January 18, 2002

Jim Thorpe


Jim Thorpe was an all round athlete who excelled at 11 different sports and the first native American to win the gold at the Olympics.


“Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”

So spoke King Gustav V of Sweden to Jim Thorpe, a man who totally dominated track and field in the early part of the 20th Century. But with the passage of time, Jim Thorpe is best remembered for the loss rather than the winning of Olympic Gold medals.

Jim Thorpe was born on May 28, 1887 in Oklahoma. His parentage was a mixture of French, Irish, Sac and Fox Indian.

Almost immediately Jim proved himself as a natural athlete. At the age of 25 he was competing for the United States at the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912. He won Gold in both the decathlon and the pentathlon events.

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That same year led his football team, the Carlisle Indian School, to claim the National Collegiate Championship. Thorpe finished the year with 25 touchdowns and 198 points.

Following the triumphs of 1912, Thorpe went on to play Major League Baseball. For six years he played for the New York Giants, from where he spent a short time playing in the outfield for Cincinnati.

Thorpe was the ultimate in multi sports talent. He was adept at a raft of sports, including tennis, golf, billiards, rowing, gymnastics and bowling.

Despite his physical achievements Thorpe was not an overpowering physical specimen. Standing at five foot, eleven inches, he weighed about one
hundred and eighty five pounds.

On January 27, 1913, Thorpe was stripped of both of his gold medals by the Olympic Committee. According to the then prevailing Olympic Rules, no
professional was permitted to compete in the strictly amateur Olympic Games.

However a newspaper journalist by the name of Roy Johnson reported in the Worcester Telegram that Thorpe had received $25 per week to play
minor league baseball in North Carolina. This had occurred in 1909-10, when Thorpe had played for Rocky Mountain in Fayetteville in the Class D,
Eastern Carolina League.

Unlike other players who played for money, Thorpe
signed on under his real name.

In response to the news report, Thorpe made the following statement: “I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian
schoolboy and did not know all about such things. I was not very wise in the ways of the world and did not realise this was wrong.”

This was wrong enough, however, to brand Thorpe as a professional athlete. He was, therefore, declared ineligible for Olympic competition.

As well as losing his medals, Thorpe’s name was removed from the record books.

However, the silver medal winners in the 1912 decathlon and pentathlon events refused to claim the medals that Thorpe fairly won.

Thorpe put the disappointment behind him and went on to establish a stellar record in the areas of football and baseball.

He retired in 1928 after playing his last game for the Chicago Cardinals. A commentator on that November 30th game wrote, ” Jim Thorpe played a few minutes but was unable to get anywhere. In his forties and muscle bound, Thorpe was a mere shadow of his former self.”

Jim Thorpe died on March 28, 1953 of a heart attack. He was 64 years of age. He was buried in the town of Mauch Park, Pennsylvania which
subsequently changed it’s name to Jim Thorpe.

On October 13, 1982 the International Olympic Committee restored Thorpe’s Gold Medals. In January, 1983 replicas of his medals were presented to his family.

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