In 1912, it was all Thorpe and none too soon His feats thrilled world, and gave Games new life

Olympiads in review


March 17, 1996|By Bob Herzog | Bob Herzog,NEWSDAY

As part of the countdown to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a chronological look at past Olympiads is appearing each Sunday.

Shabby facilities. Poor attendance. Rampant provincialism. Erratic officiating. Political overtones. This was the legacy Stockholm inherited as host for the 1912 Summer Games. The Olympic movement was on shaky ground and its future in jeopardy. But Superman alias Jim Thorpe saved the day.

Thorpe, who was of American Indian (Sac and Fox), Irish and French ancestry, brought an impressive set of credentials from the Carlisle (Pa.) Indian School. He earned 11 letters in baseball, football and track, was a two-time football All-American and even won the intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship in 1911.

In Stockholm, his dance card was full. He entered the high jump, long jump, pentathlon and the grueling decathlon. He started slowly, finishing fourth in the high jump and seventh in the long jump, but in the multi-events competition a legend was born.

In the pentathlon, which consisted of the long jump, javelin, discus, 200 meters and 1,500 meters, Thorpe blew away the field en route to the gold medal, finishing first in all but the javelin, in which he was third.

He was just getting warmed up. In the three-day decathlon his first-ever attempt at the event Thorpe won the shot put, high jump, discus and 110-meter hurdles and finished second in the 100 and 1,500 meters en route to winning the gold with 8,412 points, 688 points better than silver medalist Hugo Wieslander of Sweden.

Thorpe, whose Indian name was Bright Path, became a star not only in Sweden but around the world. In addition to his gold medals, he was presented with a bejeweled chalice from Russia's Czar Nicholas and a bronze bust of Sweden's King Gustav V.

The king himself presented the bust to Thorpe along with these words: "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."

But there was room at Stockholm for at least two more Olympians to grab their share of lasting international fame. Hannes Kolehmainen became the first of the "Flying Finns," capturing the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and 12,000-meter cross-country race.

His 5,000-meter duel with Jean Bouin of France was highlight-film material as the Finnish vegetarian won by a single stride in smashing the world's record by a remarkable 24.6 seconds.

In swimming, in which women were allowed to participate for the first time, the career of Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii was launched. The son of Hawaiian royalty, he won the 100-meter freestyle event, the first of his five career Olympic medals.

Training mostly apart from other U.S. swimmers, he developed a kicking style known as the flutter kick, which was eventually adopted by most freestylers and revolutionized the sport. Later, he became an innovator and champion in surfing, and also a film star.

In 1912, though, no one was more popular than Thorpe, who was honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York.

But a year later, it didn't just rain on his parade, it poured. In 1913, it was learned that he had once been paid $25 a week as a minor-league baseball player in North Carolina. By the rules of amateurism of the era, Thorpe was a professional and thus ineligible for the Olympics.

His medals were taken from him and weren't returned to his family until 1982, 29 years after his death.

Thorpe hadn't single-handedly saved the Olympic Games, but he helped Stockholm stage the greatest show on earth at the time, and that solidified the Games to the point where they could survive a cancellation in 1916 amid the upheaval of World War I.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

1912 Games

Site: Stockholm, Sweden

Dates: May 5-July 22

Men: 2,490

Women: 57

Nations: 28

Medals leaders:

1% ............. G ... S ... B ... T

Sweden ........ 24 .. 24 .. 17 .. 65

United States.. 23 .. 19 .. 19 .. 61

England ....... 10 .. 15 .. 16 .. 41

Finland ........ 9 ... 8 ... 9 .. 26

France ......... 7 ... 4 ... 3 .. 14

Germany ........ 5 .. 13 ... 7 .. 25

South Africa ... 4 ... 2 ... 0 ... 6

Norway ......... 4 ... 1 ... 5 .. 10

Canada ......... 3 ... 2 ... 3 ... 8

Hungary ........ 3 ... 2 ... 3 ... 8

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