I’m surprised there haven’t been more references to the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s legendary decathlon win in the Stockholm Olympics.
Thorpe, who was raised as a Sac and Fox Indian in Oklahoma, had several connections to our local Cahuilla Indians. He became a roommate on baseball’s New York Giants with the man widely considered the greatest Cahuilla athlete of all time, “Chief” John Meyers, who was Chisty Mathewson’s catcher from 1910 through 1915.
The year Thorpe won the Olympics decathlon and pentathlon gold medals — and was declared the world’s greatest athlete by the king of Sweden — Meyers batted .358 for the pennant-winning Giants.
The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum archives includes an interview with Meyers conducted in 1966 in which he recalled Thorpe’s continued grief over the fact that the International Olympic Committee stripped him of his medals after discovering Thorpe had played a summer of bush league professional baseball in those days when athletes were required to be amateur athletes in every sense of the word.
“Thorpe was a proud man,” Meyers said. “Not conceited, he was never that. But proud. I remember very late one night Jim came in and woke me up. I remember it like it was only last night. He was crying and tears were rolling down his cheeks. ‘You know, Chief,’ he said, ‘the King of Sweden gave me those trophies. He gave them to me. But they took them away from me… They’re mine, Chief, I won them fair and square.’ It broke his heart and he never really recovered.”
Thorpe was a chronic alcoholic by the early 1950s. He was hospitalized for lip cancer in 1950 as a charity case. In died in 1953 at the age of 64.
But, in an ABC Sports poll of sports fans, Thorpe was voted the greatest athlete of the 20th century over the likes of Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan.