Sports

Column: Jim Thorpe -- the greatest Olympic athlete in history





The Real All-Americans by Sally Jekins "Usain Bolt’s frisky relationship with Olympic solemnity is some of the best entertainment at the London Games. But when it comes to ranking the greatest Olympians ever, Bolt is nowhere near the top of the list. The worship Bolt shouts for belongs more rightly to a 100-year-old dead man who hardly ever spoke up for himself, Jim Thorpe.

His performance in the 1912 Stockholm Games has the quality of footprints disappearing in the sand thanks to the International Olympic Committee. It stripped Thorpe of his victories in the now-obsolete pentathlon (five track and field events in a single day) and decathlon for committing the sin of professionalism, when it was discovered he played minor league baseball in Rocky Mount. What survives are some cool gray numbers marked by asterisks, and some half truths.

It’s hard to envision what Thorpe did, as long as you think of think of him as a long-dead ghost, or a quaint historical photo. When you think of him you have to think of someone alive. As alive as, say, Bolt. When you think of Thorpe, think of him that way. Or think of Bo Jackson, or Deion Sanders — only stronger.

If you want to bask in glory, bask in this: Thorpe competed in 15 events — and won eight of them — despite losing his track shoes and competing in a mismatched pair, running on a cinder track in a slogging rain. He still turned in a time of 11.2 seconds in the 100-meter dash, which wouldn’t be equaled until 1948."

Get the Story:
Sally Jenkins: Greatest Olympic athlete? Jim Thorpe, not Usain Bolt (The Washington Post 8/11)