Saturday, 24 December 2011

The strange story of a drugs cheat

Who was Thomas Hicks?
Thomas John Hicks was born on 7th January 1875 in England having migrated to North America to become a brass worker in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thomas was an accomplished runner and in 1904 won the Boston Marathon and later that year the Summer Olympics in St Louis, Missouri.

Who won the 1904 Olympic Marathon
Well this is where the fun begins as the races in those days were not the sterile conditions we have now with tarmacced roads and rubberised track surfaces. In fact the cousre was a dirt track which produced clouds of dust and dirt created by the entourage of official race vehicles. The race continued at a very slower pace pace than normal and a runner called Fred Lorz, a bricklayer from New York crossed the line to win the race in a reasonable time of 2 hours 38 minutes and 25 seconds followed by Thomas Hicks 85 seconds later in 2 hours 39 minutes and 50 seconds.

Later a claim was made that Fred Lorz had cheated having jumped into a car at 9 miles rejoining the race at mile 21 to only run 14 miles. It just shows how confusing the race had been if no one had actually seen him leave and rejoin even with Thomas Hicks so close behind.

So was there only one cheat in the race?
Technically no, but had the race been run with the today's strict anti-doping rules, Thomas Hicks would have been disqualified also as it transpires that during the race he had been given a dose of 1/60 of a grain (1 mg) of strychnine and some brandy by his assistants as he was slowing down and looking tired. What makes it more amazing that he was not given just one dose of this well known rat poison but two! 

Strychnine causes muscular convulsions, causes asphyxia and the imbiber normally dies from shear exhaustion, it also transpires Thomas Hicks collapsed after crossing the finish line and had he taken another dose he would have  most certainly died.

What is so interesting about this story is how the people of the Victorian era treated what we now think of drugs or poisons as they would be seen to openly take arsenic or mercury based medication in the belief they were a tonic...but strychnine that just takes the biscuit

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and ... scary .... story. It is unbelievable how the athletes risk and risked for a better performance. And this happens at every level, also to win an age group award.
    Happy Christmas to you and your family.