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Amazing Moments in Olympic History: Jim Thorpe

July 15, 2009, 12:49 p.m. (ET)

Recognized as one of the greatest athletes of all time --- and by some as the greatest --- Jim Thorpe won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon in the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912. He markedly outperformed his competitors and set records that remained unbroken for decades. But a year later, his medals were stripped away from him, and his name was removed from the record books.

At the time, athletes had to be amateurs in order to compete in the Olympic Games. It later was discovered that Thorpe had participated in semiprofessional baseball for two seasons before competing in the Games, and he also had been paid for playing. According to the Olympic Committee's rules, that expunged his status as an amateur, even though he was not taking part in track and field events. He was ineligible to partake in any Olympic event.

The 25-year-old was devastated. He had worked so hard and overcome so much. Thorpe had been born a twin in Prague, Okla., but his twin brother, Charlie, died when he was 9. His mother, who was a Pottawatomie Native American, died a couple years after Charlie. Thorpe wasn't even a teenager yet, and he already had lost two of the most important people in his life.

It wasn't until Thorpe began attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pa., that his athletic talents were noticed. He ran track and played football, and in 1908, he was chosen as a third-team All-American. In 1909 and 1910, he was named as a first-team All-American. Two years later, he was deemed "the greatest athlete in the world" by King Gustav V at the Games in Stockholm.

For the next six years, Thorpe played major-league baseball as an outfielder. In 1913, he signed his first contract with the New York Giants. Three seasons later, he was playing with the Cincinnati Reds. He briefly played with the Giants again before ending his major-league career with the Boston Braves, where he had a .327 batting average in 60 games. In six seasons with the three teams, he averaged .252.

In addition to major-league baseball, Thorpe played professional football. He joined some of the original teams in the American Professional Football Association: the Canton Bulldogs, the Cleveland Indians, the Rock Island Independents, the New York Giants and the Chicago Cardinals. He also was a member of an all-Native American team in the league called the Oorang Indians. He retired from the sport in 1928 when he was 41 and went on to be president of the National Football League.

The well-rounded athlete died on March 28, 1953, at 65. Almost 30 years later, the Olympic Committee revisited Thorpe's case and reinstated his medals from the 1912 Games. His name also was rewritten in the record books.

It took 70 years, but Thorpe finally was able to be called a two-time Olympic gold medalist. And he still stands as one of the premier athletes of all time.