Prather’s Pick: Celebrating the Olympics |

Prather’s Pick: Celebrating the Olympics

Everybody’s talking about it. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” J.K. Rowling’s new Harry Potter book became available July 31 (which I’ve been told is Harry’s birthday). Check out displays at Downtown Books and the Craig branch of the Moffat County Library. I look forward to reviewing the book.

Meanwhile, in honor of the Summer Olympics, this week’s column reviews “The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon,” a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy. It is a Paula Wiseman Book, published by Simon & Schuster (2016).

It is a true story of the third Marathon in Olympic history, held Aug. 30, 1904. Quotations, historical information about the runners, and other information was taken from newspapers and other reports when writing this book. The reader will find a bibliography at the end of the book.

This third marathon was the first Olympic marathon to be held in America, at St. Louis, Missouri. It was part of the World’s Fair, a story in itself. The front and back inside covers of the book and the back cover are “decorated” with World’s Fair postcards.

Several days before the race, rainstorms washed away the marathon course so officials had to design another one. The new course was much more difficult than the first because it was hilly.

Forty-one runners were signed up for the race, but 32 started the race. Six countries were represented — America, Greece, South Africa, France, Canada and Cuba.

The author highlighted some of the runners on a two-page spread in the book. The men certainly had different backgrounds — carpenter, strike breaker, mailman, bricklayer and two men who had won the Boston Marathon — and that’s only a beginning.

One man’s biography was of Thomas Hicks, an American, who was born in England. He had trained on flat land. What would happen when he tried to run on a hilly course?

Also pictured on the two pages were Jon Mashiani and Len Tau, employees of the World’s Fair, who were South Africans. Since they had been messengers during the Boer War, they knew how to run long distances without stopping.

Felix Carvajal was a mailman from Cuba who came to the race dressed in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and work shoes. How uncomfortable he must have been that afternoon when the 24.85-mile marathon started. The temperature was 90 degrees!

The reader gets a commentary of the race. The runners went around the stadium five times before starting on the dirt course. Judges, trainers and reporters followed along in cars and on bicycles. The course was covered in deep dust, which made the running difficult, indeed.

The racers could get water from their trainers or from only two places along the course. To make things even worse, the water was contaminated. John Lorden, an American, got the cramps and was out of the race. Fred Lorz, another American, started cramping, too. He got into one of the cars and was driven off (but was seen later).

The racers were in trouble. Readers won’t believe what the Cuban Carvajal did along the way. It was positively comical.

What I found unbelievable was what trainers gave the American Hicks to drink — a mixture of egg white and strychnine (rat poison) that they thought would help him run faster.

This book provides lots of interesting information about the Third Marathon and yet it is entertaining, just the book to read during the Summer Olympics.

The hardcover book can be purchased for $17.99 or you can find it in the children’s room at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Libraries.

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