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On This Day: Jim Thorpe's Pentathlon Conquest



July 7, 1912 was a day filled with suspense and legendary achievements. The Summer Olympics were held in Stockholm, Sweden that summer and many in attendance had no idea of the mysterious American that warmed up on the track before them. Perhaps some had heard of his achievements on the gridiron at the Carlisle Indian School, earning All-American honors just the year before and soon to earn it again months after the Games of the V Olympiad concluded. By the end of that day alone, he would live up to the name his mother had given him on the Indian reservation at his birth: Wa-Tho-Huk or "bright path". Still, the world would come to know him simply as Jim Thorpe.


He was scheduled to compete in both the pentathlon and the decathlon, both filled with energy-sapping events that were designed to test the guile and determination of the world's best athletes. On this date, 111 years ago, Jim Thorpe began his journey into global immortality.


In front of thousands of strangers from around the globe, Thorpe zoomed down the track for the 200-meter sprint in 22.9 seconds to claim first place. Next, he finished first in the discus, throwing it 35.57 feet, and in the 1,500 meters, running it in 4:44.8 minutes. His tremendous day began to trail off with a third place finish in the javelin throw and not even medaling in the high jump (fourth place) and the long jump (seventh place). After scoring 4,041.53 points, Jim Thorpe won the pentathlon and later claimed the decathlon with a record-setting 8412.955 points that stood unbroken for the next 36 years.



But legendary moments don't always shield our heroes from the cruel twists of fate that seem to follow the greatest. A year after returning home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the humble superstar from the Carlisle Indian School would be stripped of his Olympic gold medals after he played in some minor league baseball games, therefore destroying the amateur status that the Olympics were based on at the time.


Although many stars in his position did the same thing, Jim Thorpe was naive and used his real name, making it easy for the IOC to call him out for his indiscretions. Although his gold medals would be returned to his family in 1982, it was 29 years after his death from a heart attack.

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