the tortoise wins the race

The only case where “Slow and Steady” actually won the race was documented at the 1904 Olympic marathon in St. Louis. The distance to Missouri meant that only eight overseas nations took part. The Games, part of the World Fair, lasted five months. There was even a sack race!

There were some respected runners for the marathon.  There was also Felix Carvajal, a Cuban postman who had run around the square in Habana’s main plaza to raise money for the trip which he then proceeded to gamble away upon arrival to the U.S. He then had to hitch-hike the entire way to St. Louis from New Orleans. The marathon start was delayed so Carvajal’s long trousers could be cut off at the knees.

This marathon was perhaps the most brutal event in Olympic history. On a sweltering hot summer day, runners took off on an unpaved dusty course, following pace cars and inhaling exhaust.

Many runners had to withdraw to receive medical attention, and even the winner, Thomas Hicks, needed repeated medical care both during and after the race. And by “medical care,” I mean strychnine and brandy.

Carvajal took “The Tortoise” approach to running the race. Despite stopping to chat with spectators, kiss many female spectators, and breaking to pick and eat fruit from an orchard (which made him sick), Carvajal still managed to finish in fourth place.


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