French Olympics Committee campaigns to “repatriate” 2 silver medals won by a French national in 1904

Meursault, France, April 6 2021: When Albert Corey won two Olympics silver medals for long distance running in 1904, the organizers declared him an American but the French have been campaigning to get his honours back.

Clement Genty, a local councilor in his home town of Meursault is seeking to correct the record, asking the French Olympic Committee to press the issue with the International Olympic Committee.

A penniless son of winegrowers from Burgundy, Corey collected what should have been France’s only Olympic medals of the 1904 Games.

Born in 1878, his story starts in Meursault, where a disastrous wine season made his parents move to Paris where Corey later enlisted in the French army and during the service of which he discovered his potential for endurance running.

He broke the 160km record in 1899 but on January 2, 1903, after which he disappeared for a year. He re-appeared in Chicago and in a difficult journey for a what Washington times called “Practically a tramp”he got into the local athletic scene.

When he learned that the Olympics were going to be held on American soil, he said he had run the “Paris Marathon” in 1900. This was true, but he played on the confusion with the Olympic Marathon of the same year to make people believe that he had participated in a much more prestigious event.

His scheme worked and he went to St Louis representing the First Regiment Athletic Association of Chicago. Corey would have been the only Frenchman in an event with such expensive entry. But belonging to an American club made this easier. These were the first Olympics at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded.

He ran that marathon during the hottest part of a sweltering late August day over a hilly, dusty course of  40km length. With only one water stop along the course, more than half of the 32 participants dropped out. Corey, on the other hand, boasted “I could have done one more lap”. He crossed the line third but the ‘winner’, Fred Lorz, was disqualified for hitching a lift in a car. Gold instead went to British-born American Thomas Hicks who, used a combination of stimulant drugs to beat Corey by six minutes. Corey was almost 13 minutes ahead of the bronze medalist. Corey also won a silver with four Americans in a team that won a 20-mile relay.

It was common knowledge that Corey was French. The press hailed the “success story” of this “Frenchman”, a “slaughterhouse worker”, who became the “New St Louis Olympic winner.

Historians have long classified Corey as French but his marathon medal is credited to the United States and the IOC appears unwilling to change that.  He won the 1908 Chicago Marathon but the following year, Corey was hit by a car, forever ending his career in running. He returned to France in the summer of 1910 and resumed a military career. He died in 1926 in Paris, probably of tuberculosis.

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