IOC reinstates Jim Thorpe's sole possession of 1912 Olympic gold medals

·3-min read

For the first time in 110 years, Jim Thorpe stands alone atop the Olympic podium.

The International Olympic Committee reinstated Jim Thorpe as the sole winner of the gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics, according to ESPN.

The decision fully reverses a controversy that had lingered for more than a century. Thorpe easily won both events, the only athlete to ever win both events, but had his medals stripped a year later after the IOC learned he had been paid to play minor league baseball in 1909 and 1910.

As The Oklahoman notes, Thorpe was far from the only Olympic athlete to receive professional money while competing as an "amateur," he was just the only one who didn't use a fake name while doing it.

Because he received a reported $2 per game to $35 per week, Thorpe had his amateur status withdrawn by the Amateur Athletic Union and lost his medals in a unanimous IOC vote. As would be later noted, the IOC violated its own rules in doing so, as no protest was made against Thorpe's eligibility in the 30 days after the Games.

Thorpe went to his grave in 1953 without getting his medals back, and it was only in 1982, 30 years later, the IOC recognized it had acted improperly in taking the medals. Thorpe's medals were restored, but even then he was only identified as the co-champion alongside Sweden's Hugo Wieslander in the decathlon and Norway's Ferdinand Bie in the pentathlon.

View of American football player Jim Thorpe, circa 1910. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Jim Thorpe once again stands alone. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Thursday's decision restores Thorpe as the sole winner in each event, and no one is happier than the Native American community that has long lamented the decision against one of its greatest heroes.

From ESPN:

"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," said Nedra Darling, the co-founder of Bright Path Strong, a group created to share Native American voices and a leading organization that fought for Thorpe — who died in 1953 — to regain his medals. She is also a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

"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."

Thorpe, of course, enjoyed plenty of other athletic success in his life, between an All-Pro NFL career and a seven-year MLB career, but, like many, hit hard times during the Great Depression. He was named the greatest athlete of the first 50 years of the 20th century by The Associated Press in 1950, and third-greatest of the entire century in 1999, behind only Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan.