Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes in history and the victim of what many saw as a century-old Olympic injustice, was reinstated as the sole winner of the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Games.
Thorpe, who excelled in a dozen or more sports, dominated both of his events at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, but was stripped of his medals after it emerged that he had made a few bucks briefly by playing professional baseball before his Olympic career. American officials, in what historians believe was a mixture of racism against Thorpe, who was Native American, and fanatical devotion to the idea of amateurism, were among the loudest supporters of his disqualification.
Thorpe’s recognition by the International Olympic Committee, announced on Friday, comes 40 years after it declared him co-winner in both events. But the 1982 restoration was not enough for his supporters, who continued to campaign on behalf of Thorpe, an American icon who is especially revered in Native American communities.
The athletes who were declared IOC champions after Thorpe’s disqualification – Sweden’s Hugo Wieslander, who finished second in the decathlon, and Norway’s Ferdinand B, who finished behind Thorpe in the pentathlon – expressed great reluctance to accept their gold medals after Thorpe was stripped of his victories in 1913. The IOC said it consulted the Swedish and Norwegian Olympic committees and Wieslander’s surviving family members before reinstating Thorpe as sole champion of both events.
Bie and Wieslander will now be joint silver medalists in their respective events. Current silver and bronze medalists will not be demoted.
“This is an extremely exceptional and unique situation,” said IOC president Thomas Bach. “This has been addressed through an outstanding gesture of fair play by the relevant National Olympic Committees.”
The Swedish Olympic Committee responded to a request for comment, saying: “SOC would like to quote Sweden’s King Gustav V, who told Jim Thorpe at the medal ceremony: ‘Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.'” Norway’s Olympic committee The Olympic Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
The decision to name Thorpe the sole winner of the decathlon and pentathlon was reported Thursday by Indian Country Today, which noted that Olympic officials had quietly put him in first place alone on the Games’ official website.
The reinstatement of Thorpe’s medals has long been a cause for Indian and other activists, who in recent years have renewed petitions and lobbied the IOC for the change. Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma and attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, and his exploits in multiple sports were legendary in Native American circles.
“This is a time of celebration — of Jim Thorpe’s Olympic achievements in 1912 and their full recognition by the International Olympic Committee today,” said Nedra Darling, a Potawatomi Nation Prairie Band citizen whose father was a longtime friend of Thorpe’s. “It’s been a long journey to this point, but a very important journey for those of us in the Bright Path Strong movement and throughout Indian Country.”
Bright Path Strong, a foundation named after Thorpe’s indigenous name, is among the leaders of the effort to restore Thorpe’s status.
“We welcome the fact that, thanks to the great commitment of Bright Path Strong, a solution can be found,” Bach said.
Thorpe’s exploits on the football field are legendary: in 1911, Carlisle upset Harvard thanks in large part to Thorpe, who played halfback and also kicked four field goals.
Thorpe went to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm to compete in the decathlon and another now-defunct track event, the pentathlon. He won both, was hailed internationally and joined the parade of Olympic stars on Broadway in New York. The Times reported that Thorpe received the most applause, along with Pat MacDonald, a shot putter who had been a traffic policeman in Times Square.
But the next year, it was revealed that Thorpe had been making $25 a week playing minor league baseball a few years earlier. Under the strict amateur rules of the era, he was stripped of his gold medals.
His amateur status revoked, Thorpe began a major league baseball career, playing outfield from 1913 to 1919 for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves. Remarkably, he turned to professional football in 1920 and played until the age of 41 with six teams, including the New York Giants. He is a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame. In 1950, he was voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century in an Associated Press poll of sports journalists.
Thorpe died in 1953. His obituary in the New York Times called him “probably the greatest natural athlete the world has seen today.”