Officials removed the Native American athlete’s victories from Olympic records in 1913. Which, as you might suspect, they should not have done.
More than a century later, Jim Thorpe’s Olympic legacy has been officially restored. Last week, the International Olympic Committee announced that the talented athlete will be reinstated as the sole winner of two events, the pentathlon and decathlon, that he competed in during the 1912 Games in Stockholm.
Thorpe originally won both events, becoming the first Native American to secure an Olympic gold medal for the United States. But officials later discovered that he had violated the Olympics’ strict amateurism regulations: For a short time, he had been paid $25 a week to play minor-league baseball, says the New York Times’ Victor Mather and Tariq Panja. In 1913, he was stripped of his medals.
In 1982, the IOC granted him the title of co-champion for both events. But it never officially amended the record, and Thorpe’s supporters have continued to push for him to be declared the sole winner.
“It was lip service, not restitution,” Sally Jenkins of Smithsonian Magazine wrote in 2012. What’s more, she added, “countless white athletes abused the amateurism rules and played minor-league ball with impunity.”
Thorpe was a truly exceptional athlete. During the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe far outpaced his competitors. The pentathlon consisted of five events in a single day, and he won four of them. The decathlon was made up of ten events over three days, the last of which was a 1,500-meter run. Thorpe ran it in 4 minutes 40.1 seconds, a time that would be unmatched until 1972.
But Thorpe, known for his reserved nature, did not fight for his medals or his reputation. He once told his daughter, Grace Thorpe, “I won ’em, and I know I won ’em.”
When he died in 1953, his obituary in The Times recognized him as “probably the greatest natural athlete the world had seen in modern times.”
So, finally, it's entirely appropriate that this nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally now been corrected, and there is no confusion about one of the most remarkable athletes in history.