Africa’s First Encounter With The Olympic Games In … 1904

Posted in: Archive Spotlight

Jan Mashiani (left) and Len Tau before the running of the 1904 Olympic Marathon.

By Floris J.G. van der Merwe (RSA)

South Africa’s official participation in the Olympic Games spans a period from 1908 until 1960, and again from 1992. The early history of South Africa’s participation in the Olympic Movement was documented by Van der Merwe (1978). This research, however, did not disclose the participation of a “Boer team” in the Olympic tug-of- war event, nor did it study the true facts behind the “Zulus” presence at these Olympic Games. The two “Zulus” were in fact the first Blacks from Africa to take part in the Olympic Games and yet virtually nothing was known regarding their being in the United States at the time of the third Olympiad. According to the Official Report of the Games by Charles J.P. Lucas, the three marathon runners were “Lentauw” and “Yamasani” from Zululand and Harris from the Transvaal. After nearly a century concern was for the first time shown for more information on these people.

Research in South African libraries and State Archives did not reveal any primary information. A visit to the Missouri Historical Society Library and Archive in St. Louis was necessary to get the background as to the reasons for them being in St. Louis in 1904. Contemporary newspapers were also consulted in the Thomas Jefferson Library of the University of Missouri in St. Louis. This research revealed that they were all part of the Boer War Spectacle at the World’s Fair.


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