The Winnipeg Shamrocks were a sensational lacrosse squad, drawing record crowds across the U.S. Midwest and awing spectators with their crisp passing and razzle-dazzle backhanded shots.
Then, 100 years ago today, on July 7, 1904, the Shamrocks defeated the St. Louis Amateur Athletic Association 8-2 to complete a two-game sweep in St. Louis, Mo., and make Olympic history. The Manitoba team had defeated the hometown Triple A club 6-1 soon after arriving.
The Shamrocks were awarded a gold medal, becoming the first Canadian team to officially claim an Olympic championship.
Four years earlier, George Orton, a Canadian completing postgraduate studies in the United States, won the 2,500-metre steeplechase at the Paris Olympics. But in the days before national teams, he competed as part of a University of Pennsylvania delegation, and it was largely unknown for years that he was Canadian.
In St. Louis, what should have been a moment of great pride for captain William Orris and his teammates instead left them with a feeling of having made a long trip for nothing.
The final match was a ho-hum affair in a tournament described as a bust at an Olympiad conducted as a sideshow to the world's fair.
"It was pretty chaotic," said Olympic historian Bruce Kidd, the dean of physical education and health at the University of Toronto. "It was a time when anyone could show up and compete in the Olympic Games."
The 1904 Games were overshadowed by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
Sporting events were held from May through November, including such local fare as the city's annual elementary school track meet. The events now considered to have been part of the third Olympiad involved 687 athletes (523 of them American) from 13 countries.
A century later, the winning field lacrosse club is barely remembered, while the third-place team, also hailing from Canada, has earned a place in Olympic lore.
The tournament involved four teams. The Shamrocks advanced to the final when the Brooklyn Crescents forfeited a game. Meanwhile, the St. Louis club defeated the only other entry in the competition, the Mohawk Athletic Club from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ont.
The Mohawks featured players whose romantic names have earned them a place in the legacy of the Games. The lineup included Black Hawk (goal), Black Eagle (point), Almighty Voice (counter point), Flat Iron (first defence), Spotted Tail (second defence), Half Moon (third defence), Lightfoot (centre), Snake Eater (first home), Red Jacket (second home), Night Hawk (third home), Rain in Face (outside home) and Man Afraid Soap (inside home).
Their bronze was the first medal won by aboriginals from Canada.
The Winnipeg team was frustrated by the quality of the opposition and soon left the city, despite the attractions of the exposition and its midway. A headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune read Lacrosse Tourney A Fizzle, Manitoba Players Cut Short Visit To St. Louis.
Despite their disappointment, the Shamrocks were greeted on their return home as conquering heroes.
The disorganized St. Louis Games were a success for Canadian athletes. Of the 52 who competed, 46 returned home with medals.
On July 30, the men's eight with cox from the Argonaut Rowing Club of Toronto raced bow to bow against the crew from the Vesper Boat Club of Philadelphia on Creve Coeur Lake.
The Vespers pulled ahead in the final eighth of a mile of the 1½-mile race to win the gold medal by 10 lengths.
The Argos took the silver as a consolation of sorts. There were no other competitors.
Étienne Desmarteau, a bulky Montreal police officer with prominent cheekbones and handlebar mustache, took an unauthorized leave from his job to hitchhike to St. Louis and win the gold medal in the 56-pound toss.
In golf, 46-year-old George Lyon of Toronto defeated Chandler Egan of Chicago 3 and 2 after 34 holes at the Glen Echo Country Club to claim the Olympic championship and a massive trophy. Lyon, a terrific all-round athlete in his youth who had only taken up golf eight years earlier, accepted his winnings by doing a headstand before walking upside down on his hands to the podium.
In mid-November, a football club from Galt [now part of Cambridge, Ont.] defeated Christian Brothers College 7-0 and St. Rose Parish School 4-0 on successive days to claim the soccer title.