Pine Nuts: Greatest Athlete in the World
At last, and finally, this summer, the International Olympic Committee reinstated my hero, Jim Thorpe, as the gold medal winner of the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Thorpe was the first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States. After winning both events by wide margins, he was hailed by King Gustav V of Sweden as, “the greatest athlete in the world,” to wit, Jim responded, “Thanks King.”
He received a ticker-tape parade upon returning to the United States, only to be stripped of his medals when it was discovered that he had violated the Olympics’ rules of amateurism by taking a paycheck to play minor league baseball.
When I received the recent news of this wrong being righted, I poured myself a glass of Mark Twain’s Private Stock and held it on high to the greatest athlete in the world, Jim Thorpe.
You see, before I started portraying Mark Twain, I portrayed Jim Thorpe. Yes, as a fourth grader, I checked The Jim Thorpe Story out of the library and discovered therein that Jim had raced his school bus, on foot, and beat that school bus to the schoolhouse.
So the next morning I hid in the bushes when our school bus arrived in the neighborhood, and as that school bus pulled away, I took off running down a cow trail toward school. I could see the bus on the road down below, and my heart swelled as I (Jim Thorpe) pulled ahead in our marathon race toward school, a few miles ahead.
As it turned out, once I arrived at school all hot and sweaty, well, the bus had already unloaded my classmates and parked itself comfortably in the yard. I, meanwhile, was left to enter the school office all hot and sweaty. I still remember the secretary pushing her glasses up on her nose to have a better look at me, and asking, “Well, who do we have here?”
I hesitated before offering a confident, even in defeat, “Jim Thorpe, Maam.”
“Well, Mr. Thorpe, you got yourself a tardy slip.”
Appreciating the fact that she knew who I was, I took my tardy slip, and started down the hall toward my class with a spring in my step. Even if I had lost my race with the school bus, I was, for a portion of a morning, Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete in the world.
How could that fourth grader suspect that he was taking the first small step toward becoming Mark Twain? He couldn’t have…not in a thousand years, but he is happy about it today, and ever so grateful that the International Olympic Committee finally reinstated Jim Thorpe as the legitimate winner of the decathlon and pentathlon of the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. After all, Jim Thorpe was, perhaps, the greatest athlete the world has ever known…
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