Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Jim Thorpe was busy gaining his reputation as an all-round sportsman. Before trying his hand professionally at baseball, basketball and American football, Thorpe was a successful Olympian. During the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden, he took home the gold for the pentathlon and decathlon events – a remarkable achievement in and of itself. But what’s more amazing is just how he won this latter competition.
Back in 1912 the pentathlon and decathlon were relatively unfamiliar disciplines. They consisted of five and ten different sports respectively, ranging from running to throwing the javelin. Only the most adaptable athletes are suited to such an event. And so who better to represent the United States than Jim Thorpe?
After his death in 1953, the New York Times newspaper published Thorpe’s obituary. Here, the paper pointed out that he’d been known to run 100 yards in just 10 seconds, whereas he could do a mile in 4 minutes and 35 seconds. He could also apparently launch a javelin 163 feet and pole vault to a height of 11 feet.
This versatility ensured that Thorpe was the perfect American choice for the pentathlon and decathlon during the 1912 Olympics. Ultimately, he triumphed in both events – making him the first ever Native American gold medallist. But before the one of the decathlon events took place, though, he had a problem to overcome. Somebody had apparently swiped his running shoes.
To help, one of the athlete’s sporting colleagues apparently allowed Thorpe to borrow a shoe. But for his other foot, he supposedly had to use a shoe he discovered in some trash. And if things weren’t bad enough, one of his makeshift shoes was too large – so he wore additional socks. His subsequent look wasn’t exactly professional that day. Yet he nonetheless managed to achieve sporting greatness by winning, and setting a record score to boot.