A Bittersweet Return for an Olympic Great


“Multitude Acclaims Opening of Olympics” was the banner headline the next morning, after the opening ceremony of the 1932 Olympic Games.

There were cheers from the assembled 105,000 at the Coliseum, artillery salutes, thousands of doves circling overhead as they tried to reach the stadium’s rim and volleys of cheers during the parade of nations.

But in the press box, a lone figure, overcome by memories, wept.

He was Jim Thorpe, the former pro football and baseball major leaguer, and winner of the decathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm.


Thorpe was 44 now and down on his luck, just another jobless soldier of the Great Depression. A search went out for him as the Games approached.

Thorpe, who had been mostly jobless and was fighting alcohol problems, was found wielding a pick and shovel at a downtown Los Angeles construction site. He was invited to watch the opening ceremony and meet Vice President Charles Curtis, who, like Thorpe, was of Native American descent.

Seated nearby was ex-USC hurdler Fred Kelly, who had won the high hurdles at Stockholm.

When the U.S. team marched out of the Coliseum tunnel and onto the track, Thorpe broke down.

Perhaps he remembered the moment, in 1912, when the King of Sweden awarded him his gold medal . . . or perhaps he remembered with bitterness having to surrender all of his medals and awards when it was learned in 1913 that he had earned $25 a week for playing minor league baseball in the summer of 1910.

Also on this date: In 1976, Bruce Jenner won the Olympic decathlon at Montreal. . . . In 1962, Burt Shotton, who managed the Dodgers to their 1947 and 1949 National League pennants, died at 77. . . . In 1959, San Francisco rookie Willie McCovey had a stellar debut against Philadelphia--two triples and two singles. . . . In 1936, the Boston Red Sox became the first major league team to fly when they traveled from St. Louis to Chicago. Five players refused and took a train. . . . In 1980, Houston pitcher J.R. Richard suffered a career- ending stroke during an Astrodome workout.