1903. However it was suddenty moved to 1904 – the same year as the scheduled Olympic games 297 miles up the road.
That’s when David Francis – yes, as in Francis Field, former Missouri governor and St. Louis mayor and also St. Louis World’s Fair organizer -- wrote up the Olympic committee to make a case St. Louis actually host the Games instead.
“You know what, we’re having this huge World’s Fair and as part of it we’re gonna have athletic games and they’re gonna over shadow your Olympics that you’re just trying to get started," said Francis, according Sowell. "And so you may want to reconsider and move the games to St. Louis.”
The Olympics committee didn’t like the idea of having competing games so close to one another. They also weren’t crazy about St. Louis.
“Pierre de Coubertin, although he was part of that decision, made the statement that he hated to see the Olympics go to a city of mediocrity and would not be part of that whole thing," said Larry Kindbom, Washington University head football coach.
However, at the turn of the century, hosting the World's Fair was the ultimate compliment, essentially making St. Louis the center of the universe. So to organizers it only made sense that people who came to visit the fair could also see the best athletes in the world.
“Ultimately the decision was made to bring it down to St. Louis because of the conflicting interest," said Kindbom.
“St. Louis did steal the Olympics from Chicago," said Sowell.
Consider it verified
While Chicago was meant to be the first American city to host the Olympics, you can thank Mr. Francis for ensuring it was St. Louis instead.
“This was the beginning of the St. Louis – Chicago rivalry ... It was definitely a mark for St. Louis to have the Olympics come here," said Kindbom."