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Jim Thorpe, an American Indian, is generally accepted as the greatest all-round athlete of the first half of the 20th century. Yet the man, who brought glory to his nation, had a heartbreaking life. What caused his sadness and poverty?
The railroad station was jammed. Students from Lafayette College were crowding onto the train platform eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Carlisle Indian school's track and field squad. No one would have believed it a few months earlier. A school that nobody had heard of was suddenly beating big, famous colleges in track meets. Surely these Carlisle athletes would come charging off the train, one after another, like a Marine battalion.
The train finally arrived and two young men — one big and broad, the other small and slight — stepped onto the platform.
"Where's the track team?" a Lafayette student asked.
"This is the team," replied the big fellow.
"Just the two of you?"
"Nope, just me," said the big fellow. "This little guy is the manager."
The Lafayette students shook their heads in wonder. Somebody must be playing a joke on them. If this big fellow was the whole Carlisle track team, he would be competing against an entire Lafayette squad.
He did. He ran sprints, he ran hurdles, he ran distance races. He high-jumped, he broad-jumped. He threw the javelin and the shot. Finishing first in eight events, the big fellow beat the whole Lafayette team.
The big fellow was Jim Thorpe, the greatest American athlete of modern times. He was born on May 28,1888, in a two-room farmhouse near Prague, Oklahoma. His parents were members of the Sac and Fox Indian tribe and he was a direct descendant of the famous warrior chief, Black Hawk.
As a Sac and Fox, Jim had the colorful Indian name Wa-Tho-Huck. Which, translated, means Bright Path. But being born an Indian, his path was not so bright. Although he had the opportunity to hunt and fish with great Indian outdoorsmen, he was denied opportunity in other ways. The United States government controlled the lives of American Indians and, unlike other people, Indians did not automatically become citizens. It was almost impossible for an Indian to gain even a fair education and extremely difficult, as a result, for an Indian to rise high in life.
Young Bright Path seemed destined to spend his life in the Oklahoma farmland. But when he was in his teens, the government gave him the chance to attend the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Soon Carlisle was racing along its own bright path to athletic prominence. In whatever sport Jim Thorpe played, he excelled, He was a star in baseball, track and field, wrestling, lacrosse, basketball and football. He was so good in football, in fact, that most other small schools refused to play Carlisle. The Indian school's football schedule soon listed such major powers of the early twentieth century as Pittsburgh, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Penn State and Army.
Thorpe was a halfback. He was six feet one inch tall, weighed 185 pounds and had incredible speed and power. He built upon these natural gifts daily. He would watch a coach or player demonstrate a difficult maneuver, then he would try it himself. Inevitably, he would master the maneuver within minutes.
During every game, opponents piled on Thorpe, trampled him, kicked him and punched him, trying to put him out of action. They were never successful. Years later someone asked him if he had ever been hurt on the field. "Hurt?" Thorpe said. "How could anyone get hurt playing football?"
But Jim never played his best when he felt he would have to no fun playing. "What's the fun of playing in the rain?" he once said. And his Carlisle coach, Pop Warner, once said, "There's no doubt that Jim had more talent than anybody who ever played football, but you could never tell when he felt like giving his best."
Football, though, did not provide Thorpe with his finest hour. He was selected for the United States Olympic track team in 1912, and went to Sweden with the team for the Games. On the ship, while the other athletes limbered up, Thorpe slept in his bunk. In Sweden, while other athletes trained, Thorpe relaxed in a hammock. He never strained when he didn't feel it necessary.
Thorpe came out of his hammock when the Games began, to take part in the two most demanding Olympic events. He entered the pentathlon competition, a test of skill in five events: 200-meter run, 1500-meter run, broad jump, discus and javelin; and the decathlon competition, a series of ten events: 100-meter run, 400-meter run, 1500-meter run, high hurdles, broad jump, high jump, pole vault, discus, javelin and shot put. Though most athletes were utterly exhausted by the decathlon alone, Thorpe breezed through both events, his dark hair flopping, his smile flashing, his muscled body gliding along the track. He finished first in both the pentathlon and decathlon, one of the great feats in Olympic history.
"You sir," King Gustav V of Sweden told Thorpe as he presented him with two gold medals, "are the greatest athlete in the world." And William Howard Taft, the President of the United States, said, "Jim Thorpe is the highest type of citizen."
King Gustav V was correct, but President Taft was not. Though Jim Thorpe had brought great glory to his nation, though thousands of people cheered him upon his return to the United States and attended banquets and a New York parade in his honor, he was not a citizen. He did not become one until 1916. Even then, it took a special government ruling because he was an Indian.
Jim Thorpe was a hero after the Olympics and a sad, bewildered man not too much later. Someone discovered that two years before the Olympics he had been paid a few dollars to play semiprofessional baseball. Though many amateur athletes had played for pay under false names, Thorpe had used his own name. As a result, he was not technically an amateur when he competed at Stockholm as all Olympic athletes must be. His Olympic medals and trophies were taken away from him and given to the runners-up.
After this heartbreaking experience, Thorpe turned to professional sports. He played major league baseball for six years and did fairly well. Then he played professional football for six years with spectacular success. His last professional football season was in 1926. After that, his youthful indifference to studies and his unwillingness to think of a nonsports career caught up with him. He had trouble finding a job, and his friends deserted him. He periodically asked for, but never was given back, his Olympic prizes. From 1926 until his death in 1953, he lived a poor, lonely, unhappy life.
But in 1950 the Associated Press held a poll to determine the outstanding athlete of the half-century. Despite his loss of the Olympic gold medals and a sad decline in fortune during his later years, Thorpe was almost unanimously chosen the greatest athlete of modern times.
v. fill or block up (the way) by crowding; (cause to ) be packed, pressed, or crushed tightly into a small space 堵塞；（使）塞满
n. a raised flat surface built along the side of the track at a railway station for travellers getting on or off a train 月台
vt. wait for; look forward to
n. a course for running or racing; track-and-field sports, esp. those performed on a running track 跑道；径赛运动；田径运动
n. an area, esp. circled by a track where contests such as in jumping or throwing are held; the sports contested in this area 田赛场地；田赛运动
n. a small group of persons working, training, or acting together; the smallest military unit, usually made up of eleven men and a squad leader 小队；班
vi rush in or as if in an attack 向前冲；冲锋
n. a member of the U.S. Marine Corps （美国）海军陆战队士兵或军官
n. military unit made up of several companies 营
a. wide, large across 宽的，广阔的
ad. (AmE sl.) no
vi. take part in a race, contest, etc.' try to win sth. in competition with sb. else 比赛；竞争
n. short race; dash 短跑
vi. run at one's fastest speed, esp. for a short distance
n. a light frame for people or horses to jump over in a race 栏；跳栏
n.& vi. (AmE) (do) a long jump 跳远
n. light spear for throwing (usu. in sport) 标枪
n. the heavy metal ball used in the shot put 铅球
n. a person descended from another or from a common stock 子孙；后裔
n. a man who fights for his tribe; a soldier or experienced fighter 斗士，勇士；（老）战士
a. full of color; exciting the senses or imagination 艳丽的；丰富多彩的
v. go after (wild animals) for food or sport; search (for) 追猎，打猎；搜寻
n. a man, such as a hunter, fisherman, or camper, who spends much time outdoors for pleasure
vt. say that (sth.) is not true; refuse to give 否认；拒绝给予
vt. (usu. passive) intend or decide by fate; intend for some special purpose 命中注定；预定
n. land used or suitable for farming 农田
n. the period of one's life between and including the ages of 13 and 19
n. the quality or fact of being prominent or distinguished 凹出；杰出
vi. be very good (in or at sth) 突出，超常
n. a sport or contest in which each of two opponents tries to throw or force the other to the ground 摔跤（运动）
n. a person, group or nation that has authority or influence 握有大权的人物；有影响的机构；强国
a. too extraordinary to be believed, unbelievable 难以置信的
n. a person who trains sportsmen for games, competitions, etc. 教练
vt. explain by carrying out experiments or by showing examples 用实验或实例说明；演示
n. a skillful move or trick, intended to deceive, to gain sth., to escape, or to do sth. 机动动作；策略；花招
n. a person who is on the other side in a fight, game, or discussion 对手；反对者
vt. step heavily with the feet on; crush under the feet 踩；践踏
vt. strike (sb. or sth.) hard with the fist 用拳猛击
a. of or connected with the Olympic Games
v. make or become flexible （使）变得柔软灵活
n. a narrow bed fixed on the wall, e.g. of a cabin in a ship or in a train 床铺，铺位
n. a hanging bed of canvas or rope network, e.g. as used by sailors, or in gardens （帆布或网状）吊床
vi. make violent efforts; strive hard 尽力，使劲
a. making severe demands 要求高的；苛求的
n. an athletic contest in which each contestant takes part in five events 五项运动
n. competing; contest; match
n. a heavy, circular plate of rubber, plastic or wood with a metal rim 铁饼
n. an athletic contest consisting of ten events 十项运动
n. a competition to throw a heavy metal ball the furthest distance 推铅球
ad. completely; totally
vi. move or go quickly and in a carelessly confident way 轻快地行动
vi. move or bounce loosely 扑动
vi. give out sudden, brief light or flame; shine or gleam 闪光；闪烁
vi. move in a smooth continuous manner which seems easy and without effort 滑动，滑行
n. an act showing great skill, strength, or daring; a remarkable deed, notable esp. for courage 武功；技艺；功绩
n. high fame and honour won by great achievements; sth. deserving respect and honour 光荣，荣誉；荣誉的事
n. a dinner for many people, at which speeches are made, in honour of a special person or occasion 宴会
n. an official decision 裁决
n. Olympic Games 奥林匹克运动会
a. done by, played by, or made up of people who are paid 职业的
n. a person who lives on the money he earns by practising a particular skill or sport 以特定职业谋生的人
n. a person playing a game, taking part in sports, etc. without receiving payment 业余爱好者
a. of, by, or with amateurs; not paid lacking skill 业余的
ad. in technical terms; in a technical sense; according to fixed rules 技术上；按规则
n. a prize given for winning a race, competition, or test of skill 奖品
n. a player or team that comes second in a contest 亚军
a. causing great sorrow or grief; extremely distressing 令人心碎的
n. a group of sports clubs or teams that play matches among themselves 联赛协会
a. strikingly grand or unusual 壮观的；惊人的
n. the period of time during which a sport is played 赛季
a. young; having the qualities of young people
n. absence of interest or feeling 不关心，冷漠
ad. at regular intervals, every now and then
a. much better than most others; very good 杰出的
prep. in spite of
n. losing of power, strength, wealth, or beauty; falling to a lower level 衰落；下降
a. with complete agreement; without a single opposing vote 一致地；无异议地区性
Phrase & Expressions
track and field
the sport or athletic events, such as running, jumping and weight throwing performed on a running track and on the adjacent field 田径运动
play a joke on sb.
do sth. to make other people laugh at someone 同某人开玩笑
put……out of action
stop……working, make……unfit for a typical activity 使停止工作；使不再起作用；使失去战斗力
make the muscles stretch easily by exercise, esp. before violent exercise （比赛等前）做准备活动
take part in
have a share or part in; join in 参加
proceed with effortlessly in a carefree manner 轻而易举地完成
in one's hono(u)r/in
catch up with
have the expected ill effect or result on 对……产生预期恶果
Carlisle Indian School
Sac and Fox
(short for) Pennsylvania
William Howard Taft
the Associated Press