Francis Olympic Field

Did you know that the Summer Olympic Games were once held in St. Louis?

The 1904 Olympics were supposed to be held in Chicago, but the organizers of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, were not thrilled about that idea. They actually began to plan their own international sports contest, forcing Pierre de Coubertin himself to step in and move the Summer Games to St. Louis. The central location for the 1904 Olympics was Francis Field, located on the campus of Washington University, and named for David R. Francis, a former governor of Missouri and president of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. (Other venues included Forest Park, Glen Echo Country Club, and Creve Coeur Lake.) Among the events contested at Francis Field in 1904 were wrestling, gymnastics, athletics, lacrosse, tug of war, and roque (the only time that sport has been an Olympic event!).

The stadium is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, but is also the current home of the Washington University Bears football team, as well as the track and field and soccer teams.

Adjacent to the field is the St. Louis Olympic Spectacular, which was unveiled in 2018:

Although there was controversy surrounding the 1904 Olympic Games (something we can definitely relate to today!), it’s still pretty cool knowing that St. Louis is one of only three U.S. cities to host the Summer Olympics!

The Olympic Spectacular in St. Louis

Earlier this year, it was announced that St. Louis was going to receive an “Olympic Spectacular.” What is an Olympic Spectacular? you might ask. Aren’t all Olympics spectacular? And what does St. Louis have to do with the Olympics? An Olympic Spectacular is a large-scale sculpture of the Olympic Rings granted only to cities who have hosted the Olympic Games. It’s been 114 years, but St. Louis was the host of the 1904 Summer Games (the III Olympiad!), and the city was finally granted the right to display a Spectacular of its own!

Last month, the sculpture, which sits on a podium-like base, was unveiled on the campus of Washington University, adjacent to Francis Field, which was the site of many of the events at the 1904 Olympics. We stopped by to see it after church yesterday, and as someone who has loved the Olympics since I was a small child, it was a thrill to see it!

Eventually, a second Spectacular will be installed at another St. Louis Olympic site, possibly in Forest Park or near Creve Coeur Lake, which hosted the 1904 rowing competition. For now, though, St. Louis has finally been recognized as an Olympic city!