The Greeks probably never thought of the political consequences when they initiated the Olympic Games to honor their god, Zeus, in 776 B.C. Neither did a Gallatin farm boy, Loren E. Cornelius, back in 1904 when he won a gold medal for the United States in the third modern summer Olympic Games held at St. Louis, MO. Things were simpler then — no terrorism, no politics, no boycott.
The World’s Fair was in the air the year of 1903, but the opening was delayed until 1904. A feature of the fair was the Olympic games, an event still new to the modern world. It drew only 10 nations into competition in 67 events, according to Reader’s Digest Almanac and Yearbook. Naturally, the competition featured a lot of competitors like Cornelius who later described himself as “just a green kid” at the time. Still, Cornelius won the 440-yard dash in :51 to help the United States win more gold medals than any other nation. Cuba and Germany tied for second that year.
A St. Louis Globe-Democrat account of Cornelius described him as a born athlete. “He developed sturdy legs and learned how to handle a gun, though he never packed any excess weight around,” the article now kept as a family heirloom by Mrs. Janice (Cornelius) Alden of Hamilton, MO, reads. “He stayed on the slender side, but those long legs could eat up the ground.”
According to the article, Cornelius attended Chillicothe State Normal and was center and captain of the basketball team. He also went out for track. He moved to St. Louis in 1901 and joined the YMCA as a physical education instructor. He also captained the track and basketball teams. But Cornelius might never have made his run for the gold if it hadn’t been for a weird race and a St. Louis university coach. Cornelius won a 600-yard race at an invitational meet where a library was later built by pacing himself as if it were a 440-yard race. He lapped the field of competitors and impressed the University coach enough to land a spot on the university’s team.
Though times then may have been different than now, the sacrifice and drive it took to win required the same dedication to be a winner as today. Cornelius worked in the daytime from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., holding down a job with a railroad. But so keen was his interest in running that he’d take a street car after work to get to the school for practice. He ran the 440 at the same pace as he did in the 220, reserving a final sprint for the last 75 yards “and finishing largely on nerve alone.”
In order to qualify for his 440-yard event in the Olympics, Cornelius had to win in the junior competition and then again in the senior set. After that he breezed out his 440-yard dash in :51, this record which stood for a long time at least in the St. Louis area. Just to prove that his sprinting mark wasn’t a fluke, he ran the 440 again three years later in the same time, winning at the Western Amateur Athletic Association meet in 1907.
That was his last race — not due to a lack of willingness to compete but because of it. He got the golfing bug. He married, raised a family, got into the lumber business and generally made a success of things, particularly golf. He won a number of golfing trophies, including a super senior golf championship when he was 70 years old which prompted the St. Louis Globe-Democrat article. He also added tennis trophies to his collection of athletic honors.
Cornelius’s time of :51 is hardly considered an Olympic time now. The current Class 1A state record for high schools in Missouri is less than :51 (although Cornelius’s mark still ranks above Gallatin’s school record set by Greg Frost in 1977 at :53.6). But in his time, the accomplishment was heralded. It is certainly the only known direct link Gallatin has to the world of international sporting competition.
— by Darryl Wilkinson, Gallatin North Missourian published Feb. 28, 1980
Note: The parents of Loren Cornelius were Christopher Lewis Cornelius and Loretta Surface, who raised a family of nine children on a farm between Altamont and Gallatin, MO — George, Loren, Henry, Herman, Vern, Roy, Ethel (Mrs. George Lynch), Nellie and Nora. Charles Henry Cornelius died May 19, 1963. Funeral services were held at Swope Park Christian Church on May 21, 1963, with Dr. Romans Smith officiating. Interment was at Highland Cemetery at Hamilton, MO.