“Jim Thorpe was the greatest athlete who ever lived…. What he had was natural ability. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. All he had to see is someone doin’ something and he tried it… and he’d do it better.” Those were the words of Abel Kiviat, the one who finished second to Thorpe in the 1912 Olympics, according to California Indian Education.
Perhaps Thorpe´s greatest attribute was his versatility. Unsurpassed versatility is what separated him from other great athletes of the twentieth-century. Babe Ruth excelled as a hitter and a pitcher. Michael Jordan took a shot at baseball. But no one ever conquered sports on multiple levels the way Thorpe did.With all of his athletic success, baseball was clearly the sport that provided Thorpe with his greatest challenge. He cruised through the 1912 Olympics, easily winning the decathlon and the pentathlon. He could run, jump and throw better than any athlete the world had ever known.
His all-around skills led to National Football League success. Thorpe was selected to the first all-NFL team in 1923.
Although he never won an NFL championship, his versatility allowed him to remain in the league until age 41, a rare feat by modern standards. He was selected for the 1920´s NFL All-Decade Team. In 1963, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So, ironically, it was baseball, the sport that generated his greatest controversy, that took him the longest time to master. His participation in the Eastern Carolina League had led to the stripping of his Olympic medals. It was determined at the time that the small amount of money he received from playing baseball made him a professional athlete. The Olympics were strictly for amateurs. His up and down baseball career led him to stints with the Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, Rock Island Independents, New York Giants, Tampa Cardinals and Chicago Cardinals. In all, he had a .252 career average, with seven home runs and 82 runs batted in.
In 1982, the Jim Thorpe Foundation lobbied for the reinstatement of his Olympic medals. They showed that Thorpe´s disqualification had occurred after the thirty-day limit that the Olympic rules called for. The International Olympic Committee agreed, and reinstated his medals.