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In Oklahoma history, many from humble beginnings achieve true greatness. Winning Olympic gold medals was just one part of Jim Thorpe’s multi-sport career but they brought worldwide acclaim to Wa-Tho-Huk.

DYK JimThorpe

Jim Thorpe, Oklahoma Athlete

“Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” King Gustav V of Sweden said to Jim Thorpe after he won in the decathlon and pentathlon at the Summer Olympics in 1912. Thorpe, an Oklahoman, was the first Native American to win a gold medal for his home country. He was considered by many to have been the greatest all-around athlete of the twentieth century.

James Francis Thorpe was born on May 28, 1887, in a one-room cabin on Sac and Fox land near Prague. His mother, Charlotte Vieux, was a Potawatomi Indian and descendant of the last great Sac and Fox Chief Black Hawk. Chief Black Hawk was known as a warrior and athlete. Thorpe’s Indian name was Wa-Tho-Huk, which translates to “Bright Path.” This name foreshadowed his career in sports.

By age three, Thorpe could ride horses and swim. Soon, he learned to hunt and trap. It could have been on long trips through Indian Territory that he developed his legendary fortitude. When he was six, he and his twin brother, Charlie, began attending the Sac and Fox boarding school near Tecumseh. When the twins were nine, Charlie became sick and died. Unaccustomed to solitude, Jim Thorpe ran the 23 miles back home. He vowed not to return to school without his brother. However, his father was determined that this son would get an education. Young Jim was sent to a vocational school for Native Americans, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.

Here his inimitable athletic prowess developed. After watching a track-and-field practice session on campus, Jim decided to join them. Still wearing his work clothes, he launched himself over five feet, nine inch bar, breaking the school record. Not surprisingly, the track and football coach, Glenn S. “Pop” Warner, asked him to join the track team. In 1907, Thorpe became not only the star of the track program, but he began excelling in baseball, hockey, football, lacrosse, and even ballroom dancing.

Thorpe was named to the U.S. team for the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. He erupted from the gate by winning four of five events to claim the gold medal in the pentathlon. A week later he overwhelmed the field in the decathlon. He won the high jump, the 110-meter hurdles, and the 1,500-meter despite competing in a pair of mismatched shoes. During the closing ceremonies, King Gustav V declared Thorpe to be the greatest athlete in the world. The monarch presented Thorpe with several gifts, including one from Czar Nicholas of Russia: a silver, 30-pound likeness of a Viking ship. The ship was lined with gold and contained precious jewels.

This passage is from our Success with OAS series. If students can answer the following questions, they may be using affixes, roots and stems to help define complex words as in Standard 4 of the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS).

  1.  In paragraph 1, the word pentathlon means

    A         a sport with four different events.

    B         a sport with five different events.

    C         a team of four people.

    D         a team of five people.

  2. In paragraph 4, the word inimitable means

    A         the model, or leader, for everyone to follow.

    B         something that comes easily.

    C         too fast to be caught.

    D         cannot be imitated; one of a kind.

Stay tuned for more selections about Oklahoma’s past and present and opportunities for student success with OAS!

- Jan Barrick, CEO, Alpha Plus Educational Systems

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