The Amazing Jim ThorpeIn a time of social media hyperbole, where lists tell us who or what is number 1, it may be hard to compare any athlete with James Francis “Jim” Thorpe, or as he was known by his Native American friends, Wa-Tho-Huk.

Jim Thorpe won gold in both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, which means he could run, jump and throw better than almost anyone else in the world.

And that’s not all.

He played baseball for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves. He played basketball for the “World Famous Indians”, a travelling basketball team. And he played football for the Canton Bulldogs, which won championships in the American Professional Football Association, a precursor to the NFL.

Thorpe suffered from alcoholism, struggled in poverty after the Great Depression, and passed away broke in California. And that’s when his life really got interesting.

Thorpe was brought back to his birth place in Shawnee, Oklahoma, lying in state. Somehow, Thorpe’s third wife, Patricia, stole the body and shipped it to Pennsylvania. Neither Thorpe or his wife had any connection to Pennsylvania. But the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk smelled a business opportunity. They bought

Bruce and Caitlyn_cover to coverI watched the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. I remember watching Nadia Comaneci and her perfect 10s. I remember the Japanese gymnast (Shun Fujimoto) who helped his team to gold dismounting from the rings on a broken right knee. And I remember Bruce Jenner being crowned the World’s Greatest Athlete in the decathlon competition.

Bruce was the epitome of the all-American hero. He appeared countless times on Wheaties. (Who the heck eats Wheaties, I have no idea.) He was the 70’s platonic image of masculinity. For so many Americans, he was, The Man. And yet, as he told Sawyer in April, “Bruce – always telling a lie. He’s lived a lie his whole life about who he is. I can’t do that any longer.”

From 17 million viewers in a ground-breaking interview with Diane Sawyer to the cover of Vanity Fair, Bruce, now Caitlyn Jenner, has become the center of attention again, over 40 years later. As The New York Times reports, “…the physical copy of the (Vanity Fair) magazine with

Click on link for touching video.
Click on photo for touching video from The New York Times.

We watch world-class athletes with amazement, the effortlessness with which they achieve feats of strength and speed and accuracy beyond the average Joe. And yet, in truth, tremendous effort, and risk, go into the making of an Olympic champion. Paralyzed from the neck down, Laís Souza can no longer do the flips, twirls and leaps made natural from years of training as a gymnast. A two-time Olympian from Brazil, Souza was 25 and no longer able to grow in her discipline. Someone suggested that she try aerial skiing as a way to feed her thirst for competition, and aim for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. But Souza’s progress was so good, she actually qualified for Sochi in 2014, only a week before the start of the Games.

Laís Souza
Laís Souza

As a reward, she and her coach decided to hit the slopes for a celebratory run. And in an instant, she was on her back. And from that point on, unable to move, let alone dream of Olympic glory. “Of course I cry sometimes. Sometimes

Sandra Bezic on the cover of Asahi Graf, February 18, 1972
Sandra Bezic on the cover of Asahi Graf, February 18, 1972

“With fame, you know, you can read about yourself, somebody else’s ideas about you, but what’s important is how you feel about yourself – for survival and living day to day with what comes up.”

So said Marilyn Monroe, that candle in the wind.

Sandra Bezic was 15 years old when she competed in the pairs figure skating competition at the Sapporo Olympic Games in 1972. Sandra and her brother Val finished ninth, and were in a frame of mind in which winning a medal was out of the question, which meant they could enjoy their lives after the competition.

Their parents decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a country – Japan – they may never come back to, so before the 2-week competition ended, they went on a family holiday to Tokyo and Kyoto.

And one day, while walking along the streets of Kyoto, the ancient seat of government, they came upon a magazine rack at a shop that had “rows and rows of me” – a magazine with a cover graced by the youthful face of the figure skater from Canada. “We bought up a whole bunch of copies,” Bezic told me, “and just laughed and laughed.”

But Bezic was not a candle in the wind. She had a plan post-Olympics. She found a niche as a choreographer for figure skating long before specialists were a part of a coach’s toolkit in shaping future Olympians. Such skaters as Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tara Lipinski had routines designed by Bezic.

Bezic went on to become a commentator for NBC during

Mako Sakamoto and Roy_ 1I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Olympians from the 1964 Summer Olympics, over the phone, but yesterday I met in person with my very first oversees interviewee, Mr Makoto Sakamoto. Mako-san was visiting Tokyo, and it was a tremendous honor to meet the highest scoring performer on the US Men’s Gymnastics team in 1964.

Born in bombed-out Tokyo Japan, Mako-san left for the United States with his family when he was 7. At the age of 16, he got his US citizenship. At the age of 17, he was recognized as the country’s best gymnast, and represented America in the country of his birth, competing with the very best in the world, finishing 20th overall in the individual competition.

The world of men’s gymnastics at that time was dominated by countries like Japan, USSR,

31 JUL 1984:  THE UNITED STATES TEAM CELEBRATE AFTER RECEIVING THEIR GOLD MEDALS FOR THEIR VICTORY IN THE MENS TEAM GYMNASTICS COMPETITION AT THE 1984 LOS ANGELES OLYMPICS. THE USA TEAM COMPRISES PETER VIDMAR, BART CONNER, MITCHELL GAYLORD, TIMOTHY DAGGETT, JAMES HARTUNG AND SCOTT JOHNSON.
31 JUL 1984: THE UNITED STATES TEAM CELEBRATE AFTER RECEIVING THEIR GOLD MEDALS FOR THEIR VICTORY IN THE MENS TEAM GYMNASTICS COMPETITION AT THE 1984 LOS ANGELES OLYMPICS. THE USA TEAM COMPRISES PETER VIDMAR, BART CONNER, MITCHELL GAYLORD, TIMOTHY DAGGETT, JAMES HARTUNG AND SCOTT JOHNSON.
Yugoslavia and Italy. The US was competitive, but not considered a threat.

But in 1984, a team whose head coach was Melbourne and Rome Olympian, Abie Grossfeld,

1980 Mockba Olympics t shirtHow many Americans had a 1980 Moscow Olympics T-shirt? Not many I assure you. My father, who worked for NBC, gave this t-shirt to me, which I treasured. This picture is me 9 years later in Tokyo, sporting the latest in boycott fashion. Note the NBC logo, the ugly one that replaced the beloved technicolor peacock.

wilma_rudolphWilma Rudolph was one of the biggest stars of the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, surprising the world by becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympic Games. A member of the famed Tennessee State Tigerbelles, she talks in the October 1, 1964 article below of how important it was for the women’s team in Japan to handle the pressure. My understanding is that Rudolph was one of the most care-free athletes in Rome, taking naps right before competitions, seeming to run without a worry in the world.

And while her compatriots in women’s track did not equal Rudolph’s accomplishments in Rome, Wyomia Tyus took gold in the 100 meters,