Follow The Republic:
From: J. Stuart Cundiff
Received: Aug. 17
I am American. Watching the recent Olympics, my chest would swell with pride and my eyes got a little misty when one of our fine athletes would step to the podium, receive their medal, the abbreviated version of the national anthem was played and Old Glory would rise above the arena.
I do, however need to take exception to one phrase that I heard over and over: “Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian.” I admire and respect Michael Phelps, but in reality what does he do ? He swims. Granted, he swims in such a way that would make some fish envious. But other than that, what does he do? Does he run? No. Does he jump (hurdles, long jump, high jump, pole vault)? No. Does he throw anything (discus, hammer, javelin)? No. He swims. Period.
Consider Jim Thorpe of the 1912 summer Olympics played 100 years ago in Stockholm, Sweden. In those games, Thorpe won gold in both the pentathlon and the decathlon. He also competed in the long jump (seventh) and high jump (fourth). He also played in one of the two exhibition baseball games.
In 1907, while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pa., he was walking across the campus in street clothes (which in that day meant suit and tie) when he saw the varsity track and field team practicing. He did an impromptu 5-foot-9 high jump! From that time until the 1912 Olympics he participated in football (in 1911 he scored all of the team’s points: four field goals and one touchdown for 18 points against a powerful Harvard team, beating them 18-15.); baseball; lacrosse and even ballroom dancing! In 1911 he won the Intercollegiate Ballroom Dancing Championship.
In the 1912 Olympics, the favorite to win was a local hero, Hugo Wieslander. Thorpe won the decathlon, beating
Wieslander by 700 points. To make this even more remarkable, he ran the events in mismatched shoes. Someone stole his shoes before the competition began. Thorpe found a pair of shoes in the trash bin, but one was two sizes larger than the other. He solved that problem by wearing the right one over his bare foot and the left one with two socks, to compensate for the size difference.
King Gustav of Sweden presented the gold medals to Thorpe, along with two challenge medals and announced: “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” to which Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King.”
It’s hard to believe in this day when the athletes are paid to win medals and rewarded with lucrative endorsement contracts, but a year after the Olympics Thorpe was stripped of his medals because he, like so many other college students, had played semi-pro baseball during the summers. Many of them used false names; he never did. The IOC stripped him and tried to award the medals to the silver and bronze medal winners. They refused. The medals were put in a museum but were later stolen and have never been accounted for.
Following the Olympics Thorpe played professional football and baseball. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, one of the original 17 to be so honored. In 1950, in an Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters, he was voted the “greatest athlete” of the first half of the 20th century. In a recent poll by ABC Sports, Thorpe was voted the “Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” out of the final 15, which included Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Wayne Gretzky, Jack Nicklaus and Michael Jordan.
There is more, oh so much more, but as Casey Stengel once said, “You can look it up!”
Stuart Cundiff is a Columbus resident, Kentucky native and longtime fan of the Olympics.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.