Jim Thorpe

Where do you start when debating the greatest sportsman of the 20th Century?

Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, or Sir Steve Redgrave perhaps?

How about Jim Thorpe?

That's right, Jim Thorpe - winner of the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 OIympics in Stockholm.

The pentathlon was made up of five events, long jump, javelin, 200m, discuss and 1500m and Thorpe won four of them and finished third in the javelin to destroy the rest of the field and set a new world record.

In the decathlon, the American did not have it all his own way, but still beat his nearest rival by an astonishing 700 points and set a world best that would stand for nearly two decades.

King Gustav of Sweden presented Thorpe with his medals and said: "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world."

He replied, simply, "Thanks, King."

However, the International Olympic Committee stripped Thorpe of his two gold medals in 1913 after learning he had been paid for playing baseball in an era when amateurism at the Games prevailed.

Thorpe claimed he did not know he had done wrong, and there were several attempts to reinstate his Olympic titles, but one staunch opponent was American Avery Brundage when he was IOC president between 1952 and '72.

Brundage, who had been beaten by Thorpe in 1912, strongly opposed professionalism in the Olympics, said: "Ignorance is no excuse."

Thorpe went on to play baseball and Amercian football professionally and was named as the greatest athlete of the first 50 years of the 20th century in a poll of around 400 sportswriters and broadcasters.

He died in poverty in 1953, but the Jim Thorpe Foundation continued the battle to clear his name and in 1982, the IOC executive committee finally approved his reinstatement.

Where does Thorpe rank in your list of greatest sportsmen though?

Peter Scrivener is a BBC Sport Journalist. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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