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Since I don’t own a TV and haven’t been watching the Olympics, I don’t know if the coverage has included segments about Jim Thorpe, the star of the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden. In a recent poll by ABC sports, Thorpe was voted the greatest athlete of the 20th century (besting Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Jordan).

Of Irish, French, and Native American ancestry, Thorpe was born in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1888 and attended high school at the Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Indian Industrial School, where he excelled in baseball, football, lacrosse, track and field, and even ballroom dancing.

At the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathalon — but a year later the Olympics committee stripped him of his records and medals. The committee contended that Thorpe was not qualified to compete as an amateur because he’d earned a few dollars per game when playing baseball during summers as a youth. After many attempts by many individuals, Thorpe’s Olympics records were reinstated in 1982 and his children were awarded commemorative medals (the originals were stolen from museums).

I first learned about Thorpe when viewing Jim Thorpe All American, the 1951 biopic starring Burt Lancaster. It’s a tearjerker, but enjoyable and elevating in its way. Find out more about the movie here.

I have avoided using the “R” word in this article — but you have to wonder if a European American would have been so treated in the wide, wide world of sports, even in 1912.

Note on the above photo: On the day Thorpe competed in the decathalon, someone stole his shoes. At the last minute, he found two worn-out shoes in a trash bin — and won a gold medal wearing the mismatched shoes, one of which was too large and required extra socks.