We are so excited to have author David Maraniss on today’s show to talk about his new book Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe. David is an award-winning New York Times best-selling author and 2x Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s been affiliated with the Washington Post for over 40 years. David’s books include Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics that Stirred the World , which we featured in our book club.
Path Lit by Lightning came out this week, and we talked with him about the book and Thorpe, who won the pentathlon and decathlon at Stockholm 1912, but had his medals stripped because it was later discovered that he had been a professional athlete.
At this point in Olympic history, the Games were very much amateurs only. Thorpe had played a little minor league baseball in the summers before Stockholm 1912, which effectively rendered him prohibited from competition. However, Thorpe was allowed on the team, and his victories captivated the world, who celebrated him as the world’s greatest athlete.
The next year, that glory would be stripped away (even though it was past the deadline to protest the outcomes at these Games), as the discovery of his professionalism came to clearer light.
Thorpe’s story is one of amazing talent and a lot of struggle. And it includes everyone’s favorite, Avery Brundage, who happens to be one of Thorpe’s competitors in the decathlon and who fails miserably at the Olympic ideals he purports to uphold throughout his Olympic career.
Happily, the week we talked with David, the IOC announced the decision to return Jim Thorpe to the position of sole winner of his events.
Follow David on Facebook, Twitter and Insta!
David will be on tour promoting the book from now through October. Check out his website for details. One we want to point out: If you’re in the Nashville area, David will be appearing at Parnassus Books in conversation with his son–and fellow book club author–Andrew on Thursday, Aug. 25 at 6:30pm. Advance registration is required.
In our Albertville 1992 moment, Alison’s starting in on the women’s figure skating competition with the beginnings of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding situation.
As we talked about before, the ice seemed to give all types of figure skaters problems during these Olympics. Just check out Nancy’s free skate:
And here’s Tonya’s free skate:
In our update from TKFLASTAN, we have news from:
- The Montreal Parc Olympique — the office tower is now 100% occupied!
- Beach volleyball player Kelly Cheng
- Para dressage rider Sydney Collier, who will be competing at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions in a couple of weeks.
- Modern pentathlete Samantha Schultz – If you’re in Colorado Springs on August 12, go to the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum for her meet and greet!
- Race walker Evan Dunfee — just check out his last lap of the 10000K race walk at the 2022 Commonwealth Games:
Plus there’s news from Paris 2024, whose unofficial motto might be “Let’s scale things back a little more” and Milan-Cortina 2026, who is one step one step further from having stable leadership, but one step closer to a mascot.
We could use your help! TKFLASTAN needs its own national flower (and/or tree) and a national animal. Send us your suggestions!
Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!
Photo credit: Linda Maraniss. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Note: Links to products are affiliate links. We earn commissions through purchases made through them, which helps to fund the show.
Note: This is a machine-generated transcript. It contains errors. Please do not quote from the transcript; use the audio file as the record of note. If you would like to see transcripts that are more accurate, please support the show.
Jill: [00:00:00] Hello, fans of TKFLASTAN and welcome to another episode of Keep the Flame Alive, the podcast, for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. I am your host. Jill. Jaracz joined as always by my lovely co-host. Alison brown, Alison. Hello, how are you?
Alison: I have been having so much fun watching the Commonwealth Games that I have decided we need a giant animal built of some sort of medal for TKFLASTAN.
Jill: I could go for that.
Alison: You know, they’re talking about the English roses and the Aussie diamonds and Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn mm-hmm. We need to talk about what TKFLASTAN’s national animal is gonna be.
Jill: Oh my goodness. We have so much work to do for TKFLASTAN. Well, I know if, if you listeners have suggestions for what the TKFLASTAN national animal could be, let us know, cuz we do have a flag. Listener. Don was wonderful enough to design us a flag.
Alison: So we need a national flower and a national animal.
Jill: All right. Get on that friend. Let’s see what–
Alison: Don’t make it like poison Ivy
which we would be appropriate given my level of killing plants.
Jill: well, and the Commonwealth Games are over, but it’s now time for the European Games. We are in just this COVID. Produced embarrassment of riches for multi sport events, because so many events got pushed back a year that were just all piling ’em up on top of each other.
Alison: I, I just am not sleeping. And thankfully the us television actually did a really good job with the Commonwealth Games. And I had my two hours every night and kind of old school compressed it together, but I don’t know what Europeans are gonna. It’ll be interesting,
Jill: but if you are watching them get on the Facebook group, it’s Keep the Flame Alive Podcast and chat with folks there, cuz it should be interesting.
All right, let’s get to today’s interview. We are so excited to have David Maraniss on today’s show. David is an award winning New York Times, best selling author. And two time Pulitzer prize winning journalist.
Who’s been affiliated with the Washington Post for over 40 years. You may have read his book Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics that Stirred the World with us for our book club. His. 13th book Path Lit by Lightning: The life of Jim Thorpe came out this week. We talked with him about the book and Thorpe who won the pentathlon and decathlon at Stockholm in 1912, but had his medal stripped because it was later discovered he’d been a professional athlete, which was not allowed at the Olympics and was, had earned money, playing minor league baseball. Note.
The week we talked with David, the IOC announced the decision to return Jim Thorpe to the position of sole winner of his events. So that was exciting news to talk with him. As well as his book, take a listen to our conversation David.
David. Thank you so much for joining us.
In the end notes, you mentioned you have to be obsessed with the topic to write about it. Yes. So why Jim Thorpe and why now?
David Maraniss: Well, why now is a good question because I actually, the idea was planted in me about 20 years ago when a man named Norbert Hill from the Oneida nation in Wisconsin, came up to me in a book event for one of my earlier books and said, you have to do a book about a biography of Jim Thorpe.
And I said, well, I’m working on a biography of Roberto Clemente and other things. And I, you know, I, it has to be my own idea for me to do something, but thank you. But he planted the seed and it, it grew in, and I guess the real answer is that with all of my sports books, I’m looking for something that transcends the events themselves.
And so for my biography of Vince Lombardi, it was a chance to write about competition and success in American life, what it takes and what it costs. For the biography of Roberto Clemente. It was to write the story of sort of the Latino experience in the mainland. And also about that rare athlete who was a true hero and humanitarian.
You know, so many athletes are called in heroic and they’re just for the events on the field, but Clemente did it beyond the playing field and died, trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Nicaragua after [00:05:00] earthquake.
The Rome 1960 book about the 1960 Olympics was really my chance to bring the whole modern world together into that one time and place.
So as, dramatic as the events were, and as. Immortal is some of the characters are, you know, ranging from Wilma Rudolph to Cassius Clay/ Muhammad Ali Abebe Bikila, Rafer Johnson. It also all of the dynamics of the Cold War, of television, of a drug scandal of race, all of that came into play in those Olympics.
So that’s how it transcended the events. And for, Jim Thorpe, I saw it as a chance to write about an incredible athlete who did more in more sports than anyone ,ever as an Olympic gold medalist, as you so well know. And as a, a great all American football player and the, founding president of what became the National Football League and a major league baseball player. All of that combined with the fact that it was my opportunity to write about the Native American experience during his lifetime. And so that’s what drew me finally to that book. And I sort of look at it as the final book in a trilogy of, of Lombardi, Clemente and Thorpe.
Jill: How do you explain. Jim Thorpe, two people who don’t know who he is, kind of like my dental hygienist when I was bringing the book in to read while I was waiting for my dental appointment.
David Maraniss: Yeah. Well, I mean, obviously there are people who don’t know who Jim Thorpe is, anyone who knows sports does, but I try to write all my books for people who don’t know sports as well as those who know it intimately.
So, um as I said, Jim Thorpe is perhaps the greatest athlete in American history. I mean, that’s a good place to start. I mean, you can argue it about with Bo Jackson or, or others, but, nobody did all of the things that he did in terms of the track and field baseball and football. And then he was a very powerful symbol for the Native American experience during his lifetime. So. that’s how I would define him both as a, a great athlete and something beyond that.
Alison: One of the things you talked about in the book was myths and athletic myths and separating myth from reality, which is a big thing with Thorpe. The one thing I marked in the book was about myths that once distorted a specific reality and fill a human need, revealing a larger truth.
And what kind of larger truth do you feel like you were trying to get at?
David Maraniss: Well, I think it’s sort of, the truth of. That, that you find in literature, that you find in, in Greek mythology that you, you know, which is that beyond the details and the facts. There are certain aspects of the human experience that lift us, lift all human beings and that define us even beyond the facts and that, that’s what I’m trying to get at that, that Jim Thorpe represented something beyond his life experience. And that, that is valid even as, as a biographer, it’s my responsibility to separate the reality of life from myth. I don’t denigrate myth because I think it does serve a value in all of our experiences
Jill: On that theme, it seemed like there was a, a lot of separating.
Myth from fact here. In your research, it seemed like there are many different sides to a story and not all facts are correct. So how hard was it to find the truth in Jim Thorpe?
David Maraniss: I use the same methodology that I do in all of my books. Some myths are easy to sort out, you know, the, the claim that he, he had home runs into three separate states.
All you can do is look at the map and see that that’s impossible. Others are a little bit hazy, like, when he competed at the Olympics and was wearing two different shoes, the shoes that he didn’t come with, you know, were they stolen that sort of. I think on the, I mean, nobody knows what happened to those shoes.
He could have misplaced them. A lot of things could have happened. And so, you know, I consider that sort. On the edge of myth, you know, because it’s so much more dramatic to say the shoes were stolen. He clearly did compete in two shoes that weren’t the same size and he had to wear different socks.
The photographs established that. It’s also sort of, when people tell that story, they make it sound like he competed in all 10 events wearing those mis-sized shoes that he did. And it was only a couple of events. So, you know, that’s that sort of thing. Requires common sense. And also looking at every possible piece of information I can find. Some, some are easy as I said, and some, some require just looking at you know, archival [00:10:00] facts at, at different interviews at photographs and everything I can find to reach what I consider to be the best version of the truth.
Alison: okay. So speaking of the Olympics, yes. You’re talking about 1912 Stockholm. What did especially Americans think of the Olympics at that time?
David Maraniss: You know, in some ways it was I mean, it wasn’t the first Olympics, as you well know it was the fifth, but, but in some ways it was the first, really big Olympics and more, more countries competed. The London Olympics of of four years earlier were considered sort of halfhearted and not particularly well run. Everything in Stockholm was well run. It developed the reputation of being the sunshine Olympics, partly because of the wonderful weather, but also because everything sort of, Came off well, and I think in a sense also, because of what came after, you know, this was right before World War. I, when so many of the nations that competed in Sweden were then fighting and killing each other in World War I, so that sunshine is sort of like before the, the dark clouds of World War, I. But the Americans came in full force except for one important effect, which you two would go all too well, which was that James E. Sullivan didn’t want women to compete. So it was on all male delegation. It had one African American who was a great sprinter who sadly injured himself in the heats of the a hundred yard dash um Drew from Massachusetts. It had three Native Americans Jim Thorpe, his teammate, Lewis Tewanima and Sockalexis marathon marathoner and, and um the rest were mostly college boys from the Irish athletic clubs around the country.
It was a pretty talented field, but one person had a lot more talent than anybody else. So that was Jim Thorpe.
Alison: And what did Jim Thorpe think about going to the Olympics? Well, he was recruited back to Carlisle by his coach Pop Warner, who was both his football coach and his Trek and field coach after he’d been away for two years playing the Bush league baseball that eventually got him in trouble.
David Maraniss: He was recruited back largely by Pop Warner saying, look, you can go to the Olympics if you come back and train for the Olympics. And Jim thought of that mostly as a means to an end, which he hoped would be a career as a coach, that, that the Olympics would add to his fame notoriety and help him develop a career front in sports after that. So many things turned against him and that was one of them. He never really got the shot to be the, he got one chance to be an assistant coach. And that was it. But he’d never been on a ship before neither had Tewanima his teammate. It was his first experience overseas. It was all new to him.
In Sweden he was regarded. As even more of an, oddity or curiosity than he was in the United States. There’s a scene in the book of, of some Swedish school girls coming up to him and thinking, why don’t you look like an Indian and a headdress and, and all of that. So Jim decided to play Indian and, and did a award whoop and dance and, and made them run away. But you know, it sort of, that was the first, his first taste with that sort of. Global fame and global stereotyping of him.
Alison: So he gets to Stockholm and blows the doors off for, for lack of a better phrase.
David Maraniss: Boy, does he? Yeah. Uh The first in the pentathlon and you know, I have to confess you two probably are.
as experts in the Olympics, understand scoring systems better than I do. But the, the T Fon scoring system was actually pretty easy to comprehend because if you finish first an event, you’d get one point . So the, the fewer points you got, the better you were, and that, that, that’s simple for me. The scoring system for the decathlon than in ever.
It’s beyond me. I was never particularly good at math anyway, but, but the way they, pile up these thousands of points and what, how you get them. I don’t understand, but, but what I do understand is how much better he was in each event. And particularly in the pentathlon it was well in both events.
He set records which again, particularly in the decathlon, the scoring system has changed so much that, a record point total differs probably decade by decade. Right. But, but he did set the records of that time. And he just in both instances was lapped the field, the field into decathlon fascinated me because it included his nemesis for decades.
Uh one of the villains of the book, Avery Brundage, [00:15:00] who, again, you two as Olympic historians. So all the brandage stories.
Alison: Yeah. It it’s, it’s always dangerous to mention Avery brandage to me because our listeners will know it’ll send me down a rabbit hole that I might not recover from , but we are gonna have to go back to him.
So we will, we will hold Avery for a moment. And he wins and he is feted in, in Sweden, the king. Gives him gifts. The other athletes are enamored of him. The fans are enamored with him, but he has an interesting reaction to it. Well, Jim was a innately self deprecating, shy human being. I mean, I don’t know if this is where you were going, but particularly after he got home to the United States and he was fed at different ceremonies and, and parades, you know, take or take parade in New York City and bun in Philly, you know, he, he didn’t like that sort of notoriety he wasn’t as comfortable with that.
David Maraniss: And so. Yeah, I mean, he, he didn’t gloat about it. He didn’t brag about it. He didn’t, beat his chest. He, he went through all of those ceremonies, but it wasn’t, you know, he was proud of what he had done, definitely and fought the rest of his life to have his honor and integrity restored.
But it, it was more just because of the unfairness of it than any boasting about what he had done.
Jill: Do you think in a way that those personality traits made it difficult for him to capitalize on being the greatest athlete in the world?
David Maraniss: You know, Jill, they probably did, but it’s also a matter of when he was famous.
In other words, he couldn’t capitalize financially, particularly in track and field. Uh It was before the era of, of officially professional track and field where you could make real money off it. And even in pro football, which was his football was his best sport. I would say. Outside of the decathlon it was an era when pro football was kind of a rag Muff on sport.
The, the stepsister of baseball and boxing and horse racing and tennis and golf. It wasn’t anything comparable to what it is today. So even if he had tried to capitalize, I’m saying, I don’t think he would, could have become a millionaire from, from all of that. But definitely I think that the fact that.
He did want to be a coach, but he really often said if he could just do anything in life, he’d rather be hunting and fishing. And he didn’t like that public limelight much. Certainly there are ways that he might have capitalized more with a different personality, but, but that wasn’t him, you know, you can’t be something you’re not.
And. That was,
Jill: I, I know this is gonna, this is going sideways, but as I was reading,
David Maraniss: I like sideways.
Jill: I couldn’t, it couldn’t help, but I have to edit this. David once in while I don’t like sideways, but I gotta know. I wondered if not, if Jim Thorpe had been born later, but if the National Football League was more established, And he was able to make a, a living as a professional football player.
If life wouldn’t have been different.
David Maraniss: I agree completely. Absolutely. If he had been in a different era the, if football had been on a par with baseball his life would’ve been different. Yes. I mean, he was a generous person with his money, to what some would call a fault. He didn’t care that much about money although he spent the rest of his life trying to earn enough to keep afloat. But definitely his life would’ve been different. If he could have really made the money that he deserved as the greatest athlete in the world, that is a phenomenal football player. Definitely.
Alison: So the first unraveling of that comes, I guess it’s the winter of 1913. That, that, the issue of his, amateur status becomes an issue?
David Maraniss: Yeah, it’s in January of, 1913 he just finished a brilliant season as his final season in football at Carlisle, they won perhaps the most noted game of Carlisle’s history because of its resonance. When they defeated Army 27 to six, Jim Thorpe against Dwight Eisenhower among others.
But just the notion of the Indians defeating the, the gallery had such a profound meaning on a book they considered for once level playing field. So right after that in January, Through a series of coincidence coincident meetings. The story broke in the Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts, but I have to say even before that, it was incredibly well known what Jim had been doing in the Eastern Carolina league for two years, because the papers in North Carolina carried his box scores and his name, you know, [00:20:00] after every game he was playing under the name, Jim Thorpe while most, you know, scores, if not hundreds of college athletes were playing under aliases.
You know, someone called it the Pocahontas league, cuz everybody called themselves John Smith. you know, so it was that sort of situation. And Thorpe never tried to hide the fact that he played there. It had been written about before in North Carolina, but when it broke in 1913 in the Worcester Telegram it sort of popped into the larger domain and it reached Sullivan at the Amateur Athletic Union and the American Olympic Committee and reached Pop Warner in Carlisle and all the people there. Now, again, I think they all knew ahead of time. I think they all lied to save their jobs. That’s the conclusion I reached in the book and for I document pretty thoroughly how and why they should have known.
But that’s when the story broke and within a week the medals were returned, the trophies were returned and Jim Thorpe was left hanging. What did amateur even mean in 1912? Great question. It was in the eye of the beholder and the beholder was the people in power. I mean, look, I mean, I also document in the book that Papa Warner was paying his players, you know, his football players as were so many Athletes, especially football players who also were good at track were getting paid by their colleges during that era.
The Swedish team as I point out was granted leaves from all of their jobs months before the Olympics at fo pay. Now, is that, is that an amateur ? The uh future general of George Patton. Was training for all of his events while on the payroll of the Us Army. Is that an amateur or not?
I mean, Jim Thorpe was competing in sports that he never got paid for. and you know that he persisted through the generations, you know, I I’ll never forget the story in, in my Rome, 1960 book of the great herder Lee Calhoun, who was suspended for a. But appearing on you know, what was it called?
Bride and Groom, a TV show where his wife got a, you know, a washer or a refrigerator or something, So it was always defined by very wealthy white men who didn’t need the money. Basically they could define who was an amateur and who wasn’t. Jim Thorpe was getting paid about two bucks a day, maybe 30 bucks a month to play baseball for a couple of years and nothing to do.
He was never paid for track and field.
Alison: Do you think racism played a part in both his being stripped and then the refusal for so long to reinstate those medal.
David Maraniss: I think it played a part. I wouldn’t say it was everything, but definitely it was easier for, from the beginning, I would say for the powers that be at that point, which was James Sullivan and Moses Friedman and superintendent of Carlisle and Pop Warner, his coach at Carlisle to turn in an Indian then to, you know, that if he had been a prominent white college, boy, I definitely think that’s true. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. And when you read all of their comments during that period it just oozes through the racism of their sort of, they could, they could paw it off on Jim. And by saying that he was unaccustomed, you know, he was just a, a poor uneducated Indian kid.
He didn’t know any better, you know, and he was very condescending and patronizing on their part as another means. Of avoiding their own responsibility and then for the decades and decades after that I’m sure that that racism played a role in that. The interesting thing is that he always had enormous public popularity in the sporting press and among the public at large.
I mean, it was only these, these. Rich poobahs of the Olympic movement that, prevented him from getting his medals back. Pretty much everybody else thought it was a, a raw deal and probably people who in other aspects could have been considered um less than progressive on most racial issues, themselves Thorpe’s kind of transcended that a little bit.
I was on an airplane yesterday with a guy. Who said such disparaging things about modern athletes. And you can tell he was talking about black athletes. But he saw that I had a copy of my Thor book and he started just gushing about Jim Thorpe, you know, in the good old days. So there’s some of that evolved too.
Jill: How. did he transcend that it just be the greatest athlete in an era where, you know, you don’t [00:25:00] really have much in the way of film and news is slow to travel. Not that I had a hard time understanding that, but it was just amazing to me. Just how much he transcended everything.
David Maraniss: Yeah. I mean, you’re right. I mean, there wasn’t television back then. But I would say that like Jack Dempsey like, Babe Ruth it was a golden age of sports writing.
And so in the book, I write a lot about how Grantland rice, who was sort of the Dean of the golden age, myth makers and sports writers really adopted Jim Thorpe as one of his causes, and was constantly writing about Thorpe, both about how he, you know, he was done wrong in the Olympics, but also about how he was the greatest athlete ever and the, you know, the greatest football player ever.
You know, it’s amazing when you go back and, and look at newspapers from that era, first of all, how many newspapers there are, and secondly, how much they write about Jim Thorpe and, and the other sort of golden athletes of that golden era. So I would, you know, I would say people read about him and that’s how he became such a massive figure.
And they read about him all over the world. You know, there’s a chapter in my book about the. World tour that the New York Giants baseball team and the Chicago White Sox team took later in 1913 and 1914 around the world. And there were some fabulous baseball players on that tour, including you know, future hall of Famers, tri speaker and others.
But the only player that everybody in Japan or Australia. or England knew was Jim Thorpe. He was the world figure because of the Olympics.
Alison: I thought it was really interesting when in your book and you’re talking about when the medals are stripped Thorpe, doesn’t seem too up in arms about it.
I mean, he is not happy, but he’s sort of saying I’m the greatest athlete in the world and everyone still acknowledges. As such,
David Maraniss: you know, I think Alison, it, it took a while for that to really sink in to him about how unfair it had been. And so, first of all, the letter that he writes asking, you know, acknowledging everything, Pop Warner wrote that letter.
So it was Pop Warner talking there, but you’re right. Jim Thorpe himself in that early period was not as. Vehemently upset as you might expect. And that’s partly his personality. But then starting probably 10 years later you start seeing him more and more talking about how unfair it was and wanting the trophies back in the medals, back in his records restored, and really that dominated the rest of his life.
Maybe it was partly because his athletic skills were diminishing that. His football playing days were pretty much over and baseball or starting to recede. And he was thinking about his life and his condition as a Native American and feeling more of the sting of that than he did when he was at the peak of his athletic powers.
And so I think it all started to, dominate his thinking more later.
Alison: So he certainly had a very troubled life. Personally. He had a very troubled life professionally, but as you say, he comes to that point where he really wants to get his medals back and that recognition and he runs. Head first into Avery brandage.
So here’s where Avery brandage. Our friend comes back into the story and he is now head of the IOC and right. He was also Thorpe’s teammate in 1912, which I thought such an interesting twist. Did you know that Allison? I did not. I did know that Brun had been there in 1912. Didn’t put it together.
David Maraniss: They had actually competed against one another. I mean, I had, I’d written about brandage extensively in Rome, 1960. But I never, I didn’t put it together either until I started written book and, you know, among so many other hypocrisies of Avery brandage. It’s the fact that he didn’t even finish the Lon because he was embarrassed by how bad he was doing.
You know, this guy who says that competition is all that matters and you know where you’re from or how you do are not as important as the brotherhood of, of the events. And yet, you know, he dropped out for just crushed. Which I love. And then, you know, probably to some degree for the rest of Brundage’s life, he didn’t forget that, but that maybe was one motivating factor, but he for decades was pressured to do Jim Wright and made it sound like he was the one being picked on, you know, that everybody.
Yelling at him for not doing it. [00:30:00] And, and he was just upholding the amateur standards that he so deeply believed in. Um While he was of course making millions of dollars off of his IOC connections. How do you think brandage reconciled that he knows Jim personally, they competed together. He’s making all this money and yet.
Alison: Is still denying him something that really costs nothing.
David Maraniss: Yeah. I can’t explain that part of brandage. I think he reconciled, I rationalize some of it by using the argument. Look, everybody knows Jim was a great athlete. That’s what counts. And. Of course, Jim said that as well, but he also wanted his records restored in his trophies back.
I mean Brun. It was just a bundle of hypocrisy and contradictions, right. In every possible way. You know, I mean, politics should be out of sports, but, but let’s promote the Nazi propaganda to try to get the 1936 Olympics not being boycotted. I mean, if that’s not politics, what is you know, in every possible way.
I mean, I say in the book that that what frontage did in 36 was probably as bad as it can get. but just as an example of his hypocrisy his denial of Jim Thorpe, his justice was exhibit A.
Alison: We had spoken to David Davis recently, ah, talking about writing biographies and living with your subject. Yes. So how is it to live with Jim Thor and, and how long were you working on the book?
David Maraniss: You know, for all of my biographies, you’re right. You absolutely do live with a subject. And you know, there were times where it was rough seeing Jim struggling. Reading the letters he wrote to his girlfriend and wife, you know, when he goes really scrounging around to try to figure out his life and career. But I try to approach each book and definitely did with Thorpe, neither his hagiography nor hatchett job, but really trying to understand and feel the character and view life through his– as much as I can– through his or her eyes.
I have an empathetic personality to start with, so that helps. So the ups and downs of his mericurial existence, I would sort of feel them with him wherever he was, you know, up or down and grew to admire him greatly, even with all of his human flaws.
I thought, you know, I, I think I write in a book that because of what happened to him, both of the Olympics and the difficulties struggles he had afterwards, you could view his life as tragedy. And there certainly were tragic aspects to it, but I view it more as a, an example of perseverance against the odds.
And so I was constantly rooting for him, you know, whether he could make it back or not. But I found myself rooting for him.
Alison: I’m sure you came across a lot of things from 1912 that did not fit in the book because they weren’t related to Jim. So do you have any favorites from Stockholm?
David Maraniss: Well, I mean, I could have written about the tug of war right. Or the treatment of women more than I did. I mean, I certainly studied that. I would’ve loved to have written more about Howard you, the, the black printer. Duke, who of course, Dave Davis wrote a whole book about, so I didn’t have to worry about that, but it was fun for me to see him in the old documentary film of the Olympics.
And I, I think I gave. Patton about as much as he deserved, but I just couldn’t resist sort of showing his fabrications and, and what ha what he did at the Olympics as well. And The marathon I wrote about even though Tomo was in it. So that was my excuse for writing about it.
But I, I found that grueling and fascinating and especially was taken by the Japanese runner who, who dropped out, but finished it some 50 years later. I thought that was fabulous.
That was a wonderful story.
Alison: So. it was announced this week that Thorpe would be honored as the sole champion from 1912 that they’re reinstating his role.
What did you think when you heard that, besides that it was really good for the publication timing of your book?
David Maraniss: Well, I thought it was about time or maybe 112 years too late. But I know a lot of people worked very hard for this moment. um There’d been sort of a pure victory in 1983. When Juan Antonio Samran gave the children who were still alive then for children replicas of the gold medals, but didn’t restore his records and didn’t make him the sole winner.
And so, you know, that was really sort of halfhearted and that was. [00:35:00] But, you know, 40 years ago almost. Right. So another 40 years before he finally got the full due that he deserved I thought it was great in overdue. And you know, the, the other issue is somewhat more controversial. And I understand the feelings of the people who live in Jim, Thorpe Pennsylvania, but I think the final.
Right. This will come when his bones are moved back to his Homeland in Oklahoma.
There are so many more things in this book that we’re not going . We could talk for 12 hours about, you know, we haven’t gotten into Carlisle and the industrial school and, and how Jim Thor, Pennsylvania came to be. And, and so much. This is now the
Alison: second time. You’ve gone back to an Olympics. You did Rome 1960, and now you’ve done this. And of course your son is also slightly Olympic obsessed.
David Maraniss: he’s done now too. Yes,
Alison: we, absolutely applaud. What is it about the Olympics for you and athletes that you keep coming back to?
David Maraniss: Well, I think on a broader scale, I look at athletes as offering almost everything that I want in a book because it offers drama.
So you, you’re now worried about sort of a static situation because there’s always competition going on and, and dramatic uh story in that storytelling in that sense. And you know, while some people sort of disparage sports as the toy department of writing. I completely disagree. And I think that almost every important social issue can be dealt with through the lens of sports.
And that’s, so it’s that combination of drama in a larger meaning that attracts me as for the Olympics. Rome 1960 was purposely an Olympic book. And again, I thought it had the characters, the drama and the larger meaning in so many different ways. The Thor biography just happens to run through the Olympics.
I mean, that’s where he got his fame. That’s what people know most about him was his, you know, as the greatest athlete in the world. But it’s not by any means all of his story. So I enjoyed writing about the Olympics again in a larger story in that case you know, I mean, you could look at 1968 in Mexico city 1972 in Munich.
There there’s so much richness of, of world history in the Olympics, not just 36 or, or room that I wrote about. It always offers a lens of both great athletics and uh the world coming together, you know, with all of its tensions and dynamics and problems.
Alison: okay. Couple of quick questions on Rome, 1960, cuz as we mentioned, it was one of our book club books.
I loved it. I thought it was fantastic. Do you have a couple of stories from there that really stick with you that just don’t leave your mind from that book?
David Maraniss: Alison one story that is not in the book, but as a result of the book that sticks to be power. Is that after the book came out there was a conference on the Rome Olympics in Rome sponsored by the American Academy in Rome, and they invited me to come.
And I brought with me Rafer Johnson and Lucinda Williams, one of the Tigerbelles and we walked into the Stadio Olympic. for the first time for them in 50 years. And they both teared up thinking about that their, that moment from 50 years ago. And that was as powerful, you know, it’s one of those times where I, I feel that history in my work are combining in a powerful way.
That makes me glad about what I do. So that was one, the other one that I’ll never. Abebe Bikila running through the streets of Rome, barefooted, in the country that had tried to annihilate his Homeland of Ethiopia and that when he reached the Axo Opolis on his truck in the marathon.
This grand that had been taken by mu from Ethiopia, Rome, when Abbe reached that point, he just took off and won. You know, it was just a beautiful, both athletic event and symbolic event of winning that marathon bear.
Alison: David, thank you so much for talking with us about the book. It’s really exciting to get to talk to you, to be honest.
David Maraniss: Well, I mean, I’m delighted to do it and especially knowing that you’ve already interviewed Andrew.
Jill: Thank you so much, David, you can follow David on social he’s on Facebook at Maraniss Twitter. He is David Maraniss and Instagram. He is David Marini, [00:40:00] David Maraniss author. We will have links to all of those in the show notes. David will be on tour promoting his book from now through October. Check out his website, David Maraniss.com for details.
One, we do wanna point out though, if you are in the Nashville area, David will be appearing at Parnassus Books in conversation with his son and fellow book club author, Andrew Maraniss on Thursday, August 25th at six 30. Advanced registration is required. We will have a link to that in the show notes.
Alison: Oh, too bad. We’re gonna be traveling. Yeah, we will be because we would just show up in Nashville, man. . This was very exciting. And I hope the, the listeners get how excited we were to, to talk to David cuz we loved Rome. We loved this book. He’s just a font of knowledge on all these subjects that we get excited about.
Very proud of myself that I did not go too far down the Avery Brundage rabbit hole.
Because David, if you had, let me, the two of us would’ve been there for two or three days discussing Avery Brundage, but it’s a great book. And if you haven’t read Rome 1960, go back, cuz that is also fantastic.
Jill: Right? And you can get copies to both of those. They are on our featured firstname.lastname@example.org affiliate site.
That is bookshop.org/shop/flamealivepd.
That sound means it’s time for the return of our history segment. All year long, we have been looking at Albertville 1992 as this is the 30th anniversary of those games. , we take a few weeks off and I forget how to do math. Alison, you have a story for us.
Alison: I do. So this is gonna be part one of the ladies figure skating championship. Yes. It was a very complicated competition, so we’re gonna need several segments. So this time I’m gonna focus on the birth of the Nancy Kerrigan Tonya Harding rivalry that we examined very closely in our movie club episode about I Tonya.
So to set the stage in 1991 at the world championships, the American women swept the podium. So you had gold Kristi Yamaguchi, silver to Tonya Harding, and bronze to Nancy Kerrigan and people expected that there could possibly be another sweep at the Olympics. We’ll get some Midori Ito next time, but she was the other big champion from Japan that was on the list.
So short program comes around. Everybody has some trouble. Nancy Kerrigan,
Jill: wait, wait a second. Didn’t they have trouble in the men’s figure skating as well.
Alison: This is the competition where the people who won medals stayed on their skates the most in all disciplines, it was a really trouble. Competition. And I have not found anyone talking about if there was an issue with the stadium or the ice or the conditions.
Okay. I might need to go to Albertville to do some research. So both Nancy and Tonya stumbled slightly in the short program. Nancy was still second going into the long and Tonya Harding was down in sixth. They skated back to back. So Nancy Keigan comes out. She’s wearing this gorgeous white gown designed by bridal designer, Vera Wang.
This is sort of the beginning of her collaborations with Vera Wang and she has some problems. She singles a triplets. She missed a second jump on her combination. She stumbled on a triple toe and she falls out of her final pose. It was. Not a good program. But they, she gets decent scores and, and she’s kind of hanging in there.
Tonya Harding comes out. She was very controversial at the time because she didn’t even arrive in France until two days before the short program. Whoa. And she was not living in the village and she was not communicating with the other skaters. She was already the bad girl of. She fell hard in practice and hurt her shoulder the day before the short program, her blades were slipping.
So she was having problems with her equipment.
Jill: So it was just, wait, what not hurt? How, how do you have blade? What, what do you mean by blade slipping? So
Alison: apparently what was happening was the blade was shifting underneath her foot,
Jill: huh? Like it wasn’t on her boot correctly. Exactly.
Alison: And then when they tried to fix it, they misaligned.
so she was having trouble with her skates for the non-technical of us. So she comes out and attempts a triple axle, which had not been completed in women’s competition in the Olympics. She falls hard and the rest of the program kind of falls apart. However,
she still ended up fourth.[00:45:00] and Kerrigan ended up winning the bronze medal. Wow. But Tonya really felt like she had skated a harder program in what she actually completed than Kerrigan. So she was very resentful of this fourth place finished. And a lot of people have speculated that this is where the personal animosity towards Nancy Kerrigan came.
That Nancy got the bronze and she got shut out of the podium and that personal animosity allegedly led to all the events leading up to 1994 and the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Wow.
Jill: it’s so interesting when you think about winning medals and we see this at other Olympics as well. Skaters don’t skate cleanly.
And as a fan, I wanna see a clean program and I wanna see clean programs, rewarded, not attempting hard stuff and failing miserably rewarded. And that’s always frustrating to try to reconcile those two things because the judging system rewards the attempt, the trying your best, and maybe you’ll do well.
Versus you skated clean. Maybe a safer program?
Alison: Well, basically nobody skated cleanly. oh, Albertville. Oh, Albertville. I don’t know what was happening there.
Welcome to TKFLASTAN.
Jill: All right. It’s time to check in with our Team. Keep the Flame Alive. These are past guests of the show who are now our citizens of shook. Laan our very own country. I’m excited about this. This is also legacy news, but we talked with Cedric assem from the Montreal Olympic park years ago. And now the park has announced that the tower at the Montreal Olympic stadium is 100% occupied. So the tower like is above goes above the stadium. It’s an GLI thing above the stadium. It was not finished in time for 1976, but now it’s part tourist, attraction and part office building. And they have now filled all of the office space.
Alison: excited for. Agreed. And this is exciting. We forgot that Canada was in the Commonwealth Games.
Jill: oh, our American is showing ,
Alison: but very exciting news. Evan Dunfee won gold in the 10 kilometer race walk and set a record at the Commonwealth Games coming from behind in the final lap. If you have not seen the last few minutes of that race, please go back and watch.
Jill: Yeah, we will try to get a link to that in the show notes and on our website, because it is phenomenal how he passed the person who was ahead of him
Alison: to catch gold.
And, and he’s been having a rough year since Tokyo. He’s been having a lot of physical issues and a lot of mental health challenges just to see him come through this.
So, so exciting. So congratulations happen,
Jill: Para dressage writer, Sydney Collier is competing at the US Dressage Festival of Champions in Wayne, Illinois. And that event runs on August 22nd through the
Kelly Claes Cheng and Betsi Flint competed at the AVP tour in Atlanta last weekend and tied for seventh this weekend, they are competing in Hamburg on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour, and they kick off the pool play on August 11th versus toda and Rebecca from.
Jill: And if you are in Colorado Springs, this Friday modern pen athlete, Samantha Schultz will be doing a meet and greet at the us O P museum.
That goes on Friday, August 12th from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.
A lot of safety news from Paris, 2024 this week. what’s up with this first one?
Alison: I love this story so much. So the French ministry of the armed forces announced back in June and somehow we missed it, that it has ordered a prototype of an anti-D drone, laser weapon called Helma P. and it’s going to be deployed during the Olympics.
So the idea is this LA this device can fire a laser in any orange drones and burn a hole through it, causing it to fall out of the sky.
Jill: See, my first reaction is I wonder how they know it’s an errand drone, because there’s been so many opening ceremonies with drone technology incorporated into them. Can you imagine that thing just going off and going, going AWI
Alison: [00:50:00] well, I was concerned also because remember I think last year Paris was talking about having the air taxis.
Oh, that’s right. So what happens if you start
Jill: shooting the tourist? It’s wow. I wonder how they’re doing on the air to idea, especially with the budget overruns they’re having now and inflation. I somehow I think that’s not gonna happen. And the sports newspaper, L’Equipe is reporting that the scope of the opening ceremonies along the Seine is going to be likely going to be smaller.
they originally touted that they would have 600,000 spectators along the sun to watch the parade of nations. Now they’re looking at more like
Alison: 400,000. Because they’re concerned about people getting shot with the laser
Jill: oh, Milan Cortina. What’s going on at the organizing committee?
Alison: So there’s gonna be a shake up at the top of the organizing committee because of decrees coming down from the Italian go. Oh really? Oh yeah, we got issues. There’s gonna be a new 14 person ward of directors that will be appointed. And it’s been reported though.
It is not confirmed that current chief executive then Zo Nova is going to be replaced because
Jill: this has been talked about before that he might be. Be going away, but hasn’t happened
Alison: yet. Right? So they’re talking about Novari and all of his deputies, whoa. Getting sent out. So, Italian president, Sergio Elli has to sign a decree to make the change official.
So that has not happened yet, but it is supposedly in the works. So we’re gonna see no doubt, a big shake up happening at the top ranks here.
Jill: Better news. They’ve signed their first national partnership with alga, a supermarket chain, according to Sports Pro Media. So that’s good news that they’ve got
Alison: some money coming in.
Yeah. And that’s the problem because it’s their first and they should be having lots of sponsors at this.
Jill: Hm, also good news. The Milan city council approved 13.75 million euros in funding for the Paralympics. This is according to Inside the Games. So that is good news. cuz remember, all I can think of is when I think of funding in the Paralympics, just the disaster in Rio where they almost didn’t happen because at the last minute. They ran out of money.
Alison: in Atlanta. There was problems as well. Mm-hmm with, with funding, the Paralympics so good that they are putting that in the budget, but as we have discover. Budgets are meaningless .
Jill: Yep. But you know, we’ve talked a little bit on the Facebook group and I, I think here’s what, because the subject keeps coming up in this, especially with the Commonwealth Games, integrating a lot of para events into it, the idea that the Olympics in the Paralympics should just be one event.
Seemingly with funding. It, it still seems like the Paralympics is an afterthought in terms of budgeting. We still haven’t gotten to that.
Alison: Absolutely. And I know I read and I’m sorry, I don’t have the reference where the IOC said no, the IOC and the I P C will continue to keep these two events separate.
Jill: Well, and Andrew Parsons said that as. Yes, they, and I think the IPC has a different need because when you look at the popularity of the Commonwealth Games and you realize that para sports have a level of popularity in the UK, that they don’t have in many other countries. And I think the issue that the IPC probably sees more so than, than we do, cuz we tend to see what gets shown on TV.
They still have so much work to do in developing sport and getting awareness and, and building all of those things that I think if they went with the Olympics right now, they would lose all of that. It would just still get lost within
Alison: the Olympics. And can you imagine it would be like the St. Louis Olympics that would go on for six months?
very true. It would just be so
Jill: long. And, and I still like having the different events. The different two different feel. Yeah. Yeah. They do have a totally different feel. And I think the Paralympics deserves to have its own event and, and maybe integration happens decades down the road, but I, I don’t think we’re there yet.
Like they’ve said. we we’ll end Milan Cortina news on a good note. The mascot competitions on its next step. [00:55:00] Do they have money for this? Hopefully so they’ve had a contest because this games is all about. Audience participation and fan participation. So the fans voted on the logo and they voted on the song.
So now they had a big student contest for drawing the mascots. They got like 1600 entries from that, which is pretty good. They’re narrowing it down to 10 pairs and that will be cut down to two pairs. Now here’s where the budget comes in because according to Inside the Games, these pairs will be developed by a creative team.
and ultimately put to a vote. So maybe they look at the pairs. I, I would be curious to see what they’ve gotten so far and how, because you’re talking about elementary school, secondary school, sometimes an older student probably has a more developed mascot but a little kid could have a really good.
Alison: this is what we should do for our shook Stan national animal. Yeah. Maybe just have little kids draw animals and see what we come up with. I think we will end up with Venicia the mascot from Rio. That was that Dr. Morro conglomeration of various animals.
Jill: and that’s what I worry about. but you never know it it’s Italian.
It could be cute.
Alison: it’ll be friendly and it’ll eat well.
Jill: No doubt. We would like to give a big shout out to our Patreon patrons who keep our flame alive. You can find out more about supporting the email@example.com slash support. If you are more interested in one time offerings, and that’s going to do it for this week, let us know your thoughts about our interview with David Maraniss or your thoughts on Jim. Th.
Alison: You can get in touch with us through email flame, alive pod, gmail.com. You can call or text us at (208) 352-6348. That’s 2 0 8. Flame it, our social handle is at flame alive pod, and absolutely be sure to join the, Keep the Flame Alive Podcast group on Facebook.
We have a lot of fun there.
Jill: That we do. Next week. It’s gonna be movie club time, little bit of chance to grab some popcorn. And while we’re not watching a summer blockbuster, but we are gonna watch the Albertville 1992 official movie. So, get ready for that one. It’s gonna be a trip. we will talk with you more then.
Thank you so much for listening and until next time, keep the flame alive.