Although half Native American and half European, Jim Thorpe was raised in the Sac and Fox nation of Oklahoma and considered himself thoroughly Indian.
While at Indian vocational college he joined the football team and, despite having no prior experience, immediately catapulted his school to national fame with upsetting wins against Harvard and Army, resulting in his team clinching the National Collegiate Championship title. Consequently, Thorpe was awarded the high honor of All-American in both 1911 and 1912.
President Dwight Eisenhower, who played against Thorpe, later said, “There are some people who are supremely endowed. He (Jim Thorpe) never practiced in his life and he could do anything better than any other player I ever saw.”
At the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, King Gustav V of Sweden presented awards to the dual gold medalist and stated. “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” to which Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King.”
Thorpe – the poor Indian kid from Oklahoma – was an American hero and a national sensation. He continued to compete in sporting events and win with seemingly ease. After breaking the All-Around Championship record set by five-time Olympic gold medalist Martin Sheridan, Sheridan congratulated Thorpe and said, “You’re a great man. I never expect tolook upon a finer athlete.” He then told a reporter from the New York World, “Thorpe is the greatest athlete that has ever lived.”
As a professional Thorpe went on to play baseball for the New York Giants and Boston Braves, and football for the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians, among others. At the end of his career he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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