- Motolotov cocktail thrown a Brooklyn mini-mart
- 3 Americans dead in shooting at Kabul hospital by Afghan guard
- Running on empty: EPA slashes biofuel goals because of ethanol shortage
- ‘Gay Jeans’ that fade into rainbow-colored denim created
- Divided court strikes down big porn award
- Jimmy Carter: Don’t hurt Russian people with sanctions
- Oldest ex-MLB player dies in Cuba, 2 days shy of 103rd birthday
- ‘Top Gun’ for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy’s approval
- Bill Clinton to endorse Charlie Rangel for re-election
- Pfc. Bradley Manning is now Pfc. Chelsea Manning: Court says so
Jim Thorpe: Oral history project in 1960s becomes quest to right wrong
The year was 1967, and 23-year-old Syracuse University student Bob Wheeler had been hitchhiking across the country, conducting hundreds of interviews for his master’s thesis, an oral history of legendary American Indian athlete and Olympian Jim Thorpe.
Armed with a bulky, reel-to-reel tape recorder, Mr. Wheeler had met with Thorpe’s widow. He’d visited former President Eisenhower, who as an Army cadet played against Thorpe in a 1912 college football game.
Then the interviewer ran into a problem. He was outside the MGM Studios lot in Culver City, Calif., pleading with a security guard. He was determined to speak with Burt Lancaster, who had portrayed Thorpe in a film; the guard was determined to remove the unexpected visitor from the premises.
“One call,” Mr. Wheeler said. “Let me make one call to his office.”
The guard relented. The student picked up a phone and soon found himself in Lancaster’s office, surrounded by Telly Savalas, Ossie Davis and Shelley Winters.
Decades later, Mr. Wheeler can relate. The 68-year-old author of “Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete” will be speaking about Thorpe on Friday afternoon at the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the museum’s ongoing exhibition “Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics.”
A member of the Sac and Fox tribe and a two-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field, Thorpe excelled in numerous sports, helped found and popularize the National Football League and was arguably the best-known, most-revered athlete of his era.
“He’s a major hero for a lot of American Indian athletes,” said Jim Adams, a senior historian with the National Museum of the American Indian. “But he also was probably one of the first American Indians to become a real national hero without a connection to being an Indian or a chief or something.
“His achievements were historic. They helped form a great deal of American popular culture. And he really was the greatest American athlete of the 20th century.”
A mythic man
Undaunted, he borrowed one shoe from a teammate and found another in a trash can. The discarded shoe was too small for Thorpe’s foot; the borrowed shoe was so large that he had to wear extra pairs of socks to keep it from slipping off.
Still, he captured a gold medal and won the race in 4 minutes, 40.1 seconds — an Olympic decathlon record time unsurpassed until 1972.
“In the 400-meter race [in the London Olympics decathlon] a couple of days ago, the gold medal winner beat Jim’s time by 0.7 of a second,” Mr. Wheeler said. “That’s on a modern, high-tech composite track. The track was cinder when Jim ran.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
- Taking to Twitter: Everybody's Oscar night in 140 characters
- Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin cry foul at WWE Tea Party stereotypes
- Oscar Pistorius and the 'roid rage' defense: It's no Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card
- Spatial media: Astronaut Chris Hadfield live chats from 220 miles above earth
- Hero-worship for a cold-blooded killer: The cult of Christopher Dorner
TWT Video Picks
By Andrew P. Napolitano
Obama's veil of secrecy is pierced
- Pentagon plans to replace flight crews with 'full-time' robots
- 'Top Gun' for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy's approval
- Texas is next! AG warns BLM wants 90,000 acres after Bundy ranch standoff
- America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds
- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy hailed as patriot, ripped as lawless deadbeat
- Obama avoids 'red line' for China, prepared to impose tougher sanctions on Russia
- CURL: Obama's foreign policy even worse than his domestic policy
- Ukraine claims torture by pro-Russian forces on the heels of Biden's stern warning to Moscow
- Sold out: Ukraine's leadership swapped best military weapons for cash
- Jimmy Carter: Dont hurt Russian people with sanctions
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.
Celebrity deaths in 2014