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The Greatest Athlete of All Time Jim Thorpe

Updated on October 13, 2015



1888 - 1953

Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest all around athlete of all time. He was a standout running back in college for the Carlisle Indians coached by the legendary Pop Warner where he earned All-American honors in 1911-1912. He scored all of his team's points in an upset of top ranked Harvard in 1911 and his team went 11-1 that year. The following year, his team won the national collegiate championship. Thorpe played against future president Dwight Eisenhower at Army that year. Jim scored a 92 yard touchdown that was called back and on the next play he scored a 97 yard touchdown.

He was All-Pro in professional football playing for several teams including the New York Giants, Cleveland Indians and Canton Bulldogs. He was named to the All-Decade Team in the NFL for the 1920s. He also played professional baseball and professional basketball. He was named the Best Football Player in the First Half of the 20th Century by the Associated Press.

Despite football being his favorite sport, his greatest sport was track and field and in the 1912 Olympics, Jim won both the pentathlon and decathlon. Thorpe grew up in Indian territory in Oklahoma and played sports until age 41. An ABC poll voted Jim the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century. Some of the names in contention for this unique achievement in sports were Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Jack Nicklaus. The Babe, Ali and Nicklaus only played one sport while Jordan played in two sports. They were surely the best at their sport, but when considering overall athleticism you just had to go with the versatile Jim Thorpe.

Because he played professional baseball while still an amateur and before participating in the Olympics, his gold medals were taken away from him. Thirty years later, the medals were restored to his family.

Jim Thorpe was born in Prague, Oklahoma on May 28, 1888 and died on March 28, 1953 in Lomita, California from complications of alcoholism.



1913 - 1994

Burt joined the circus as a teenager becoming a trapeze artist and became dedicated to keeping his body in shape and being as athletic as he could possibly be throughout his film career. He was considered one of the best fit and best looking physiques in Hollywood which would land him several roles that needed this sort of body and conditioning.

In Jim Thorpe-All American, he had to run, jump and be hit with force from football players. In Apache, he had to run around half naked. In Elmer Gantry, he was running and sliding. And, in The Swimmer, a very odd film to say the least, he constantly was swimming from one pool in Hollywood Hills to another and Burt was 54 during filming.

The selection of Burt to play Jim Thorpe was a no-brainer. He was the same height and approximate weight, but more importantly he was the best athlete on the studio lot. He and Thorpe met during the filming.




The film did not get rave reviews and some say it was not a very accurate depiction of Jim's life. However, for myself there are scenes that stay with me such as Lancaster running ten miles to school every morning as he jumped over fences and other obstacles that got in his path. Then, there was the time when he first entered college and walked onto the track in his street clothes and started running and passed every member of the track team. And, the scene where he picked up a lose football that went out of the end zone and he kicked it back to the team sailing sixty yards in the air. These things supposedly did happen.

Burt Lancaster seemed okay for the part to real life Jim Thorpe, so that is good enough for me. I really did enjoy this film and Burt's performance. It was a tragic ending to a great, great athlete who became penniless and died an alcoholic following public humiliation at times when he was forced to play Indian chiefs in movies, or working as a bouncer or doorman and even a ditch digger.

Burt put everything into the part and had me believing that he could really play all the sports that were involved in the movie with him as the focal point of the action. His supporting cast was superb, especially Charles Bickford who played Pop Warner, coach at Carlisle.

Do you love movies about athletes? Check this one out. I think you will enjoy it.


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