Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes in history and the victim of a century-old Olympic injustice, rose to become the sole winner of the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Games.
Thorpe, who excelled in a dozen or more sports, dominated two of his events at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, but was stripped of his medals after it was discovered that he had briefly played professional baseball before his Olympic career. American officials, seen by historians as racist and fanatically loyal to the idea of amateurism, were the most vocal supporters of Thorpe’s disqualification.
Thorpe’s recognition by the International Olympic Committee, to be announced on Friday, comes 40 years after it reinstated him as co-winner of both events. But the 1982 restoration was not enough for his supporters, who continued to campaign for Thorpe, an American icon especially revered in Native American communities.
Athletes declared champions by the International Olympic Committee – Sweden’s Hugo Wieslander, who finished second in the decathlon, and Norway’s Ferdinand Bi, who finished behind Thorp in the pentathlon – refused to accept gold medals after Thorp’s victories were stripped. in 1913. The IOC said it had consulted Sweden, Wieslander’s surviving family members and the Norwegian Olympic Committees before reinstating Thorpe as the sole champion of both events.
“This is a most special and unique situation,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “This is echoed by the extraordinary gesture of fair play by the respective National Olympic Committees.
The decision to name Thorpe the sole winner of the decathlon and pentathlon was reported on Thursday by Indian Country Today, which noted that Olympic officials had quietly moved him back to the top spot on the Games’ official website.
Reinstating Thorpe’s medals has long been a cause for Native American activists, who have renewed petition drives and lobbied the IOC for change in recent years. Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma and attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, and his achievements are legendary in Native American communities.
Bright Path Strong, a foundation bearing Thorpe’s indigenous name that has led efforts to restore Thorpe’s status, has been in direct negotiations with the IOC, the foundation said on its website, saying it expects news soon.
“We welcome the fact that, thanks to the great involvement of Bright Path Strong, a solution has been found,” Bach said.
Thorpe’s success on the football field there was legendary: in 1911, Carlisle upset Harvard thanks to Thorpe.
Thorpe traveled to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm to compete in the decathlon and another now-defunct track event, the pentathlon. He won both, received international acclaim, and was paraded on Broadway in New York.
But the next year it was revealed that a few years earlier he had made $25 a week playing minor league baseball. According to the strict amateur rules of the era, he was stripped of his gold medals.
With his amateur status revoked, Thorpe began his major league baseball career, playing for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves from 1913 to 1919. Notably, he turned to professional football in 1920 and played for six teams, including the New York Giants, by age 41.
Thorpe died in 1953. A New York Times obituary called him “perhaps the greatest natural athlete the world has seen in modern times.”