Pine Nuts: Meet me in St. Louis for the Olympics |

Pine Nuts: Meet me in St. Louis for the Olympics

Let the games begin! The St. Louis Olympics started on Aug. 29, 1904, and, as nobody outside the U.S. really knew where St. Louis was back then, only 42 athletes from other countries bothered to compete. Mark Twain, still very much alive at the time, commented, “You send a damn fool to St. Louis and don’t tell them he’s a damn fool, they’ll never find it out.”

The competition was what you might call “sketchy.” As an example, George Eyser, whose left leg was made entirely of wood, won six gold medals in gymnastics.

The marathon was right out of a P.T. Barnum playbook. A Tswana tribesman from Africa, Len Taunyane, finished ninth after being chased a half mile off course by a pack of dogs.

Felix Carvajal, a postman in Havana, read in the papers about the Olympics being held in St. Louis and decided to run the marathon. With no Olympic committee to sponsor him, he paid his own freight and secured a bunk on a tramp steamer for New Orleans where he won enough money playing poker to get to St. Louis. Arriving moments before the marathon, Felix jumped into the race in his street clothes.

The shoes he wore were the same shoes he wore to deliver mail in Havana. Stopping in an orchard along the way, Felix feasted on some ripe apples that turned out to be rotten. Feeling ill, Felix laid himself down, took a short nap and still managed to finish fourth.

Thomas Hicks won the marathon, a victory that nearly cost him his life. His overzealous trainers plied Hicks with strychnine sulfate (rat poison) to stimulate his nervous system and had him wash it down with brandy. Needless to say, Hicks had to be helped across the finish line by his trainers, whereupon he fell into the arms of several doctors who pumped his stomach and saved his life.

One might be safe in saying the deck was stacked in the tug-of-war competition. America won the bronze, America won the silver and America won the gold. As they say in St. Louis, “Go figgah.”

Fast forwarding to today, the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, plans to lead Tokyo’s delegation to Argentina for the International Olympic Committee’s final vote, set for Sept. 7. Mr. Abe most likely wants to distance himself from the controversy surrounding that leaky nuclear power plant only 150 miles from Tokyo, one of three final cities competing to host the 2020 games along with Madrid and Istanbul.

Should the Lord choose to keep me around, I would love to see the 2020 games in Tokyo. Having attended the games there in 1964, I cherish the memories. Then too, probably because my father was an optometrist, I’ve always wanted to see 2020. You know and I know the pun is the saddest evidence of intellectual poverty. Please forgive me, sometimes a man just can’t help himself.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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