Olympics Flashback: Jim Thorpe won two Gold medals with shoes someone had thrown in the trash
Jim Thorpe grew up with adversity. As a Native American in the early 1900’s, he faced racial prejudice and a difficult upbringing. His twin brother died at age 9. His mother and then father died just a few years later. He became an orphan.
So when somebody stole his shoes…
So when somebody stole his shoes right before he was set to compete in the Olympics, it was probably no big deal to Jim. He simply put on two other shoes that someone had tossed in a trash can. They were different sizes, though, so he had to wear extra socks on one foot to even them out.
He went on to win two Gold medals, but that only touches the surface of what he did in those games. He won gold in the (now defunct) pentathlon, winning four of the five events (long jump, discus throw, sprint, and wrestling). The one event he didn’t win was the javelin. He’s never competed in that event for the Olympics. He finished third in the world.
He’d actually tried to throw the javelin once before, in the Olympic trials. At the time, he didn’t know that he could throw it with a running start. He threw it standing still, and placed second.
Back at the Olympics, he also took part in the grueling decathlon. To give you an idea of how great of an athlete he was, Thorpe finished first in four events (shot put, high jump, 110 meter hurdles, and 1,500 meters.) He finished third in four other events and 4th in two more.
After the Olympics…
Shortly after the Olympics, he broke the Amateur Athletic Union’s All-Around Championship record by winning 7 of 10 events outright and finishing second in the 3 others that make up the decathlon.
Later, a newspaper reported Thorpe had been paid to play minor league baseball in 1090 and 1910. He was stripped of his amateur status and forced to return the Gold medals. His amazing performance was erased from the Olympic record books. 70 years later, he was awarded replica Gold medals posthumously. But his records still don’t appear in the Olympic annals.
Thorpe, it seemed, could play any sport
Thorpe would amass an amazing professional athletic career, playing baseball with the National League championship NY Giants in 1913 and continuing to play professional baseball until 1922. He batted a career-best .327 in his final season.
Thorpe also played professional football, winning championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. He played for the Canton Bulldogs, one of the 14 teams that would become the National Football League.
He also played professional basketball, barnstorming the country with a group of other Native Americans in 1926.
It’s hard to imagine now that pro athletes get paid millions of dollars just to wear a particular brand of shoes. For Jim Thorpe, it didn’t matter what kind he wore.