Olympic Stories

Jim Thorpe - Olympic Hero and Native American

Jim Thorpe - Olympic Hero and Native AmericanIn the colorful history of Olympics, there have been heroes who have made history and who have embodied legends. There have been so many different glorious personalities that it is hard to choose who is the most legendary or remarkable of them all. But when we think of a great hero who struggled against circumstances and made a big splash, the name Jim Thorpe usually comes to mind among those familiar with Olympic history.

Jim Thorpe was born near the town of Prague, Oklahoma on May the 28th 1887. There exists a doubt about his true full name however. Some say his name was James Francis Thorpe, but Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe is the official name on his christening certificate. In the end it is not the name that is so important but the actions of the man himself.

He studied and went to school in Stroud, Oklahoma at the Sac and Fox Indian Agency. His brother Charlie whom he had loved and gone to school with, died of pneumonia when he was only eight years old.

This hit Thorpe like a ton of bricks. It was about this time when he began to run away from school on a regular basis and when his father sent him to what today is Haskell Indian Nations University located in Lawrence, Kansas. However, this stint at education did not last too long, because when his mother died two years later, Thorpe decided to run away from school in order to work at a Horse ranch.

By 1904, Thorpe was reconciled with his father and went to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And while studying there, he met Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner. This man was one of the greatest coaches in Early American football. Meeting Pop Warner would change Thorpe’s life forever and make him a legend in his own right. However, later that year the young Thorpe met with yet another blow when his father died.

He again ran away and spent time on a farm doing hard labor. After a few years however, he returned once again to Carlisle and from then on, his training to become one of the greatest athletes began.

By 1912 he was ready to take on the world at the Olympics. He had proven his worth time and time again on the field and now was his time to shine. In the 1912 Olympics, 2 new multi events were introduced. They were the pentathlon and the decathlon. Thorpe was ready for both these events. He had been dynamic, active and talented at all of Carlisle's track meets, so he took part in the U.S. Olympic trials. He easily won and was placed on the national team. Coincidentally, that team included the future president of the International Olympics committee Avery Brundage.

Everything was now ready and the team set off for Stockholm where the games were to be held. While Thorpe's teammates struggled and worked hard, legend tells us that Jim Thorpe went to sleep and was often seen lounging and relaxing. He knew how to keep things cool and calm and it worked for him. That might just be what brought him such great success.

After arrival at the Olympics, the first event scheduled was the pentathlon. Thorpe was the best on the field, and he won four events with style and elegance. After winning the Pentathlon, Thorpe qualified for the high-jump final. In that final, he placed fourth, and then went on to take seventh place in the long jump.

The final event was the decathlon. Here, Thorpe had to face Hugo Wieslander, a local hero and favorite. Whatever may have been the reputation of Wieslander, he was no match for Thorpe. Finishing some 700 points behind him, he was completely outclassed and outmatched.

In the end Jim Thorpe received two gold medals and two Challenger Prizes. One of these prizes came from King Gustav V and the other from King Nicholas II of Russia . And if those honors were not enough the King of Sweden himself praised Thorpe by saying "You sir, are the greatest athlete in the world".

Not long after all of this, in 1913 he was stripped of his hard won Olympic gold medals. It turned out that he had played minor baseball. Even though he got paid very little for this baseball stint he lost his medals. And he never got them back in his lifetime. It was not until 1982 that his family was able to fight to get the medals back successfully. Now that they have won their fight we can once again count Jim Thorpe as one of the greatest gold medal Olympians of all time.

Career Highlights

  • 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games – Gold (2)

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