Today we celebrate the sixth birthday of the European Multisport Club Association and we would like to dedicate this day to a great sportsman of the past. He is not European, but his story embodies the spirit of our Association.
This is the story of Jim Thorpe (1887-1953), one of the most versatile athletes of all time and the first Native American to win a gold medal for United States. He won Olympic gold medals in 1912 pentathlon and decathlon; he played American football, professional baseball and basketball.
He was indeed a real “Multisport athlete”. After his victories at the Olympic Games in Sweden, he returned to New York to compete in the Amateur Athletic Union’s All-Around Championship, breaking all records. Martin Sheridan, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, who was present to watch his records broken, approached Thorpe after the event and shook his hand saying, “Jim, my boy, you’re a great man. I never expect to look upon a finer athlete”. He told a reporter from New York World, “Thorpe is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today”.
In 1913, Thorpe carried on his Multisport Career signed with the New York Giants, and he played six seasons in Major League Baseball between 1913 and 1919. Thorpe joined the Canton BulldogsAmerican football team in 1915, helping them win three professional championships; he later played for six teams in the National Football League(NFL). He played as part of several all-American Indian teams throughout his career, and barnstormedas a professional basketball player with a team composed entirely of American Indians. From 1920 to 1921, Thorpe was nominally the first presidentof the American Professional Football Association(APFA), which became the NFL in 1922. He played professional sports until age 41, the end of his sports career coinciding with the start of the Great Depression.
His sports career was also affected by a famous controversy regarding his status of professional player.In 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympic Games.After his victory in Sweden, the Amateur Athletic Union withdrew retroactively, since Jim had played few professional baseball matches in the year before the Games. In 1983, thirthy years after his death (that occcurred in 1953), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) restored his Olympic medals, giving him back his titles and giving honor to his legacy.
Thorpe was memorialized in the Warner Bros. film Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951) starring Burt Lancaster, with Billy Gray performing as Thorpe as a child.