Jim Thorpe

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Thorpe, Jim

(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") WarnerWarner, Glenn Scobey,
1871–1954, American football coach, commonly known as "Pop" Warner, b. Springville, N.Y., grad. Cornell (LL.B., 1894). He excelled as guard (1892–94) on the Cornell football team. As coach (1895–96) of the Univ.
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, 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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Thorpe, (James Francis) Jim

(1888–1953) athlete; born near Shawnee, Okla. Voted in 1950 by an Associated Press panel as the greatest athlete of the century, he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1912, where he starred as an All-American football halfback (1911–12). In 1912 he won gold medals in the Olympic decathlon and pentathlon but was later forced to return the medals because he had played semi-professional baseball in 1909, thereby losing his amateur status on a technicality. He excelled at every sport he played, including the traditional Native American sport of lacrosse. He played major league baseball as an outfielder for six years (1913–19) and dominated professional football during its formative years (1917–29). As first president (1920) of the American Professional Football Association, he helped found the National Football League (1922). After retiring from competition, he appeared in movie westerns and spoke on behalf of Native American education. It was not until 1984 that the International Olympic Committee returned the gold medals to Thorpe's family. The Jim Thorpe Memorial is located in Yale, Okla.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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