The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has reinstated Jim Thorpe as the winner of the Stockholm 1912 Olympics’ decathlon and pentathlon.
The decision overturns a controversy that has hung over his legacy for over a century.
Thorpe is the only athlete to win both the decathlon and the pentathlon. He would have his medals taken away a year later, after it was revealed he had been paid to play baseball in 1909 and 1910.
In 1913 it was reported Thorpe had played professional baseball before the Olympics. He played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
It was customary at the time for college players to play professionally during the summer months to earn extra money. Most players used aliases, Thorpe didn’t and it was used against him.
In response to the Amateur Athletic Union’s decision to withdraw his amateur status, the IOC voted to remove his medals - an erroneous decision in violation of their own bylaws - as no one had protested the result within the 30-day time period following the competition.
The IOC’s decision to restore Thorpe’s medals is a resounding victory for the Native American community. For over a hundred years, the community has been lamenting the decision to remove his gold medals.
“This is a most exceptional and unique situation,” the president of the IOC Thomas Bach said. “It is addressed by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the concerned National Olympic Committees.”
“It’s just justice finally served,” Olympic historian Bill Mallon told Around the Rings. “The true winner of the 1912 decathlon and pentathlon finally recognized for what he was - the sole gold medalist and the greatest athlete in the world.”
Nedra Darling, who is a member of the Prairie Band’s Potawatomi Nation, founded the organization Bright Path Strong, and who has fought for the return of Thorpe’s medals, is elated.
“We are so grateful his nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been corrected, and there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history,” Darling told ESPN.
“Jim Thorpe is a hero across Indian Country, and he is an American hero,” she said. “He represented this country before it even recognized Native Americans as citizens, and he did so with humility and grace. Even after he was wronged by his coach, the American Athletic Union, and many others, he never gave in to bitterness and led with a spirit of generosity and kindness. I pray that Jim, his family, and our ancestors are celebrating that the truth has been respoken today, on this 110th anniversary of Jim being awarded his Olympic gold medals.”
In 1982, 30 years after Thorpe’s death, the IOC recognized the injustice, only to compounded the error by designating Thorpe as a ‘co-champion’ with Hugo Wieslander of Sweden in the decathlon and Norwegian Ferdinand Bie in the pentathlon.
Thorpe had defeated Wieslander by 688 points as he placed in the top four in all ten events. His Olympic record of 8,413 points would stand for nearly two decades.
Injustice no longer.
Thorpe was named by the Associated Press in 1950 as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. He was also voted as one of the greatest athletes of the entire century in 1999 placing third behind Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan.