Thorpe at the 1912 Summer Olympics.
Jacobus Franciscus "Jim" Thorpe (Meskwaki: Wa-Tho-Huk) (May 28, 1888–March 28, 1953) was an American athlete. Considered one of the most versatile athletes in modern sports, he won Olympic gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon, played American football collegiately and professionally, and also played professional baseball and basketball. He subsequently lost his Olympic titles when it was found he had played two seasons of minor league baseball before competing in the games (thus violating the amateur status rules).
Thorpe was of mixed Native American and white ancestry. He was raised as a Sac and Fox, and named Wa-Tho-Huk, roughly translated as "Bright Path". He struggled with racism throughout much of his life and his accomplishments were publicized with headlines describing him as a "Redskin" and "Indian athlete". He also played on several All-American Indian teams throughout his career and barnstormed as a professional basketball player with a team composed entirely of Native Americans.
Thorpe was named the greatest athlete of the first half of the twentieth century by the Associated Press (AP) in 1950, and ranked third on the AP list of athletes of the century in 1999. After his professional sports career ended, Thorpe lived in abject poverty. He worked several odd jobs, struggled with alcoholism, and lived out the last years of his life in failing health. In 1983, thirty years after his death, his medals were restored.
Information about Thorpe's birth, full name, and ethnic background varies widely. What is known is that he was born in Indian Territory, but no birth certificate has been found. Thorpe's birth is generally considered to have taken place on May 28, 1888 near the town of Prague, Oklahoma. Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe is the name on his christening (baptismal) certificate.
His parents were of mixed descent. His father, Hiram Thorpe, had an Irish father and a Sac and Fox Indian mother, while his mother, Charlotte Vieux, had a French father and a Native American mother. Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox, and his native name was Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as "A path lighted by a great flash of lightning" or more simply "Bright Path". As was the custom for Sac and Fox, Thorpe was named for something occurring around the time of his birth, in this case the sunlight brightening the path to the cabin where he was born.