In 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
I 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
Mali gained its independence from France in 1960 – four years later it joined the Olympic community at the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo. The weirdly-shaped landlocked nation of West Africa had very little experience in or resources applied to organized sports. And yet, Mali sent three officials and two athletes to join the party.
22-year old Dramane Sereme was one of the two. A medical student in East Germany, Sereme was clearly considered a good athlete. But a decathlete? The decathlon is considered the most grueling of the athletic competitions, and the winner is crowned the “World’s Greatest Athlete”.
Well, in the first of the ten disciplines, Sereme finished the 100 meters race in 11.1 seconds, beating out athletes from Germany, the US and Canada. He was only 0.1 seconds behind the favored C. K. Yang of Taiwan, a close friend of Rafer Johnson, the man won the decathlon in Rome just ahead of Yang.
Next came the long jump, and Dramane must have leveraged his sprinter’s speed for a decent 6.51 meter leap, which dropped him to only 15th of 22. But reality must have begun to weigh heavily,
From Melbourne in 1956 to Mexico City in 1968, Al Oerter was one of the most dominant performers in any sport, winning gold and breaking Olympic records in four successive Summer Games. In 1964, he had to overcome tremendous pain to win. As he was once quoted as saying, “I slipped one day in the wet weather, and I tore a fairly good portion of my rib cage. Given any other environment, I would have stopped. I don’t what it was. But I can remember saying ‘These are the Olympic Games and you’d die for them.’ I really felt that at that moment. I was there and I was going to do my best.”
Australian, Warwick Selvey also competed in the discus throw and shot put in Rome in 1960, as well as in the discus in Tokyo in 1964. Selvey told me that by studying a slow motion series of 20 or so frames of a single throw by Oerter, Selvey was able to reproduce his technique, with the help of his coach Alan Barlow in Melbourne.
“Al crouched close to the ground, lower than most men, so the drive through his legs was greater than others, creating a longer arm pull on the discus,” explained Selvey, who won 18 Australian Championships in athletic events. “When he did his turns in the discus ring, he transferred his weight from his left leg at the rear of the ring to the right leg in
So thought French track star, Michel Jazy. In 1964, when all one might hear and read about is whether the US or USSR would dominate in the medals race, Jazy dreamed of a new power, one formed of the united states of Europe, a vision hatched from the ruins of World War II, when leaders looked for ways to avoid all together the devastation of extreme nationalism.
Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed The Treaty
of Rome which established the European Economic Community in 1957. Jazy extended that thinking, and imagined a time when Europe would be the dominant player in the grandest of the global sporting competitions.
Sports Illustrated described this point in their October 5, 1964 issue.
Michel Jazy, the French distance runner, could see medals practically pouring from heaven as he explained his enthusiastic endorsement of a proposal that a European juggernaut be formed from countries in the Common Market, ostensibly to challenge Russia and the U.S. for team points—points that are unofficial and contrary to the best Olympic intentions. “A European team,” said Jazy, “would be world-beaters!”
Tyson Gay, a member of the 4X100 US men’s relay team, had returned his silver medal from the 2012 London Summer Games a year ago. And yet, two years later, the cloud from his drug-enhanced achievement continued to hang over the rest of his teammates. Yesterday, the hammer came down from the International Olympic Committee and the entire US 4×100 relay team were stripped of their silver medals.
As this NY Times article reported, there is a silver lining, at least for Trinidad and Tobago men’s 4X100 team, which could eventually be recognized as second place winners, while France’s team could end up with bronze.
Ben Johnson: The Canadian sprinter set the world record in the 100 meter race in Seoul in 1988, but only 3 days later failed a drug test for the steroid, Stanozolol, and was forced to surrender his gold medal.
Andreea Raducan: The Romanian gymnast won two gold medals as well as silver in various individual and team events in the Sydney Games in 2000, but gave them up after testing positive for pseudoephedrine.
Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall: The Swedish pentathlete was found to have consumed alcohol – two beers to be exact – which was classified as a drug at the time in 1968. Though Sweden won a medal for the Men’s Pentathlete Team competition in Mexico City, they had to return their medals.
Marion Jones: The American sprinter was found to have taken steroids, resulting of being stripped of 6 Olympic medals won at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
Jim Thorpe: The star of the Stockholm Games in 1912, Thorpe was disqualified and relieved of his gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. His crime? He had played professional baseball, earning a pittance to play.
No one had soared higher than Washington native, Brian Sternberg, pole vaulting to a world record height of 16ft 8 inches (5.08 m) on June 7, 1963. A sure lock to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Sternberg’s plan for glory went awry. As part of his training, Sternberg was working out on a routine technique on the trampouline, one he had done many times before. This time he landed awkwardly on his neck, resulting in paralysis and leaving him a quadriplegic.
Texan, Fred Hansen eventually went on win the gold medal in pole vaulting in Tokyo, jumping only three quarters of an inch higher than Sternberg’s best jump. Not only were he and his fellow pole vaulting teammates beneficiaries from a special fund of $2,500 contributed by the Washington Athletic Club in Sternberg’s honor, which paid for their expenses to Tokyo, Hansen said he learned how to be a better pole vaulter from Sternberg. “Brian helped me out with several things I was
Wilma 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,