Path Home Shows 2017 Show Archive June 2017 Show 1723 Oklahoma’s Greatest Athlete

Oklahoma’s Greatest Athlete

Jim Thorpe was a football standout, a major league baseball player, winner of two Olympic gold medals and a national ballroom dancing champion.
Oklahoma’s Greatest Athlete

Oklahoma’s Greatest Athlete

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Jim Thorpe

Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame

Show Details

Show 1723: Oklahoma’s Greatest Athlete
Air Date: June 4, 2017



Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. Well, Oklahoma is home to some sports superstars: baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench; Olympic medalists Shannon Miller and John Smith; and football greats Troy Aikman and Steve Largent, all honored at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. It’s a one-of-a-kind museum that highlights some of the state’s greatest athletes with a special emphasis on Oklahoma’s greatest athlete of them all, Jim Thorpe.

Rob McClendon: When you think of Oklahoma’s best athletes, any number of names can come to mind. But when you think of the state’s greatest athlete, there is only one.

Eddie Griffin: Well, Jim Thorpe is a legend, not only in Oklahoma or in the country, worldwide he is, and he just, you know, he was designated as the world’s greatest athlete in the 1912 Olympics. And his history is just one of achievement, hard work and more achievement.

Rob: Born In 1888 near Prague, Oklahoma, of Sac & Fox descent, Thorpe went to the Indian school near Stroud before becoming a two-time All American at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania where they beat perennial powerhouse Army and the future President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But it was at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, where he won two gold medals where Thorpe was first referred to as the world’s greatest athlete.

Griffin: You know a lot of people don’t realize that besides football, he was one of, a great football player, a great defensive back, but he was also a great running back and those kind of things, too. But he also played major league baseball, he won the national ballroom dancing championship, and he was the first commissioner of the NFL.

Rob: In fact, it is a larger than life statue of Thorpe that sits in the rotunda of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Still considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports, each year the best college defensive back in the nation is awarded the Jim Thorpe Award.

Griffin: We’re one of the founders of the National College Football Awards Association, that’s the Heisman, Jim Thorpe Award, Davey O’Brien, the Maxwell Awards, all of those. So we’ve been involved with that since 1986. They’ll see the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award as they walk in the door here. They’ll see all the great athletes that’s been selected as a Jim Thorpe winner around the walls.

Rob: Thorpe continued to play professional sports well into his 40s, but hit hard times after his athletic career ended. But here at the Jim Thorpe Museum and Sports Hall of Fame, it is his athletic achievements that are enshrined.

Griffin: One of the favorite things that we have here that for me, is in 1912 they gave, not only the gold medalist, but they gave rolled parchments that told everything, and we’ve got ‘em framed over here, and we still have those original ones on the wall here, so, for people to see and to look at.

Rob McClendon: Well, the museum also has replicas of Thorpe’s Olympic gold medals in the Pentathlon and the Decathlon, which were not easy to come by. Thorpe was stripped of both medals when it was found he had violated the strict Olympic Amateurism Rules of that day. But 30 years after his death, it was Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh who convinced the International Olympic Committee to restore Thorpe’s Olympic gold. Now, when we return, we’ll hear from more of Oklahoma’s sports greats and take a look around the Sports Hall of Fame.