Jim Thorpe


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A multi-talented US sportsman, and winner of the Olympic gold medals for pentathlon and decathlon at the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912. Thorpe, a Native American raised in the Sac and Fox nation in Oklahoma, was also of French and Irish descent. His Native American name was Wa-Tho-Huk (or, in brief, ‘Bright Path’). After a turbulent childhood, Thorpe's bright path towards sporting fame lay in his natural athletic talent. Dwight Eisenhower, later president of the USA, and an opponent of Thorpe on the American football field in their youth, hailed him as the most naturally gifted sportsman in the country's history. Thorpe played basketball and baseball as well as football, playing collegiate football before a professional career in leagues and also on exhibition tours, often in teams made up wholly of Native Americans, and branded as ‘all-Indian’. In 1911 his college team, Carlisle, defeated Harvard and reportage of this dubbed the victory one for ‘Indians’ against ‘Harvard’. Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic medals by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after it was learned that he had played as a professional in minor league baseball before the 1912 Games, thus breaking the IOC's strict rules on amateurism. Thorpe never sought to deny this, professing—to no avail—ignorance of the rules. In 1982, the IOC reinstated him as an Olympic champion, almost thirty years after his death. Thorpe died penniless and an alcoholic, his athletic, performance, and exhibition career having come to an end during the economic depression of the 1930s.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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