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Lewis Tewanima

Biographical information

Medals OG
Gold 0
Silver 1
Bronze 0
Total 1
TypeCompeted in Olympic Games
SexMale
Full nameLewis•Tewanima
Used nameLewis•Tewanima
Born1888 in Songoopavi, Arizona (USA)
Died18 January 1969 in Second Meza, Arizona (USA)
Measurements160 cm / 51 kg
AffiliationsCarlisle Indian Industrial School, Carlisle (USA)
NOC(s) United States

Biography

Lewis Tewanima was a Hopi Indian who was born on the reservation in Arizona. He later reflected on his childhood, describing that he and his friends would often run 50 miles to Winslow, Arizona, to watch the trains. They would do that, and then run home. He dismissed the lengthy runs by noting, “It was summertime, the days were long.”

Lewis Tewanima spent all but five years of his long life on the Hopi Indian Reservation. In 1906, U.S. troops arrested a band of Hopi in a dispute over a federal decree that they send their children to government-run schools. When the Hopi resisted, several were shipped away from the reservation. Tewanima was first sent to Fort Wingate in New Mexico and in 1907 to Carlisle Indian School, where he was a teammate of Jim Thorpe’s on the track team.

At Carlisle, Tewanima starred on the track team, winning numerous distance races, and eventually making the Olympic team twice. He competed for the United States as a distance runner at both the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games. In 1908, Tewanima finished 9th in the Olympic marathon. In 1912, he also ran the marathon, finishing 16th, having earlier won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters behind the legendary Finn, Hannes Kolehmainen. This was to remain the best performance by a U.S. athlete in this event until Billy Mills, also of Native American descent, won the 10,000 in 1964. Tewanima ran the Boston Marathon once, in 1909, leading for 18 miles, but he failed to finish.

In 1954, Tewanima was picked for the all-time U.S. Olympic track & field team. He was brought from his home in Shimopavy, Arizona, on the reservation, to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. There, in full Hopi regalia, he was the hit of the show, and was photographed with two-time Olympic decathlon champion Bob Mathias. In 1957, he was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.

Tewanima returned to his Hopi home after the 1912 Olympics and spent his life herding sheep, and growing corn, melons, and beans. He remains a legend to the Hopi People, and every Labor Day, they hold the Louis Tewanima Memorial Footrace in his honor. A Hopi high school track coach has noted, “Tewanima is a cultural hero to all Hopi but especially to young runners.” And tribal chairman Ivan Sydney said, “When we recall Tewanima, we’re reemphasizing running as part of our identity. It’s a source of pride, and it provides a sense of unity. We can’t afford to forget.” Lewis Tewanima died from a tragic fall. He had attended a religious ceremony during the day and was walking back to his home that night, when he got lost, and plunged from a 70-foot cliff.

Personal Bests: 10000 – 32:06.6 (1912); Mar – 2-52:42 (1912).

Results

Games Discipline (Sport) Event Status Team Pos Details
1908 Summer Olympics Athletics Marathon, Men Olympic 9 Representing United States    
1912 Summer Olympics Athletics 10,000 metres, Men Olympic 2 Silver Representing United States    
  Marathon, Men Olympic 16