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Century ago, Jim Thorpe was 'Greatest Athlete'

  • AL zagofsky/special to the times news The Edmond Shumpert bronze statue at the Jim Thorpe Memorial Park.
    AL zagofsky/special to the times news The Edmond Shumpert bronze statue at the Jim Thorpe Memorial Park.
Published January 07. 2012 09:02AM

A century ago, in 1912, King Gustav V of Sweden awarded Olympic gold medals to Jim Thorpe and proclaimed, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world."

As winner of the decathlon and pentathlon, Jim Thorpe was the star of the 1912 Summer Olympics. Officially known as the Games of the V Olympiad, the games were held in Stockholm, Sweden between May 5 and July 27, 1912. Twenty-eight nations and 2,407 competitors competed in 102 events in 14 sports.

The International Olympic Committee organized the modern Summer Olympic Games in 1896, holding its first four events in: Athens - 1896, Paris - 1900, St. Louis 1904, and London in 1908, before coming to Stockholm in 1912.

The decathlon, a competition involving ten track and field events was debuted at the 1904 Olympics, and was being held for the second time at the 1912 Olympics.

For the 1912 Olympics, the pentathlon, an ancient five-event competition, had been reconstructed into two formats. In previous Olympics, the pentathlon consisted of five events modeled after the skills required of the Hellenistic soldier: the long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, foot race, and wrestling.

At the 1912 Olympics, two new variations of the pentathlon were introduced: the modern pentathlon and the classic pentathlon. The modern pentathlon was modeled after the skills required of the 19th century soldier: pistol shooting, épée fencing, swimming, horse jumping, and cross-country running.

The classic pentathlon included: the the long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, 200-meter and 1500-meter foot races. The classic pentathlon was discontinued after the 1924 Olympics. The modern pentathlon may be discontinued after the 2012 Olympics.

Jim Thorpe won both the decathlon and the classic pentathlon.

In the decathlon, Thorpe placed first in the shot put, high jump, hurdles, and 1500-meter; third in the discus, pole vault, 100-meter and long jump; and fourth in the 400-meter and javelin. He finished with 8413 points, nearly 700 points ahead of the next closest contestant, setting a record that, had it not been removed from the record books, would have lasted for two decades.

The 1912 Olympics was the last Olympics to issue solid gold medals. Ironically, Thorpe would not possess those solid gold medals very long. Within a year, following a report that he played professional baseball, the IOC asked that his medals be returned. In 1983, commemorative medals were posthumously presented to Thorpe's children-the original medals having been stolen and never recovered.

Some interesting facts from the 1912 Olympics:

• Women's events in swimming and diving were introduced.

• Host country Sweden refused to allow boxing events.

• It was the first time electric timing devices were used In athletics.

• The games were the first to have art competitions-which lasted until the 1948 Olympics. During this interval, two men won both Olympic athletic and artistic competitions.

• The longest time to complete an Olympic marathon went to Kanakuri Shiz_, a Japanese marathon runner who never completed the 1912 marathon. He lost consciousness from the heat, left the race, and returned to Japan without notifying race officials. Over half a century later, he completed the race. His unofficial time was 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.

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