Albert Corey, the mysterious Olympic medalist of 1904



Errors or inaccuracies are not uncommon in the tablets of the first editions of the Modern Games, relaunched by Pierre de Coubertin in 1896. That concerning Albert Corey would have remained in the folds of the ledger of the rings without the work of two men: Clément Genty, municipal councilor of the city of Meursault (Côte-d’Or), eager to pay tribute to all the illustrious Murisaltiens. And the journalist Manuel Desbois, who relayed the first in the local daily The public good the astonishing story of Albert Corey, French medalist under the American flag at the Saint-Louis Games of 1904.

The Europeans having been very few to make this distant trip, the participants were mostly Americans, like him. At least that’s what the organizers believed, who referenced him as well, with a fault in his name, Coray instead of Corey. But Clément Genty’s research, soon published in a book prefaced by Guy Drut, reestablishes the truth (1). “At my request on December 18, 2020, the Olympic Studies Center (CEO) confirmed the French nationality of Albert Corey”, writes this member of the International Olympic Committee, who promised in January to set the record straight. No effect to date on the organization’s website, where Albert Corey remains registered as an American.

Chicago slaughterhouse strikebreaker

Yet he was indeed French, and even a sergeant major in the Eighth Chasseur Regiment, before deserting in 1903 and embarking for America. There he became a strike breaker (temporary employee used to replace strikers) at the slaughterhouses of Chicago, a city originally intended to organize the Games. Albert Corey, who had already carved out a good reputation as a runner in France during his military engagement, quickly made the heyday of the athletic club in the capital of Illinois. To the point of being sent to avenge the colors of Chicago in Saint-Louis, city of the Games shunned by their creator Pierre de Coubertin.

He could have set the record straight about Corey’s nationality, had he been present. But furious with the choice of Saint-Louis and the methods of selection, he had refused to make the trip. “In these Games, everything is incredible, the athletes were not referenced according to their nationality but that of their club, hence the error concerning Albert Corey”, explains city councilor Clément Genty, engineer and associate researcher at the National School of Arts and Crafts.

The winner downgraded for borrowing a car

Corey was one of the few to cover the 40 km at the time (the 42.195 km were definitively in effect from the Paris Games in 1924), drinking very little since the organizers had decided to conduct a scientific study on dehydration. He finished in a decent third place and climbed one step further thanks to the disqualification of the winner. Who had borrowed a car for a few kilometers because he was ” tired “, according to his statements at the time.

Fresh as a roach after the 40 kilometers, Albert Corey was not, like the American gold medalist, convicted of doping with strychnine and… brandy, administered by officials who supported him in the last meters. Adorned with silver during the marathon of these Games, which were the first to introduce medals, he did it again in another event, the 4-mile team. He gleaned the white metal again alongside his… American teammates.

The rest is less glorious. Back at the Chicago slaughterhouses, he remained in the fridge surveillance service before being dismissed and returning to France, where the deserter was mysteriously reinstated in the army. He died in 1926, leaving companionship and descendants on both sides of the Atlantic. “This is what I taught his French family at the same time as I told them about Corey’s exploits”, says the researcher, who had trouble convincing her to speak out about this ancestor. Of which she ignored the Olympic glory like the double life.

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France in the club of three thanks to him

With 239 podiums out of 280 possible, the United States crushed the meager competition at the 1904 Games. If it does not change much for them, the silver medal of Albert Corey reassigned to France allows that – here to join the club of the three medal-winning countries at all the Games, alongside Australia and the United Kingdom. The United States, which largely dominates the Olympic charts, is not, because of its boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980.

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