France chases medals from 1904 Olympics
07 April 2021 | Sports
It has taken 117 years, but long-distance runner Albert Corey may finally be nearing home, bringing his two Olympic silver medals with him.
Corey was declared an American by the organisers when he won silver in the marathon at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, Missouri. But now the French want him, and his medals, back.
A local councillor 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.
Clement Genty, a councillor, engineer and amateur historian, holds up a faded black and white photo, in which Corey looks like the archetypal amateur in his oversized sleeveless vest, crumpled shorts and laced leather shoes.
Yet this penniless son of Burgundian winegrowers collected what should have been France's only Olympic medals of the 1904 Games.
"A beautiful story," said Genty. "I learnt of his existence in a newspaper and did some research."
Corey was born in Meursault in 1878, the year the village became the first in the Cote d'Or area to be hit by phylloxera, which ravaged the vines.
Etienne Corey, Albert's winemaker father, moved to the Paris suburbs and in 1896, Albert enlisted in the French army.
There he discovered a talent for endurance running. He broke the 160km record in 1899 but on 2 January 1903, he went absent without leave.
A year later, he turned up as a strike-breaker in the huge Chicago slaughterhouses.
Getting into local athletics was not easy for a man with broken English who had arrived in Chicago, The Washington Times wrote in 1905, "practically a tramp".
When he learnt 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.
The ploy worked and he went to St Louis representing the First Regiment Athletic Association of Chicago.
Because the St Louis Games were so hard and expensive to reach from outside North America, they attracted few international entrants. Corey would have been the only Frenchman.
"But he belonged to an American club. He was, therefore, considered American, according to the rules of the time," Genty told AFP.
These were the first Olympics at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded.