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Famous Native American Athletes

Famous Native American Athletes

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, Sister Sky honors and remembers the greatest Native American athletes of recorded history to recognize their preservice and dedication to proudly represent Indian Country. Their inspiration lives forever through Native American students, teachers, and the sports communities. Also, to demonstrate positive role models to inspire young Native Americans.

Maria Tallchief

Maria Tallchief was the first Native American (Osage Tribe) woman to break into ballet. Tallchief grew up in Los Angeles, California, where she studied ballet for many years. Her career as a ballerina spanned the globe and led to her being considered America's first major prima ballerina. She was the first Native American to hold the rank and is said to have revolutionized ballet.

One of the key soloists at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which later became the renowned New York City Ballet, Maria joined the company in New York where she achieved her international fame, impressing audiences with her speed, energy, and grace.

The part that established her national and international acclaim was the title role in the version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” along with the role of Swan Queen in his version of “Swan Lake,” the Sugar Plum Fairy in his version of “The Nutcracker,” Eurydice in “Orpheus,” and principal roles in such works as “Scotch Symphony.”

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe was an All-American in football at the Carlisle Indian School and won the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympic. The Olympic gold medalist was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Thorpe became the first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States and is considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports plying American football, professional baseball, and basketball.

Named to the U.S. team for the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, Thorpe burst out of the gate by winning four of five events to claim the gold medal in the pentathlon. A week later he overwhelmed the field in the decathlon, winning the high jump, the 110-meter hurdles and the 1,500 meters despite competing in a pair of mismatched shoes. Finishing the three-day event with a total of 8,412.95 points (of a possible 10,000) a mark that bested the runner-up by nearly 700 points, Thorpe was proclaimed by Sweden’s King Gustaf V to be the greatest athlete in the world.

Billy Mills

A member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe, Mills was born in 1938 and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. After losing his parents, Mills was sent to the Haskell Indian School in Kansas where he developed into a promising runner. He earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas and became a three-time All-American cross-country athlete.

After graduating from the University of Kansas Mills joined the Marine Corp and trained with Tommy Thomson who helped Mills reach his goal of competing in the Olympics. Billy Mills finished second in the Olympic trials in 1964 and had a 10,000-meter run in 29:10. He would run both the Olympic 10,000 meters and the marathon in Tokyo.

He broke the Olympic record, despite the heavy track (28:24.4, bettering Pyotr Bolotnikov’s 28:32.2 from 1960). He is the only American (man or woman) and first Native American to win the 10,000-meter gold.

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1 comment

  • I saw the move about JimThorp. Other native american athletes are fomous for the stories told about them. America has been gifted by numerous native in our history and a justly honroed in a lot of ways.

    Jim Stovall

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