IOC reinstates Jim Thorpe as sole winner of two golds from 1912 Olympics

IOC reinstates Jim Thorpe as sole winner of two golds from 1912 Olympics


After decades of pressure from family and supporters, Jim Thorpe, considered one of America’s greatest athletes, will finally be recognized as the only winner of the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

The announcement, made on Friday by the International Olympic Committee, 110 years to the day of Thorpe’s decathlon victory, reverses what many see as one of the sport’s biggest injustices. The IOC had stripped Thorpe of his gold medals and removed him from both sports a year after the Stockholm Games because he had violated Olympic amateurism rules by being paid to play baseball in the summer before the Olympics.

The extent of his violation has long been the subject of debate, as college athletes in those days often played baseball for money but did so under pseudonyms. Thorpe, a Native American of the Sac and Fox Nation, was unaware of the practice of using a particular name and used his own name, which made it difficult for newspapers to investigate the errors.

The decision comes after years of public pressure and advocacy, most recently by Bright Path Strong and Anita DeFrantz, a long-time IOC member. It also comes with support from the family of Hugo K. Wieslander, who was named decathlon champion when Thorpe was stripped of his title, and the Swedish Olympic Committee.

“We welcome that, thanks to the success of Bright Path Strong, a solution can be found,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “This is a unique and very special situation, which has been responded to by the extraordinary actions of the International Olympic Committee involved.”

Although the IOC does not usually change the official documents, the conditions and the pressure of powerful people like DeFrantz, made this decision easier for the Olympic leaders.

“Even the runners themselves [in the decathlon and pentathlon] said, ‘He’s the hero, don’t give us a medal,’” Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said Friday in a telephone interview.

Wallechinsky, whose father, Irving Wallace, wrote a magazine article with Thorpe shortly before the athlete’s death in 1953, called Thorpe “the greatest athlete of the 20th century.”

In addition to Thorpe’s decathlon and pentathlon wins, he finished fourth in the long jump and seventh in the long jump at the Stockholm Games. He also played six years of major league baseball and six more seasons of professional football where he was a shortstop, shortstop and pitcher.

“She was also a professional ballroom dancer,” Wallechinsky said.

Thorpe’s life was difficult, however, the Olympic victory was very important. He returned home from Stockholm to a taping on Broadway in New York, a moment that touched his heart and he later told Wallace: “I had people shouting my name, I couldn’t understand how one person could have so many friends.” “

When word got out in 1913 that he had violated the IOC and Amateur Athletic Union amateurism rules, Thorpe wrote to the AAU, Wallechinsky said, hoping “to get a little leeway because I was at an Indian school,” and he wasn’t leading the way. to hide the fact that he is playing minor league baseball.

Avery Brundage, America’s top Olympic figurehead in the 1900s and IOC president for 20 years, strongly opposed the return of Thorpe’s gold medals. Brundage was known as a strong enforcer of athletics rules and Thorpe’s teammate in 1912, finishing sixth in the pentathlon.

In 1982, seven years after Brundage’s death, the IOC awarded matching gold medals to Thorpe’s family but refused to change the record, listing him as the winner of the event – until Friday.

For years, critics have called on the IOC to make Thorpe the only winner. An online petition to correct the record received more than 75,000 signatures. In 2021, DeFrantz wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that the 1913 decision was not only “one of the worst miscarriages of justice in sports history” but also “a horrific piece of racism in the early 20th century.”

“We welcome this news and are pleased to honor Jim Thorpe, a great Olympian, on his anniversary,” Sarah Hirshland, head of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a statement. “We are very grateful to Anita DeFrantz, the Bright Path Strong organization, and everyone who worked so hard to solve this problem.”

The Olympic records will now show Thorpe as the gold medalist in the pentathlon and decathlon, Wieslander as the silver medalist in the decathlon and Ferdinand Bie of Norway as the second runner-up in the pentathlon.

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