Oliver Kirk and the 1904 St. Louis Olympics

Oliver Leonard Kirk has the distinction of being the only Olympic boxer to win a gold medal in two separate weight classes in the same Olympic Games.  Oliver Kirk accomplished this feat at his hometown Olympics in 1904.

St. Louis hosted the third Olympiad during the 1904 World’s Fair Exposition.  Like the Paris Games four years before, St. Louis gave precedence to St. Louis athletes and limited the field of competitors.  Holding the Olympics along with the World’s Fair also diminished it’s importance.

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Olympic Games Advertisement from the 1904 World’s Fair

The boxing competition occurred on September 21 and 22, 1904 in the World’s Fair Stadium.  The competitive field was fairly small.  Oliver Kirk only won two fights to win both gold medals.  Unlike future Olympics, boxers at this Olympics could fight in the heavier weight classes also.

In the first bout for the 115 pound class batamweight gold medal, Oliver Kirk beat George Finnegan of the Olympic Club in what the Friday, September 23, 1904 edition of the St. Louis Republic called the most scientific bout of the tournament.

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Oliver Kirk from the Public Domain

Kirk had a slight weight and large strenght advantage over Finnegan.  Finnegan was a very clever boxer but Kirk was no slouch in the scientific boxing department.  Kirk was able to land significant enough damage for the judges to decide the bout in his favor.  The crowd who hissed two earlier decisions enthusiastically supported this decision.

George Finnegan did not go home empty handed though.  Finnegan defeated Miles Burke for the 105 pound flyweight Olympic gold medal.  Whether World’s Fair promoters encouraged Finnegan to move up so they could have a 115 pound medal match or whether he chose to do it on his own is not known.

In Oliver Kirk’s second gold medal match, he face Frank Haller.  Although Kirk was the smaller man, he was the stronger man.  This match was more of a brawl, which showed Kirk’s versatility as a fighter.  Kirk finished strongest and took another well-received decision over Haller.  Haller fought earlier, while Kirk received a bye in the featherweight bracket.

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Kirk’s Home on Hawthorne Boulevard, Built in 1895 – Courtesy of Google Earth

Kirk went on to fight professionally but never won a world title.  After his boxing career was over, he served as a security watchman.  However, he must have hung on to a lot of his money because he lived in a fashionable Nineteenth Century house on Hawthorne Boulevard in the Compton Heights neighborhood fo St. Louis, MO.

Oliver Leonard Kirk was born in Beatrice, Nebraska on April 20, 1884 making him 20 years old at the time of his gold medal wins.  Kirk endured the same physical challenges that most professional boxers eventually experience.  For the last eight years of his life from 1952 until 1960, Kirk suffered from traumatic psychosis.  He was confined to a mental hospital beginning in 1954.

Kirk stayed at State Hospital No. 4 in St. Francois County during this time, while his wife Hazel Keefer lived at their home on Hawthorne Bouelvard.  Kirk died from gangrene of the left foot and blood poisoning on March 14, 1960 at the State Hospital No. 4.  He was 75 years old.

Today, most St. Louisans don’t know that we had an Olympic Games or that a St. Louis boxer is the only boxer to ever win two boxing gold medals at the same Olympic Games.

What did you know about the 1904 Olympics?  Did you know about Oliver Kirk?  What struck you about this post?  You can leave a comment or ask a question about this or any post on my Facebook pageTwitter profile and Google+ page.

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