Thorpe preceded Deion, Bo
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
More Info on Jim Thorpe
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
July 15, 1912 - Having already won the pentathlon eight days earlier at the Olympics in Stockholm, Thorpe added to his collection of gold by completing his victory in the decathlon. With 8,412 points, he broke the world record by an incredible 998 points.
After seven events the previous two days, Thorpe held a considerable lead. On the final day, he finished tied for third in the pole vault with a leap of 10 feet, 7.95 inches; took third in the javelin with a throw of 149 feet, 11.2 inches; and won the 1,500 meters in 4:40.1, a personal best by more than four seconds. His final margin was 688 points over the runner-up, Hugo Wieslander of Sweden.
When Thorpe was introduced at the awards ceremony, there was a great burst of cheers, led by King Gustav V. Besides the gold medals, Thorpe received a jewel-encrusted chalice in the form of a Viking ship (a gift from Czar Nicholas of Russia) for winning the decathlon and a life-size bronze bust of the Swedish king for capturing the pentathlon.
In congratulating Thorpe for his achievements, Gustav told him, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."
Thorpe reportedly replied, "Thanks, king."
Years later, he will write, "That was the proudest moment of my life."
Odds 'n' Ends
Not only was Thorpe voted the Greatest Athlete of the first half of the century by AP (Babe Ruth was second) in 1950, he also was tabbed the Greatest Football Player, beating out Red Grange.
Besides starring in football and track and field, Thorpe was a standout for Carlisle's basketball, lacrosse, tennis and handball teams. He also excelled in baseball, bowling, golf, swimming, billiards, gymnastics, rowing, hockey, boxing and figure skating.
Pitching for the Rocky Mount Railroaders in the Eastern Carolina League in 1909 and 1910, he went 19-20 on sub-.500 teams.
He also played for the Fayetteville Highlanders later in 1910. In his Class D career, he batted .250 in 89 games.
It was because of these two seasons that Thorpe had his Olympic gold medals taken away in 1913.
After a two-year layoff from football, Thorpe returned to Carlisle in the fall of 1911. In his two All-American seasons (1911 and 1912), Carlisle went 23-2-1. Among the school's victims were Army, Penn, Harvard, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
In Carlisle's 27-6 upset of Army in 1912 at West Point, The New York Times wrote Thorpe "simply ran wild, while the Cadets tried in vain to stop his progress. It was like trying to clutch a shadow. . . . Thorpe tore off runs of 10 yards or more so often that they became common."
On that losing Army team was a tough halfback who would later gain fame away from the gridiron. "Except for [Thorpe], Carlisle would have been an easy team to beat. On the football field, there was no one like him in the world," Dwight Eisenhower recalled 55 years later.
Within a week after being declared a pro by the Amateur Athletic Union in January 1913, Thorpe signed a three-year contract with baseball's New York Giants for $6,000 a season.
Thorpe and John McGraw, his manager for most of his six years in the majors, didn't get along. The intense McGraw didn't like Thorpe's laid-back ways - and his drinking. The Giants pilot called Thorpe "a dumb Indian" after the player missed a signal while running the bases, said Al Schacht, the famous "Clown Prince of Baseball" who was Thorpe's roommate in the minors in 1915.
After Thorpe's major league career ended with the Boston Braves in 1919, he played in the minors until 1922.
Thorpe played pro football from 1915-1926 (and one game in 1928). In 1922, he formed an all-Indian team in the NFL: the Oorang Indians, who played two seasons before folding after going 3-6 and 1-10.
In the early thirties, Thorpe sold the film rights to his life for $1,500.
In 1944, he was arrested for drunk driving in Los Angeles. The judge rebuked Thorpe, telling him he was a legend to our youth and it was a pity this incident occurred.
Thorpe was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. Twelve years later, he was enshrined as a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In 1975, he was enshrined in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in Charleston, West Va.
The primary reason Thorpe's gold medals weren't restored to him or his family until 1983 was Avery Brundage, the IOC president from 1952-72 who was steadfast in blocking the move. His refusal was seen by some as a racist act and by others as payback for being badly beaten by Thorpe in the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.
Thorpe was married three times. He had eight children (four with each of his first two wives).
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