Francis Field rededicated as Olympic Flame arrives

David Tabor
Margaret Bauer

Washington University marked the 100th anniversary of hosting the track and field events of the 1904 Olympiad by rededicating its Francis Field, a registered historic landmark and site of the competition. Speakers at the June 16 ceremony included Chancellor Mark Wrighton, two former Olympic athletes, and several local political figures.

The event also celebrated the University’s inclusion in the path of the Olympic flame during the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay. St. Louis was one of four U.S. cities selected to be part of the relay. Approximately 120 St. Louis residents, including some members of the University community, served as torchbearers when the flame passed through campus the day after the rededication ceremony.

“We are very grateful for the chance to be part of the Olympic tradition,” said Wrighton in his remarks at the ceremony.

In addition to contributing the use of its track, the University opened its Francis Gymnasium to the 1904 Games, as well as several other buildings for administrative purposes to the concurrent 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The Fair attracted approximately 20 million visitors to St. Louis.

According to St. Louis county executive Charles A. Dooley, the city was “put on the map” when it hosted the Olympics and World’s Fair, growing from humble beginnings into a busy metropolis.

“What a difference 100 years makes,” he said.

Wrighton explained that Robert Brookings, then chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees, arranged for Fair planners to lease space on campus. By involving the University in the Fair, Brookings both raised money for the construction of new buildings and secured the school a place in St. Louis history.

“When I look at Francis Field, I don’t just see a field, I see a field of dreams,” said John Schael, University athletic director. “If it could speak, it would speak of the hopes and aspirations of all its athletes, from the 1904 Olympians to today’s school teams.”

Wrighton also stressed the importance of balancing athletics and academics.

“We are amateurs, and as a school, we support the student-athlete,” he said.

Robert Marbut, chair of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s National Governing Bodies Council, echoed Wrighton’s praise of the student-athlete ideal. Describing his own experiences as a Division III athlete, Marbut explained that the Olympic ideals of honor and respect in competition apply to all realms of life.

He went on to explain that unity is an annual theme of the torch relay and many torchbearers are “average” people.

Craig Virgin, a three-time Olympian and two-time world cross country champion, and Wendy Williams, 1998 bronze medallist in diving, added comments that emphasized the honor of the Olympic tradition.

Virgin, whose mother is an alumna of the University, also spoke to a group of summer sports clinic participants earlier that day.

Olympic Torch Relay passes through campus

This year’s Torch relay is an international event for the first time in Olympic history. It is scheduled to pass through 27 countries during its three-month journey to Greece for the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 13. During its trip through the United States June 16-19 the Torch passed through Los Angles, St. Louis, Atlanta and New York.

While in St. Louis, the Torch passed through the Washington University campus. It was first carried around Francis Field by Teri Clemens, the coach who lead the University’s women’s volleyball team to seven Division III national championships, and then up and down the steps of Brookings Hall by Dr. Michael DeBaun, an associate professor at the University’s School of Medicine and leading sickle cell disease researcher.

The day before the Torch’s passing, a training session and reception were scheduled on campus for torchbearers after the Francis Field rededication ceremony. Many of the torchbearers chose to attend the ceremony as well.

Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for the St. Louis Mayor’s office, thanked the torchbearers for their contribution to the Olympic tradition during his remarks at the ceremony.

“[Participating in tomorrow’s relay] will be the experience of a lifetime. This day will be one of history for you,” said Rainford.

Shao-Yu Chow Mo, a high school senior and Olympic torchbearer in attendance at the ceremony, moved with his family from Taiwan to St. Louis four years ago. The transition was difficult for Chow Mo, in part because he spoke no English when he immigrated. He explained, however, that being selected as an Olympic torchbearer had reinforced his faith in his adoptive homeland.

“It’s such a big honor,” he said. “I could have never dreamed that a foreigner like me would be chosen.”

Torchbearers for the St. Louis segment of the relay were selected by a nomination process through which respondents wrote essays describing the inspirational qualities of their candidates. Coca Cola and Schnucks were the corporate sponsors of the nomination process.

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