King Gustav V of Sweden told Thorpe: “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”
James Francis Thorpe was born on May 28th, 1887 in Prague, Oklahoma and died on March 28th, 1953 of a heart attack. He was born to Hiram Thorpe, a farmer, and Mary James, a Pottawatomie Indian. His mother died of blood poisoning before he was a teenager. Jim was actually born a twin, but his brother Charlie died at the age of nine. His Indian name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translated to “Bright Path”.
All in one, with a total of 8,412.95 points of a possible 10,000, Jim won the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics, but was stripped of his gold medals for violating amateur eligibility rules.
The greatest athlete of the 20th Century (Associated Press), went to Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania and started his athletic career there, in both playing football, baseball and running track. Football legend Glenn “Pop” Warner coached Thorpe and sailed with him to the Olympic Games in Sweden, 1912. He won in both the pentathlon and the decathlon and set records that would stand for decades.
Because of a conflict the Olympic Committee, he was removed from the record books and his gold medals were taken away. It seems that he had played two semi-professional seasons of baseball, something that broke the strict rules about Olympians who receive monetary compensation for participating in professional athletics. This scandal darkened much of his career. Finally, he moved to baseball and played over 100 games. During his baseball years, Thorpe was also immersed in professional football. What a multitasking person! He played with six different teams during his career in pro football and worked also as a speaker, and as an actor. With his athletic skills he also enjoyed success in hockey, lacrosse and even ballroom dancing.
In 1950, he was named “the greatest American football player” and the “greatest overall male athlete”.
His private life was full of surprises. He married three times and become father of eight children, while one of them died after life-threatening disease that affects development in children. Thorpe get in contact with alcohol abuse and endangered his public career.
After he got a heart attack on March 28th, California 1953, his body was moved to an eastern Pennsylvania community that renamed itself Jim Thorpe in exchange for housing his remains. In 2010, Thorpe’s son Jack filed a federal lawsuit to bring his father’s remains back to Oklahoma, but failed.
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