Tuesday, March 25, 2008

1904, Saint Louis: Playing in the polluted Lifesaving Lake

Action during the Water Polo competition in Saint Louis 1904, Olympic Games held at "Life Saving Exhibition Lake”. The United States swept the medals in Water Polo, but the scene was marred by argument and controversy, and, ultimately, fatal repercussions:
1. A strong German team entered the competition, but they withdrew in a huff when they discovered that the contests would be conducted with a partially deflated ball, which at that time resembled a volley-ball, and that goals could only be scored if a player in possession of the ball held it stationary in the opposing goal. The Germans sneered at what they referred to as "softball water polo".
2. Further clouding the round-robin competition was the Missouri Athletic Club's hostile refusal to play the Chicago Athletic Club for the silver medal. A team representing the New York Athletic Club won the gold medal handily, shutting out both the Missouri and Chicago teams.
3. Earlier in this essay, a reference was made to the condition of the water at the aquatic venue. The Water Polo players, who were subjected to longer immersions in the polluted and turgid water than either swimmers or divers, were especially affected by the contamination. Indeed, within a year, four American players would die of typhoid fever, probably contracted from the e.coli bacteria in the, ironically labelled, "Life Saving Exhibition Lake". In retrospect, the Germans may have dodged a bullet by virtue of their refusal to compete.
Source: Beyond Clotworthy and Aquatics St. Louis 1904; Journal of Olympic History, 2004 October Vol. 12 No. 3 p. 14-23. by Robert K. Barney & David E. Barney.