Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics
When: September 3, 2012
I had some extra time yesterday afternoon, and decided to make my way over to the American Indian Museum to see their exhibit on the participation of Native Americans in the Olympics.
Sports were central to civic and religious life in indigenous communities before contact with Europeans, setting a foundation for impressive athletic performance in the years since. The first Native American Olympic athlete was Frank Pierce, from the Seneca tribe, who ran the marathon in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.
The 1912 games in Stockholm were really the first modern Olympics, and they set the standard for the games that followed. Among the members of the U.S. team was Jim Thorpe, the premier athlete of his era and one of the greatest athletes of all time. He won gold medals in the pentathlon and the decathlon - the only person ever to do so. Other Native American athletes were part of the 1912 team, including Duke Kahanamoku, who was to water sports what Thorpe was to sports on land. After the Olympics, Kahanamoku brought the sport of surfing to the U.S. and to Australia.
On display are Thorpe's gold medals and lots of photos of the athletes. The show is in the Sealaska Gallery on the second floor, the smaller of the two galleries were I've seen temporary exhibits.
Verdict: This is a show easily managed in a lunch hour and well worth seeing, especially with the 2012 games about to begin.