NMAI: Four Native athletes competed in 1912 Olympics games

"Even the most casual sports observer has heard of Jim Thorpe. The Sac and Fox athlete who swept the Pentathlon and Decathlon at the 1912 Olympics earned awards, accolades, and die-hard fans in nearly every major sport in the early 20th century: baseball, football, basketball, track and field. But he wasn’t the only Native American athlete who sealed his reputation at the Stockholm games. Thorpe was joined by three Indian brethren from the U.S. whose influence, even 100 years later, continues to reverberate throughout in Indian Country and beyond: Hopi runner Louis Tewanima, Native Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, and Penobscot runner Andrew Sockalexis.

Like Thorpe, Tewanima entered competitive sports by way of the Carlisle Indian School in rural Pennsylvania—2,000 miles from his birthplace on the remote Hopi mesas of Arizona. In 1907, he was ordered by federal authorities to attend the government-run school after a long dispute with the tribe over the education of its children. Tewanima arrived at the Carlisle’s doorstep “virtually a prisoner of war,” the school’s superintendent Moses Friedman later put it.

At 110 pounds, the twenty-something’s scrawny physique belied his natural athleticism. According to legend, Tewanima learned enough English to tell the school’s famed coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, “Me run fast good.” After clocking his times, Warner needed no further convincing. Just a year later and with minimal training, Tewanima found himself competing at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London alongside fellow Carlisle Indian School teammate Frank Mt. Pleasant (Tuscarora). Competing against the world’s most rigorously trained runners, Tewanima placed 9th in the marathon with a time of 3:09:15. The performance of the virtually unknown athlete caught the eye of President Theodore Roosevelt, who reportedly remarked at a reception for the team, “This is one of the originals.”"

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Celebrating American Indian Athletes in the 1912 Olympics (NMAI Blog 7/27)

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