The IOC reinstates Jim Thorpe as the sole winner of two gold medals from the 1912 Olympics

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After decades of lobbying by his family and other supporters, Jim Thorpe, widely regarded as one of America’s greatest athletes, will finally be recognized as the sole winner of pentathlon and tikamp at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

The announcement, made Friday by the International Olympic Committee, 110 years to the day of Thorpe’s biathlon victory, returns what many consider to be among the great injustices in sport. The IOC had deprived Thorpe of his gold medals and erased him as the winner of both events a year after the Stockholm Games because he violated the Olympic rules of the Olympics by being paid to play minor league baseball matches in the summers before the Olympics.

The seriousness of his violation has long been debated, as college athletes these days often played baseball for cash but did so under presumed names. Thorpe, an Indian from the Sac and Fox Nation, was unfamiliar with the practice of using a different name and used his own, making it easy for newspapers to track the violation.

The decision comes after years of public pressure and advocacy, most recently from the organization Bright Path Strong and Anita DeFrantz, the longtime IOC member. It also comes with the support of the surviving family members of Hugo K. Wieslander, who was named tikamp champion when Thorpe was stripped of his title, and the Swedish Olympic Committee.

“We are delighted that, thanks to Bright Path Strong’s strong commitment, a solution has been found,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “This is a very unusual and unique situation, which has been resolved by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the National Olympic Committees concerned.”

While the IOC often does not change official records, the circumstances and pressures of powerful individuals like DeFrantz made this decision easier for Olympic leaders.

“Even the athletes themselves (in tikamp and pentathlon) said, ‘He is the champion, do not give the medal to us,'” Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said Friday in a telephone interview.

Wallechinsky, whose father, Irving Wallace, ghostly wrote a series of magazine articles with Thorpe not long before Thorpe’s death in 1953, called Thorpe “the greatest athlete of the 20th century.”

In addition to Thorpe’s ten – match and five – match victories, he finished fourth in the high jump and seventh in the long jump at the Stockholm Games. He also played six years of baseball in the major league and another six seasons of professional football where he was a running back, end and kicker.

“He was even a master of ballroom dancing,” Wallechinsky said.

However, Thorpe’s life was tough, with the Olympic victories being the highlight. He returned home from Stockholm to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York, a moment that touched him so much that he later told Wallace: “I had people shouting my name, I could not realize how a guy could have so many friends. ”

When the news broke in 1913 that he had violated the IOC and Amateur Athletic Union amateur rules, Thorpe wrote to AAU, Wallechinsky said in hopes of being “partially exempted because I went to Indian schooling,” and was not sophisticated about the ways. to hide the fact that he played minor league baseball for money.

Avery Brundage, a dominant leader of American Olympic sports through the mid-20th century and president of the IOC for 20 years, was strongly opposed to returning Thorpe’s gold medals. Brundage was known as a strict enforcer of amateur rules, but also Thorpe’s teammate in 1912, finishing in sixth place in pentathlon.

In 1982, seven years after Brundage’s death, the IOC presented replica gold medals to Thorpe’s family, but refused to change the record and listed him as the co-winner of the events until Friday.

Over the years, critics have called on the IOC to make Thorpe the sole winner. An online signature collection to correct the record received over 75,000 signatures. In 2021, DeFrantz wrote in an op-edit to The Washington Post that the 1913 decision was not only “one of the most serious legal violations in sports history,” but also “a stinging episode of early 20th-century bigotry.”

“We welcome this news and are excited to honor Jim Thorpe, a great Olympic champion on the anniversary of his incredible achievement,” Sarah Hirshland, Executive Director of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in a statement. “We thank Anita DeFrantz, the Bright Path Strong organization, and all those who worked tirelessly toward this solution.”

Olympic records will now show Thorpe as the only gold winner in pentathlon and doubles, Wieslander as winner of silver medal in doubles and Norway’s Ferdinand Bie as second place in pentathlon.

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