On this day in 1912, Jim Thorpe wins the pentathlon at the fifth modern Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. At the time, Thorpe, a Native American who attended Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian School, was only beginning to establish his reputation as the greatest all-around athlete in the world.
Born May 28, 1887, in Prague, Oklahoma, on a Sac-and-Fox Indian reservation, James Francis Thorpe was given the name Wa-Ho-Thuck by his mother, meaning “bright path.” In 1908, Thorpe matriculated at the Carlisle Indian School, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and joined the school’s track team. Two years later, Thorpe tried out for the Carlisle football team, coached by the legendary Pop Warner. At one practice, Warner challenged the inexperienced Thorpe to run the ball against the entire Carlisle team. Thorpe dodged, weaved and out-ran all 30 of the Carlisle players to score a touchdown. Warner was incredulous and asked Thorpe to do it again. Thorpe did and then joined the team as a running back. He was named an All-American in 1911 and 1912.
In the spring of 1912, Thorpe returned his focus to track to train for that summer’s Olympics. On July 7, competing against the best athletes in the world in the Olympic pentathlon, Thorpe placed first in the broad jump, 200-meter sprint, discuss throw and the 1,500 meters, and third in the javelin throw to win the gold easily. Later in the day, Thorpe failed to medal in the high jump and long jump competitions, placing fourth and seventh, respectively. His second medal of the games would come in the decathlon, which he won nearly as easily as he had won the pentathlon, breaking the world record in the event. At the closing ceremonies, where the medals were presented, Thorpe was introduced to King Gustaf V of Sweden. According to legend, the king said, while shaking Thorpe’s hand, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world,” to which Thorpe replied “Thanks, king.”