Oklahoma’s greatest athlete reinstated in Olympics history
Aside from oil and gas, one of Oklahoma’s biggest exports has been great athletes since it attained statehood in 1907. When you talk about the history of sports in the big pattern of the Sooner State, many names come up.
Gold medalist Shannon Miller, famed Yankee Mickey Mantle, SWOK’s own Darrell Royal and even Lawton’s NFL Hall of Famer Will Shields, but one name stands above all… Jim Thorpe.
If you grew up in Oklahoma, you’ve probably heard the famous stories of Jim Thorpe and his conquest of adversity. If not, here it is.
Jim Thorpe was born in 1887 near where today’s Prague, Oklahoma is located. The 1880s were a tumultuous time for Native Americans in this country. Health and welfare were not priorities in Indian Territory, he lost his mother early in life. Worse still, America was still determined to erase the native culture of this land from existence through the Native American boarding school systemyet Jim seized the opportunity to overcome life’s adversity.
Like many young Native Americans of the time, Jim continually ran away from the area schools he was forced to attend, driven back by frustration. His last tour was a trip to a boarding house and an industrial school in Pennsylvania. With nowhere to go, he stayed.
From an early age, it was clear that Jim Thorpe was a gifted athlete, but it wasn’t until he landed in Pennsylvania that his talent really shined. Famous football coach and icon Glenn “Pop” Warner took him under his wing to develop and hone his abilities.
Yes… LA Pop Warner.
Jim was the kind of talent who could step out of the classroom and instantly compete with the best without a warm-up or stretch. Just pure dominance. He competed with outstanding results in football, baseball, lacrosse, track and field, high jump, and more. Olympic Games.
Jim arrived in Stockholm, Sweden for the 1912 Summer Olympics as an athletics specialist, ready to compete in the pentathlon (five events) and decathlon (ten events). It was then that Jim Thorpe became a sports legend.
There’s a famous photo to accompany a story of shenanigans. While Jim Thorpe was not famous at the time, his competitors were genuinely worried about the newcomer who so casually and effortlessly earned a trip to the Olympics. Race probably had something to do with it too, but that’s just a guess.
Jim quickly gained attention in Olympic media coverage for his athletic prowess. In 1912 he was as fast as today’s Usain Bolt and broke records in other events like the high jump, long jump, pole vault and hurdles.
As the Olympics progress, you don’t need to win all of your pentathlon/decathlon events, you just need to earn the most points to win the gold medal. After dominating the pentathlon, in order to get ahead of the man dominating the track and field events, someone stole Jim’s running shoes during the decathlon.
Not wanting to miss his chance to show the world what he was made of, Jim pulled a random shoe out of a trash can and found another. Doing what champions do, he put them on and then won his gold medal wearing them. Seen below.
Like all great tales of man’s triumph over adversity, Jim Thorpe quickly became a global sports celebrity, but the notoriety didn’t last long.
As 1912 spilled over into 1913, a story swept across the country on the newspaper’s wire of how Jim Thorpe had played minor league baseball before his Olympic performance. When the Olympic committee heard about it, they immediately stripped him of his two gold medals under the pretext that he had been a paid, therefore “professional” athlete.
The same newspapers that brought down Oklahoma’s greatest athlete went on to defend Thorpe. It was a very common practice among Olympians at the time. Most, if not all, supplemented their income by playing sports under pseudonyms. It’s crazy how different times were back then, isn’t it? Nowadays, athletes are paid to train and swim in pools full of support money, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in 1913.
Almost seventy years later, long after Jim Thorpe’s death, the International Olympic Committee reviewed Jim’s story and decided it was unfair. They restored him as co-champion in 1982. Forty years later, the IOC finally corrected history by reinstating Jim Thorpe as the sole and legitimate gold medalist in the 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon in 2022.
Throughout his athletic exploits, Jim Thorpe remains a two-time All-American in college football, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player and former president of the APFA league (NFL), professional baseball player of the MLB.
He was voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century, the third greatest of the entire century just behind Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth. He has appeared on U.S. currency and USPS stamps, inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame, and is now again confirmed as an Olympic gold medalist.
Take a peek inside this epic 1960s retro motel in Oklahoma!
Top Mispronounced Cities That Show You’re Not From Oklahoma
Just for fun, try pronouncing these city names before moving on to phonetics…
Lawton’s Worst Roads As Voted By You
Roads have always been a hot topic in Lawton. The local government always promises to fix them when an election is at stake, but the improvements never come. It’s more about the same crumbling roads and band-aid patches due to what the city describes as “too little funding,” even as we continually vote for bonds to address these issues.
Here are the worst commonly used roads in Lawton, as voted by you.