With the Summer Olympics coming soon, when I saw a book about the story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon, I had to pick it up. Written by Meghan McCarthy, The Wildest Race Ever tells the story of the third marathon in Olympic history.
The 1904 Olympics took place in St. Louis, Missouri. That year, it was not only the Olympics, but St. Louis combined the games with the World’s Fair. Hundreds of thousands of people came by car, by train, and boat. Part of the Olympics was a wild, wacky marathon.
Forty-two racers registered, thirty-two showed up, and of the three racers vying for the finish line: on drove part way, one was helped by his trainers over the line, and one was a postman who traveled from Cuba and ran in street clothes that he cut off to look like shorts.
With incredibly fun illustrations, McCarthy highlights many facts about the day’s race and a number of the runners. As well versed as we are with modern marathons, it seems insane that the race began at 3:00 in the afternoon on a 90 degree day. Most of the race was run on dirt roads and the runners were choked by the dust that was stirred up by the cars filled with officials, doctors and reporters.
Readers will laugh at the antics of runner Felix Carvajal, of Spain, who did things like stopped to chat with spectators and was constantly eating his way through the race and be amazed that Fred Lorz tried to claim he won even though he rode in a car most of the way. The ultimate winner, Thomas Hicks, ran the race slow and steady and was given rat poison by his trainers when he begged for water! By the time he crossed the finish line, the poor runner was suffering from hallucinations.
This was a very fun history lesson about the first Olympics held in the United States and the many ways that marathons have changed.
I picked this book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. She also picked a sports themed book this week and there are always a ton of great books linked up. This is a great way to keep nonfiction picture books in our reading selections.