Robert Fowlow, born in Trinity in 1882, was the first Newfoundlander to compete in the Olympics. He ran for the United States in the 1904 Olympic marathon in St. Louis, Missouri and while he didn´t finish the event he amassed an exceptional running career that had him among the world´s elite for the first ten years of the twentieth century.
The excellence of his performances among the world´s finest marathon runners, especially within the United States, earned him election to the Newfoundland and Labrador Athletics Hall of Fame. He was a wonderful runner during a wonderful running period and while he became a U.S. citizen in 1906, he was a Newfoundland citizen when he entered the Olympics.
He moved with his family to St. John´s where he attended St. Bon´s College and emigrated, again with his family, to Boston, Massachusetts in 1898 where he really began his running career. Entering his first race in 1901, he began running marathon distance races in 1902. He quickly earned an excellent reputation.
Living in Cambridge, he competed in the marathon for the USA in St. Louis in 1904, and again in the Intercalated Games of 1906 in Athens. With him, Newfoundland´s beginning with the Olympics was inauspicious, as he failed to finish either race.
He entered a number of American marathons in the two years before St. Louis, always placing in the top six. Despite his Olympic disappointments, he went on to become one of the top marathoners of his time.
He placed second behind Tom Longboat at the 1907 Boston Marathon, third in 1908 and fourth in 1909. In the 1907 Boston Marathon he was blocked by a freight train in Framingham, Massachusetts for approximately two minutes. He was in a second pack of runners that was separated from Longboat´s lead pack when the train crossed the tracks. He competed in a total of four Boston Marathons. However, like Olympic glory, the Boston title would elude him, even though he tried until 1912, earning himself the nickname of the "ancient marathoner" in the local papers.
He briefly (for 41 days) held the world marathon record after the distance was standardized in 1908, setting the 2.52:45.4 mark with a win in the Yonkers, New York marathon on January 1, 1909.
The 1904 Olympic Games, combined with the World´s Fair like the preceding Olympics in Paris, seemed at times more like an American all-comers meet than a major international event. Eighteen of 32 starters in the marathon, including Fowlow, represented the United States. Of the 32 starters, only 14 would finish, so that he had good company on the DNF list.
For the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, many nations, including the US, selected its athletes. Fowlow was one of four marathoners selected based upon recent performances, his third place in the Boston Marathon in 1905 among his best. During the early part of the Games, the weather in Athens remained relatively pleasant, but on marathon day, the temperature went into the high 20s (Celsius).
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