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Jim Thorpe : The Greatest Athlete of the Century!
Background Information for Teachers

Jim Thorpe

When you think of sports you often think of amazing stories - stories of incredible victories and devastating defeats. In this lesson, students will be introduced to Jim Thorpe, a Native American whose sports career began at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Jim Thorpe was a natural athlete who went on to win two Olympic gold medals at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. However, Thorpe's career was permanently tarnished when the Olympic officials removed his medals after they learned that he had played baseball in the minor leagues and was thus considered a "professional" athlete. To learn more about the life of Jim Thorpe, see ExplorePAhistory historical marker markerCarbon County (Jim Thorpe).

Jim Thorpe's amazing athletic career continued after the Olympics when he began playing professional baseball for the New York Giants while also playing football for the American Professional Football Association, which later became the NFL.

Although Thorpe died in 1953, his family fought to have his Olympic medals restored. That occurred in 1982 when the International Olympic Committee returned Thorpe's name to the record books and reinstated his medals after listening to evidence that Jim Thorpe had been disqualified after the 30-day limit as outlined in the Olympic rulebook in 1912. Jim Thorpe had won his medals in October and the professional athlete allegations did not arise until January of 1913. Olympic rules at that time required that all disqualifications occur within the 30 days after the Olympics.

Jim Thorpe's daughter Grace most recently has spearheaded a campaign for Jim Thorpe to be on a Wheatie's box, which he was in 2001, and to have her father named "America's Greatest All Around Athlete of the Century".

Olympic Background:

Professional athletes were allowed to participate in some Olympic sports in 1988 and in all sports in 1992. Before 1988 technically only amateur athletes could participate, however much controversy surrounded this practice. Many athletes from Western countries actually had sponsors to help defray training costs. In addition, many athletes from Communist countries were "amateurs" in the sense that they had other professions, but actually were having all of their expenses paid by the state in order to train for the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee made up of representatives from several countries makes all determinations regarding an athlete's ability to participate and determine whether any rules have been broken during the Olympic games.

Source : The Official Site of Jim Thorpe,


Jim Thorpe - All-American (1951)
Produced by Warner Home Video, 107 minutes.
Starring Burt Lancaster.

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