Monday, July 30, 2012

A local Olympic hero

I love watching the Olympics, don't you? The feats of these athletes amaze me.

I wish they had some video clips of older games. I'd especially love to see Jim Thorpe in action. One sportswriter said, "He moved like a breeze." As one of the Native Americans who attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, you'd think our local newspapers would have mentioned his incredible accomplishments in their recent highlight of past Olympics, but Thorpe is often overlooked.

An article in the July-August issue of Smithsonian Magazine called "The All American" reflects on his unparalleled achievements.

His athletic prowess was discovered accidentally when he broke the school record for the high jump on a whim, while wearing overalls and a work shirt.

He played football, baseball, track and lacrosse, and also competed in hockey, handball, tennis, boxing and ballroom dancing. His coach signed him up for multiple events at competitions, and he once won a dual meet against Lafayette, taking first in the high hurdles, low hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and discus throw.

Before the Eastern Olympic trials in 1912, he'd never thrown a javelin and didn't know he could take a running start, throwing from a standstill. He still took second place.

At the Stockholm games in 1912, his 11.2-second record in the 100 meter dash remained unbroken until 1948.

In the now-defunct pentathlon, Thorpe placed first in four of the five events, which took place in a single day.

After two days of competing in nine other events, Thorpe blew away his competition in the last event, the 1500 meter run - wearing mismatched shoes. His 4 minute, 40.1 second record remained broken until 1972.

His overall Olympic score remained unbroken for four more Olympic games. Yet in 1912 the IOC stripped him of his medals "for violating the elitist Victorian codes of amateurism." The IOC sent two replica medals in 1982 to his family but failed to reinstate his incredible record at the 1912 games.

Following the Olympics, Thorpe returned to Carlisle to lead the school football team to Ivy League-level victories. The Smithsonian article explains it all, and asks why it took a letter-writing campaign for Thorpe's image to finally appear on the Wheaties box in 2001.
He went on to play football professionally, and is recognized by the Football Hall of Fame.
Though not a native of Pennsylvania, Jim Thorpe was buried in the town named after him.

Thorpe is one of the most famous Native Americans who attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. I hadn't researched him while writing Follow the Stars Home because I focused on the school's opening decades earlier. While my characters are fictional, the events were all too real. Thorpe's story is just one of many dealing with triumph over brutal conditions.

I only hope the IOC will recognize their error in not giving this amazing athlete his Olympic due.


Maria Zannini said...

He was an amazing athlete. I love to read about him for inspiration alone.

Cate Masters said...

I love that he studied horses to copy their economy of motion, then later, other athletes. He was a scholar of athleticism!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Shame the papers didn't mention him. Thorpe was a legend.

DMS said...

I just learned a ton about this amazing athlete. AMAZING! He accomplished so much with overalls, mismatched shoes- and not taking a running start. So many things that could have held him back- but didn't. I agree that he should be recognized. WOW! Thanks for sharing.

Cate Masters said...

He was certainly a local celebrity, Alex.

He was amazing, Jess! From such a rough beginning in life, he proved anything's possible.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I remember reading about him when I was in elementary school when I was still young enough to dream of being a world class athlete. His story is amazing.

Cate Masters said...

He is inspiring, Susan.