1912 Olympics – Part V

The team held an exhibition meet on June 13 in New York City at which Thorpe and Tewanima stood out. The diminutive Hopi outran the country’s two best middle-distance men in the 3,500 meters and Jim Thorpe outjumped the world record holder in the high jump by clearing 6’5”. After the event was over, the record holder also cleared 6’5”. The 1912 U.S. Olympic team set sail for Stockholm on a Red Star liner, The Finland, arriving on June 30 to a hearty reception.


In the first day’s events, Jim Thorpe won the pentathlon (Avery Brundage tied for third) and qualified for the high jump finals. Lt. George S. Patton finished 5th in the Modern Pentathlon, an entirely different event designed specifically for military officers. Lewis Tewanima qualified for the finals of the 1,500 meter run. Later that day he placed second and won the silver medal. Tewanima was also entered in the marathon.


Andrew Sockalexis described the conditions for the marathon as, “…the worst I ever saw. The roads were very poor. A thick mud, the color of cement, covered them, and out of this protruded small sized rocks, which made the running anything but comfortable….The morning was cool enough, but how the sun did come out getting near noontime. I think the temperature was between 90 and 95 degreees.” He went on to say that he had never found it so warm in America.


The conditions may have affected the little Hopi as he finished a disappointing 16th. Andrew Sockalexis finished 4th but later kicked himself for losing the race for “failing to use my head at the proper time cost me first place in the great race.” His mistake came at the halfway point of the race when he observed that the two leaders, South Africans McArthur and Gitsham, were clinging tight to each other and that McArthur was frothing at the mouth. Sockalexis planned on starting his spurt when McArthur dropped out of the race. He never did and won the race in record time.


Jim Thorpe did not medal in the high jump due to failing to clear the bar when raised to 189 centimeters, a height he had cleared earlier in the year.  He finished tied for 4th in an event in which six of the top seven finishers were American.


In the decathlon, Jim placed 3rd in the 100-meter dash at 11.2 seconds, 3rd in the broad jump at 6.79 meters, 1st in the shotput at 12.89 meters, 1st in the high jump at 1.87 meters, 4th in the 400-meter dash at 52.2 seconds, 3rd in the discus throw at 36.98 meters, 1st in the 110-meter hurdles at 15.6 seconds, tied for 3rd in the pole vault at 3.25 meters, 4th in the javelin throw at 45.70 meters, and 1st in the 1500-meter run at 4minutes, 40.1 seconds. Avery Brundage finished 16th.


Thorpe’s 1912 Olympic performance is the stuff of legends, even at the time. At the medal ceremony, King Gustav V said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” To which Thorpe famously replied, “Thanks, King.”


Jim Thorpe receiving Olympic gold medal from King Gustav V of Sweden

Jim Thorpe receiving Olympic gold medal from King Gustav V of Sweden

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