A few years later, Hicks started coaching Carlson and a few other runners at Cooke’s gym. The crew got faster. They also gleaned experience from someone who had seen dozens of methods for racing 20+ miles in various conditions.
Hicks deemed that Carlson was the the best of his proteges. In 1912, the two traveled to Boston for the big race, which was also serving as the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
The conditions were wet and muddy. The early pace was quick and never relented. Mike Ryan of New York, who had run the race for several years, won in a course-record time of 2:21:18. Carlson finished fifth and earned a spot on the 1912 Olympic Marathon team headed to Stockholm, Sweden.
Carlson decided to travel to Stockholm right away. His family lived there and could support his full-time training schedule. Plus, he could run on the course and have the same advantage as Sigfrid Jacobsson
and other runners competing for Sweden.
As the day of the race approached in July, competitive athletes, lumberyard workers, and Scandinavians throughout the state were looking forward to hearing how Carlson would finish. They had seen his intensity when he won local competitions and knew he had trained with Hicks. They felt that he was carrying not only the banner for the United States, but also for the North Star State.
They would be disappointed.
Carlson wasn’t even on the track with the competitors at the start of the race. He had to watch from the grandstands.
Just before the race in Stockholm (in a foreshadow of all the Minnesota sports upsets to come in the future) the president of the AAU told Carlson he wouldn’t run due to a registration error. Despite his months of preparation, despite his unmatched knowledge of the course in his hometown, despite the local crowds that were anticipating his scorching pace, despite his rejection of the Swedish team and his decision to carry the colors of the Red White and Blue, and despite pleas from the U.S. coach, Carlson was cut from the team.
That team took off into the blazing sun and oppressive heat of July 14 afternoon and most withered over the full 26.2-mile distance. British-born South African Ken McArthur, perhaps acclimated to the heat, won in an Olympic-record time of 2:36:55.
Later, Carlson laced his shoes, donned his singlet, and to the confused looks of people traveling the road, he ran the course as fast as he could. He finished the distance without the cheers from boisterous crowds and clicked his stopwatch as he crossed the 26.2-mile mark. After gulping water and clearing the sweat from his brow, he checked the time.
He had run the course faster than McArthur.
Alone and dejected, Carlson vowed to show the world what he already knew: He could be a champion.