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.
Australia at these Games
St Louis was the first Olympics after Federation in 1901, meaning true “Australian” national representation was now possible, as previous Games Australians had competed alongside New Zealanders as 'Australasia'.
On the team were two Victorian male track athletes - Corrie Gardner and Leslie McPherson. Gardner who placed sixth in the 110m hurdles and ninth in the long jump. Gardner was a well-known Australian Rules football player for the Melbourne Football Club. He had been inspired to compete at the Games after a visit to his school by Edwin Flack, the Australian who won two gold medals in 1896.
McPherson travelled to St Louis but withdrew from his events, reportedly after discovering that the hurdles in the 400m were to be a foot lower than he had been training on.
For over a century, it was believed that these two athletes were the only Australians in St Louis, and that the Games were the only ones in which Australia did not win a medal. However, in 2009, it was verified that swimmer Francis 'Frank' Gailey was Australian and not American as recorded.
Gailey contested four events, finishing second in the 220 yards, 440 yards and 880 yards finals, and third in the one mile freestyle.
Gailey had been a student at Brisbane Grammar School, and was 22 when he swam in the St Louis Olympics. Because he had joined the San Francisco Olympic club, he was wrongly identified as an American at the time and the error has been perpetuated in official records ever since.