Thorpe, Jim

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Thorpe, Jim

Jim Thorpe (James Francis Thorpe), 1888–1953, American athlete, b. near Prague, Okla. Thorpe was probably the greatest all-round male athlete the United States has ever produced. His mother, a Sac, named him Bright Path. Orphaned as a teenager, he entered (1907) the Carlisle Indian School at Carlisle, Pa. He joined (1908) the Carlisle football team, coached by Glenn ( "Pop" ) Warner, and in 1911–12 Thorpe, playing left halfback, led Carlisle in startling upsets over such highly rated teams as Harvard, Army, and the Univ. of Pennsylvania. In 1912, Thorpe took part in the Olympic games held at Stockholm, Sweden, and performed magnificently. He won the broad jump and the 200-meter and 1,500-meter runs of the pentathlon; won the shot put, the 1,500-meter run, and the hurdle race of the decathlon; was the runner-up in the other events of the pentathlon and decathlon; and won the gold medal in both competitions. In 1913, however, Thorpe surrendered his awards, at the request of the Amateur Athletic Union and the insistence of Glenn Warner, to the Olympic headquarters in Switzerland; it had been discovered that Thorpe had played (1909–10) semiprofessional baseball with the Rocky Mount, N.C., team of the North Carolina Eastern League. The medals were restored posthumously in 1982, but he was recognized only as a co-winner of the pentathlon and decathlon in the Olympic record. In 1919, Thorpe played briefly with the New York Giants baseball team. He afterward played professional football with the Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs and other teams, and later became supervisor of recreation for the Chicago parks, gave lectures, and worked at various jobs in California, where he died. Jim Thorpe, Pa., where he was buried in 1954, is named in his honor. With T. F. Collison, he wrote Jim Thorpe's History of the Olympics (1932).

See biographies by R. W. Wheeler (1981) and K. Buford (2012).

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