Jim Thorpe in his Carlisle Indian School track uniform, running in Stockholm at Olympic track practice.

Smithsonian/Cumberland County Historical Society

Jim Thorpe in his Carlisle Indian School track uniform, running in Stockholm at Olympic track practice.

Competitors Gear Up for the Jim Thorpe Games

About 1,200 competitors are expected to take part in a multi-sport competition honoring one the greatest athletes from the 20th century. The 3rd annual Jim Thorpe Native American Games will be staged June 8-14 in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

During its first two years, the Games were held in Oklahoma City. Instead, organizers opted to move the games to Shawnee, located about a 30-minute drive east of Oklahoma City. “It was really done to have the Games have more of an Indian community feel,” Annetta Abbott, the Games’ executive director, told ICTMN. “We are more in Indian country now.”

The Games were first staged in 2012, in honor of the 100-year anniversary of Thorpe’s medal-winning performances at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden. Thorpe captured gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon events in Sweden. He later played pro baseball and football. About 1,500 athletes from across the country took part in the inaugural Jim Thorpe Native American Games. “The plan was to stage the Games every two years,” Abbott said. “But after that first year, people were asking if we could have it again the next year. So it became an annual event.”

Organizers are also hoping to expand the Games in future years and to stage regional qualifiers across the country. A goal is to then have winners from those regional competitions have a portion of their expenses covered to attend the national Games.

Organizers are anticipating athletes representing at least 60 tribes will take part in this year’s Games. “We’ve got athletes from all corners of the country coming,” Abbott said.

Last year’s participation numbers were down from the first year in large part because of Mother Nature. Abbott said numerous athletes withdrew from the event as tornadoes were rampant, and many parents did not want their children travelling to Oklahoma. “We are really pleased with the numbers we have this year,” Abbott added. “We’ve been able to see what sports work well and we’ve added some divisions in those sports.”

A total of 12 sports will be contested at this year’s Games. Stickball is a new addition. It had been an exhibition (demonstration) sport during the first two years of the games, but is now a full-medal sport. Lacrosse is an exhibition sport this time around.The other sports being offered are basketball, beach volleyball, cross-country running, football, golf, martial arts, softball, tennis, track and field and wrestling.

For the first time, games’ organizers will also offer two $2,500 scholarships to competitors who are college-bound high school seniors. One female and one male winner will be selected.

Abbott said the calibre of athletes at these Games is rather high. “We’ve had some really good athletes,” she said. “Some of the tennis athletes are on the junior amateur circuit. And some of the football and basketball athletes were going to go on to NCAA schools.”

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