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The decathlon was a relatively new event in modern athletics, although a similar competition known as the all-around championship had been part of American track meets since the 1880s and a version had been featured on the program of the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. The events of the new decathlon differed slightly from the American version. Both seemed appropriate for Thorpe, who was so versatile that he served as Carlisle's one-man team in several track meets. According to his obituary in The New York Times, he could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat; the 220 in 21.8 seconds; the 440 in 51.8 seconds; the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35; the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds; and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds. He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in. He could pole vault 11 feet; put the shot 47 ft 9 in; throw the javelin 163 feet; and throw the discus 136 feet.
Thorpe's final event was the decathlon, his first (and as it turned out, his only) decathlon. Strong competition from local favorite Hugo Wieslander was expected. Thorpe, however, defeated Wieslander by more than 700 points. He placed in the top four in all ten events, and his Olympic record of 8,413 points would stand for nearly two decades. Even more remarkably, because someone had stolen his shoes just before he was due to compete, he found a mismatched pair of replacements, including one from a rubbish bin, and won the gold medal wearing them. Overall, Thorpe won eight of the 15 individual events comprising the pentathlon and decathlon.
So Mr. Thorpe is essentially just a superhuman then. His records just keep going and going and going...
He also played professional football, baseball and basketball. He was the 1st commissioner of the American Professional Football Association, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in inaugural class (his statue is in the rotunda). The best defensive back of the year trophy is named in his honor. He is also in the College Football Hall of Fame.
All this at a time when he suffered extreme racism.
Edit: changed "defensive player" to "defensive back". Thanks to DakotaXIV for correcting me.
Best defensive back* of the year
He also played professional baseball and football for Chicago I think.
And the college football award for best defensive back is named after him.
He could overcome just about everything....except Olympic class racism
uh, Thorpe was a graduate of Carlisle, the school that famously invented modern american football (e.g. they invented the forward pass). they were famous for breaking native american kids into white culture, and football was the singular way that Pop Warner and the school homogenized the 'barbarian' children.
interestingly, Richard Pratt, the founder of the school, invented the term racism.
That's because Pratt was a horrible racist himself, and he took part in attrocities against Native Americans during his career in the military.
He saw what was happening to Natives though, he realized we could make an entire people go extinct. So he founded Carlisle and convinced Native parents to send their boys to live there. A lot died, and the ones who did go back home had forgotten their native languages and customs.
Pratt believed he had to take the "savage" out for them to have any chance to survive as a people in our new country. *Barbaric as it is, he might not have been wrong back in the 18th century. Because we were the savages.
It's a bittersweet and fascinating episode in American history. Radiolab has an amazing podcast about the whole story.
Not so much “convinced” as used the force and might of the US government to compel. Fuck residential schools. A lot died because they’re were killed and those that weren’t died inside from the rampant abuse and rape.
Nothing “bittersweet” about it, it was a continued act of genocide plan and simple.
Nothing “bittersweet” about it, it was a continued act of genocide plan and simple
This is the most important narrative that has been completely whitewashed in colonial American history. The rapes, murders, hangings, burnings, and scalpings of millions of native American men, women, and children are not taught to us. The "winners" write the history texts as they say.
Um, did you go to school in the 70's or something? That kind of stuff is taught from second grade until the end of highschool nowadays, I think you're exaggerating a bit.
There are 50 different states in America, broken down into many separate districts each, with vastly different curriculums. There are a bunch of areas that serve to protect their interests in education
I went school from the 90s to late 00s and compared to what I know now it's incredibly white washed. Though other cultures like the Cambodian genocide not biased and very informative.
I'm 32, I learned this well after high school. California. So I mean, what?
Yeah, and it's not like our culture ignores it (looking at you Japan and China, among many others).
I learned about it in school, and then learned more about it afterwards because people talk about it, and make documentaries and movies about it.
Exactly! I even took classes about it in college. Good comparison with Japan too, if we were denying the mass mistreatment of native americans similar to denying Unit 731 I'd be totally against that, but literally all the information is out there if you want it, and schools go out of their way to mention it. Maybe 50 years ago getting real info was hard but today its readily available.
I’m in my mid 20s and definitely did not learn about how badly the natives were treated until late in highschool and in college. Basically until then we learned that we stole the land and forced them into small areas which is really over simplifying an important part of history. It was like they wanted to minimize what we did but we learned all about the nazi death camps.
Radiolab is a national treasure. ❤️
Do you know which ep is it? Can you link it please?
"kill the Indian, save the man"
Yes! That episode was really informative on the pop Warner and the school in general. Recommend it to everyone who likes football or history in general.
Us Canadians thought the same thing. They saw what was happening to the tribes in the States and also thought the solution was sending native kids to residential schools to make them more Western so they can assimilate into our culture and not get wiped out. While it came from a good place, those schools were their own form of genocide and thousands died or were abused because of them.
Pratt was a horrible racist
He invented the term "racism" just so that he can say "I'm not racist, he's the racist!"
because we were the more powerful savages
I thought SLU made the first ever forward pass
He overcame it tho?
He had also never competed, or seen, the javelin throw before the olympics. He wasn’t aware that you could run before the throw so he threw it from a standing position....he finished 3rd.
But where did he find the other shoe?
That my friends is adapting and overcoming at its finest.
Historical problems require historical solutions
Ah thank you kind m’sir.
Adapting by using the extra anger hormones for his benefit.
When does he improvise though?
The last part of the decathalon is Scenes from a Hat.
One of the shoes was from the garbage!
One of the shoes was from the garbage!
WOAH! No way! I had no idea!!!
I know right??? So neat! Did you know that one of the shoes he wore was from the garbage????
And he won the gold medal!
the record stood for over twenty years
Did you know one of the shoes he wore, JUST ONE, was from the garbage??????
You all must be talking about ol’ Jim “garbage shoes” Thorp!
Jim Thorpe won the gold medal. In 1912. WITH A CAN OF GARBAGE!
The real TIL is in the comments.
And they were mismatched!
And his name was Jim Thorpe!
Yeah well both of my shoes are from the garbage. So I should be twice as fast then?
someone stole his shoe and threw in the garbage.. hence it was from the garbage!
Stories like this kill me-- you really have to wonder how well athletes like this would have performed if they had access to the type of equipment and training that Division I athletes get.
There's a lot of talk and debate over how much better modern athletes are; is it social genetic engineering or better equipment, training, and diet?
Either way it doesn't matter because there's no one to really compare a guy like Jim Thorpe to in our modern age. Someone that could not only play but dominate in so many sports, most of which require incredible speed and strength.
Pretend that the NFL's best super star running back was also its best linebacker, oh and he also leads as the best wide receiver. Now that guy also shows up to the Olympics pretty much just for fun, beats Usain Bolt while wearing blue jeans, and sets records that stand for two decades. He's five inches taller than the average man and adds 30 pounds of muscle over the average guy.
Oh and he also plays in MLB in the off season while hitting .252 and makes it into the NBA just because he can.
There would be zero debate that he's the greatest athlete in the world.
Sounds like Bo Jackson.
Bo is the person who stands out as most Jim Thorpe like.
But also keep in mind that Jim Thorpe was mainly really, really fast. He was also damn strong and all that other stuff, but he was only top of the world class at things having to do with speed and jumping high and far. He was "merely" a good olympian at the other stuff.
It's also debatable whether or not other people today wouldn't be similar to thorpe if they lived in his lower competition times. It's not uncommon for football players to be recruited by top 10 college football teams and to be drafted in the early rounds of the MLB. It's also not uncommon for speed position football players to compete in track and field in the spring at top flight track and field schools. It's not exactly hard to imagine that a running back that runs a 4.2 40 wouldn't also be pretty damn good at shot-put in an era where people really didn't focus on shot-put.
Bo Jackson was one of the fastest NFL players of all time. As fast if not faster than thorpe. Granted the time difference and difference between him and other competition gives thorpe an edge.
I'd still give edge to Thorpe, especially you saying people didn't compete in those events the same or as rigorously. The point being that he was so naturally athletic that he could show up and beat out anyone and displayed an all-around athletic nature.
Herschel Walker was also a magnificent athlete. Olympic bobsled team, college track All American, and, obviously, football hall of famer
30 pounds more muscle is definitely an understatement for this hypothetical. If you're 6'4" with 30 pounds more muscle than the average guy, there's basically no way you'd be strong enough to be anywhere near the NFL at RB or LB
Tinfoil hat time:
The fastest man ever, Usain Bolt, has a noticeably asymmetrical gait caused by childhood scoliosis. Other elite sprinters such as Andre De Grasse have similar asymmetries. Maybe the mismatched shoes weren't a hindrance at all, but actually induced a slightly asymmetric gait which is secretly the optimal human running technique.
I'd believe that. The best times I ever recorded in the 200m in high school were when I had a broken foot that I'd tape up and run on anyway. I never understood how I ran my best with a broken foot, but maybe it's related to the asymmetric gait.
Plus a bunch of adrenaline from running on a broken foot?
He didn't want to run on a broken foot, so he ran faster to get it over with.
Admittedly I’m not a doctor or an athlete of any kind, but what kind of irresponsible adult coach would allow a high school student to compete with a broken foot?
There's a culture of fuck it coach I'll play in high level competitive sports. Watch any injured quarterback play in the pros. Matter of fact, I recall Aaron Rodgers played high as a kite in like week two or three after an in game leg injury. That's just the way it is. Kids want to do it, some coaches let em. It's part of the competition, for better or for worst.
If he figured that out and successfully used it to his advantage before all the science we have today around sports, I’d wager he was one of the smartest athletes of all time as well.
Arguably the greatest athlete of all time
Whenever this discussion among friends comes up my answers are (in no particular order):
I really only have context for American and Canadian athletes though, so I'm missing out on a big chunk of people.
Edit: couple people have said Wilt Chamberlain. He'd be on the the list too. I also forgot Babe Didrikson.
Deion Sanders? All State in football, basketball and baseball during high school. That's impressive in Florida. Drafted by both NFL and MLB, first round in the NFL. Ran a 100m that would have likely qualified him for the Olympics in 1988 and 1992. NFL Hall of Famer and pretty good baseball career. 2 Super Bowl rings, 8 All Pros, Jim Thorpe Award in college and 2 time All American.
Plus he ranks up there with Tim Tebow and Sean Casey as the nicest pro athletes I've ever met.
I would throw Larry Allen in there as well. At 325 pounds he ran a 4.85 second 40 yard dash, had a 30 inch vertical, and once bench pressed 700 pounds.
What makes them greater than let's say Phelps or Bolt?
Versatility. These guys could play just about any sport and dominate.
Superiority in numerous sports and physical endeavors instead of just a specialized focus on one.
Versatility. Those guys excelled at the absolute highest level in multiple sports. This would be like Phelps being godlike in swimming, water polo, and rowing or Bolt being godlike on all track and field events.
To be on the list you must be a top tier multi sport athlete.
The number of sports they are masters in
Wayne Gretzky was the greatest hockey player, ever, period, full stop. He wasn't the greatest athlete. Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player ever, but I consider Lebron the better athlete because I saw what he could do in football while we were in high school. Babe Ruth is arguably the greatest baseball player ever not just because he could hit home runs, but he was a great pitcher too. Not the greatest athlete though. Jim Thorpe, Jim Brown, Bo, Deion, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, Danny Ainge and I would go as far to say even at the Olympics the winner of the Decathlon is the best athlete at any given Olympics.
They only excel in one sport.
Native American legend.
If only we had any footage of this guy.
Jim Thorpe - The Original All American
I don't know if you're tongue and cheek comment was on purpose but he was a native american feom the Sac Fox Nation. So he really is an original american
The Original All American is the name of the book about him. I read it back in high school and anytime I see his name or picture I think of that title.
And Jim Thorpe in Pennsylvania is a very beautiful town... recommend it to anyone
He was never there! They renamed the town after him and moved his body there posthumously as a tourist attraction.
Although it is a pretty area.
In reading the article it seems the 3rd wife sold his remains to the town for monetary reasons, against family wishes. Despite multiple appeals and even winning the decision, he still remains buried there instead of his homeland of Oklahoma with the rest of his family. You’d figure if the town truly valued him, they’d honor his family wishes. Kind of bummer.
That's one of the more fucked up stories I've heard about dishonoring the dead.
The town was originally called Mauch Chunk after the Native Americans in the area. I used to have this history of the Olympics video narrated by Bob Costas. He says "the town of Mauch Chunk" PA was so keen to receive his remains they changed its name to Jim Thorpe. My brother and I used to joke it was so keen to change its name it accepted Jim Thorpes remains. We might not have been too far off.
Cool to see this. I live in Jim Thorpe PA and the beauty of this area is definitely taken for granted when you live here lol
We went white water rafting there. It's a gorgeous river that runs through it.
They have a beautiful chunk of anthracite coal in the town square.
Stop telling people. It's too crowded on the weekends.
They aren’t having the parade anymore. The Mollies doesn’t want to run it, but won’t let anyone else take it over, so...
One side of my family is Sac & Fox from Oklahoma so this guy was a pretty big deal in my childhood.
My favorite quote of his
July 15, 1912, Stockholm, Sweden
Jim Thorpe was an American (also native American) decathlete who won gold in the decathlon. At the medal presentation, King Gustav of Sweden announced to Thorpe, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world!". Thorpe's two word reply:
Awesome. Ain't like he was a chief.
He was an equally big deal in Lawrence KS. He went to the Haskell institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University). I grew up swimming in the University's pool, and they had a lot of badass historical works in their athletics facilities.
Probably shouldn’t say this lol but I grew up in the town he was born in. Or “near” because we weren’t founded until after him, if I recall correctly. So we learn a lot about him and I know some of his descendants. (Not personally)
Can I guess the town? You like Kolaches?
I will say they’re a great snack...
We grew up in the same county, been to that festival many times.
Surprising that is a way to figure it out. Kolaches have become a bigger and bigger thing everywhere in the US over the last couple decades. There's several places to get them around me in St. Louis county.
I wont say much more but I live near where hes from and its quite interesting how big of a deal he is here verses the rest of the country where hes just history
Here's the picture. It looks like he even had to wear mismatched socks.
It even looks like two socks on one foot. Talk about affecting your game.
If I remember part of the story right he did have 2 socks on because one of the shoes was larger.
It's wild how Olympic attire back then is literally just casual hang out clothes now, 100+ years later. If he strolled up to a 4th of July BBQ this year dressed like that, the only unusual thing would be his shoes.
Jim Thorpe is the namesake of the octothorpe, also known as the pound sign or hash tag.
Talk about a multisport athlete, Jim Thorpe is also a legendary American Football player, which is where I knew about him from, but I didn't know he also did this.
Yeah, he won like half of the Olympics. Good Drunk History episode on him if you're into that.
Supposedly one of the best lacrosse players ever too
Arguably the greatest athlete ever born in America. There literally wasn't a sport he tried that he didn't excel at.
This happened to a girl in my high school. She was all state in 3 events. Her shoes conveniently disappeared off our bus when we were taking a lunch break during the district tournament. She ran barefoot and still finished first by a large margin.
"ugh these shoes are really uncomfortable I gotta win this fast so I can take them off"
There are some old Olympic stories that are absolutely wild. The 1904 St. Louis marathon is my favorite
Nearly everything about the 1904 Olympics was a train wreck in one way or another and I’m waiting for a movie to be made about it
Can someone Tl;Dr for me 😂
30 people started the race, 14 finished. It was over 90 degrees, which is insanely dangerous, and the guy who won was being fed brandy and rat poison by his coach along the way. Run mostly on dirt roads and runners were found on the roadsides coughing up blood.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
The Olympics as a whole were just a sideshow for the World's Fair of 1904. The events were spread out over 4 or 5 months, but most took place over a few days in late August and early September, which of course is really fucking hot in St. Louis.
The US won about 80% of all of the medals
He also played for Pop Warner, injured Dwight D Eisenhower so bad he quit football, and joined the merchant marines in WW2 at the age of 60.
They really tried to fuck this guy over though.
His medals were taken away after it was discovered he played semi-professional baseball, since at the time there were some pretty stupid amateurism policies in the Olympics.
They were posthumously restored though, but dang.
I'm pretty sure the amateur policies lasted until fairly recently, which is why the miracle on ice featured college kids from the US going against the best Russian team ever assembled, which were technically amateurs because the Soviet Union technically employed the players in regular jobs.
There is an excellent book called ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall, that extols the benefits and history of barefoot running and its benefits. Apparently at one point in time the American Olympic track coach asked the shoe manufacturer supplying shoes to the athletes to stop coming up with improvements to the shoes and to actually scale them back to a more minimalist design for this reason.
I tried running barefoot on a track before.
Hurt like a bitch.
Tracks are a LOT harder than grass.
Generally speaking, running on a track (let alone road) barefoot is not really a thing you'd do except just to be extra.
Throw on minimal runners instead at the very least. (New Balance has had some really good ones)
Even as a track athlete, you'd be surprised how much of the edge a pair of extremely thin and hard spikes manage to take off of the impact.
Of course, but I actually did a fair bit of barefoot running in the forest behind my highschool when I ran cross country and track and I loved it. Once your feet got accustomed to it there was zero pain or feet problems, plus the added benefit of just feeling like a primal badass running through the woods barefoot.
How bad do you feel training endlessly for years for this event, show up with the best equipment of the time and this dude with no formal training for these events(rumor was he didn't practice much)and wearing fucking trash can shoes smokes you?
it was kinda a different time, most athletes at the time competed part time and had full time jobs as it didnt pay much
yeah i think most of them were part time athletes anyways. Read stories of things like NHL players smoking and drinking in the locker rooms and Olympic athletes being businessmen. I'd bet many had manual labor jobs and a good portion of staying in shape was more just the hard work they did on the job.
NHL players smoking and drinking in the locker rooms
The 1980s were a fun time, but I'm not sure what they have to do with Jim Thorpe.
Just pointing out even at the pro level it wasn't taken as serious as today's standards. It would be tough to find pictures of pro athletes smoking let alone during a competition today, and that is part of training. It was more meant to say the standards are way different and probably wouldn't be someone training all day like today endlessly for years.
My favorite Jim Thorpe story: Years later he became a film star. He was drinking a beer at the studio commissary and Errol Flynn starts fucking with him, calling him a phoney and loudly challenging him to fight. Finally Thorpe stood up and punched Flynn once, knocking him out. Then sat down and finished his beer. A minute later Flynn wakes up and stands. "Barkeep!" He says loudly, "A drink for my friend Jim Thorpe, a real man!"
Oh man, after reading the title I initially thought it was the person who stole his shoes that won the race.
Of course they wrongfully stripped him of his medals over some bullshit and he died long before the Olympic rule breaker guys decided to give them back.
Back in those days "professional athletes" were not allowed to compete in the Olympics. He'd played pro football so was stripped of his medals. Which is completely ridiculous and I would be surprised if the reason wasn't race-related.
It was race related. Just not sport related.
But he played baseball professionally when you’re technically supposed to be an amateur athlete so fuck him and his accomplishments /s
His face looks like it's hewn from stone. Would he make it in the NFL today?
As a member of his tribe (Sac & Fox) he was always mentioned by my mother when I was growing up. His story is tragic, he died poor and never got to see those medals returned to him.
When did Reddit just start shitting on anything positive that a human does. This comment section is atrocious.
Candidate for greatest athlete of all time. So many amazing accomplishments
I find that wearing two left shoes actually helps me run around the track faster.
Makes me wonder if he hadnt had his shoes stolen would he have preformed as well. Im guessing there was a lot of rage fueling that run.
He was a badass in just about everything he did.
Talk about rising above adversity.
There must have been some magic, in that old trash shoe he found, for when he placed it on his foot, He began to speed around!
Jimmy the fast man, The fastest guy around, Oh he'd run all day, And he'd play, One trash shoe, The other new, I'm gonna go win that race!
Imagine what he could have done if he had his shoes.
Just goes to show that the equipment doesn't make the athlete, the athlete is already great.
Earliest form of BEAST mode there was!
Evidence that in many cases, a true pro can use subpar equipment and still do great.
Don’t fuck with Jim
His 40 time is like 4'6 or something. Add this to the fact that he was also like 6'1 202 in 1914, just imagine that guy today. No difference, he's still probably the best athlete alive, destroying dudes as the biggest Running Back, any of us would have ever seen
He had that "just had my shoes stolen" rage fueling him
The gap between Thorpe and the others at the time is so absurd that it is kind of hard to comprehend. My favorite bit about him is that he was also the Intercollegiate Ballroom Dance Champion. Clearly the finest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. The only other person in the conversation is Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who was essentially the female version of Thorpe.
I just watched a show on Amazon that dug into Jim Thorpe's history and the town named after him. Very interesting stuff!
Jim Thorpe whooped two 5-star generals on the same day (November 9th, 1912, Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower, Army v Carlisle, 6–27).