Olympics reinstates Thorpe as sole gold medal winner
Another #winning day for the original GOAT.
Editor’s note: We’ve added the IOC’s press release to the comments below, as well as a statement from Bright Path Strong. Pull quote: “The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will henceforth display the name of Jim Thorpe as the sole gold medalist in pentathlon and decathlon at the Olympic Games Stockholm 1912. This change comes on the very day of the 110th anniversary of Thorpe’s medal in decathlon.”
Here’s a follow-up to our recent coverage of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) controversial handling of Jim Thorpe’s two gold-medal wins from 1912.
Today, at 10 a.m. ET, the IOC is scheduled to announce that it has completely restored Thorpe as the sole winner of both medals in the record books.
The Sac and Fox and Potawatomi citizen — considered the original American Olympic GOAT (greatest of all time) by some due to his athleticism across a wide-range of sports — is no longer listed in official Olympic history as sharing the gold for his wins in the July 1912 pentathlon and decathlon events in Sweden.
The IOC has made the change after originally reinstating Thorpe’s medals 40 years ago — and providing his family with replicas — but while still listing him as sharing the gold with two other athletes in both events.
Controversy arose after Thorpe’s victories because he had been paid for sporting while he was an amateur baseball athlete, which is against Olympic rules.
But recent research by the Doug Williams Center for the Study of Race & Politics in Sports highlighted evidence that showed Olympics leaders had violated their own policies in this case and that the payments to Thorpe were nominal and related to his forced attendance at assimilation-rooted American boarding schools.
The real reason for initially removing Thorpe’s wins and then restoring them with the caveat of allowing two other athletes to share them appeared to be racism, according to tribal citizens and researchers.
After 110 years, the IOC has now taken the full record into account, and it has updated its Olympics websites to list Thorpe as the sole winner in both events.
“This is a most exceptional and unique situation, which has been addressed by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the National Olympic Committees concerned,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.
Thorpe himself passed away in 1953 at the age of 65 after becoming an extra in westerns.
Nedra Darling, a former longtime spokesperson for the U.S. Interior Department, has worked closely with the Doug Williams Center to support its research. She has also highlighted a related petition asking the IOC to take action. Over 75K people have signed the petition to date.
A citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Darling is also producing an upcoming film about Thorpe’s life and times through her work with the Bright Path Strong non-profit organization.
Thorpe was a friend of her dad.
Darling tells Indigenous Wire that she is excited by the news of IOC’s decision, and she expects her organization to issue a press release later today.
“We are so grateful this nearly 110-year-old injustice has been corrected. Finally, there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history,” Darling said in a statement.
Stay tuned to this space — particularly the comments — as we will update with more information from both the IOC and Bright Path Strong as it becomes available.
Happy Friday, Wiredians!
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From Bright Path Strong Social Media:
We did it... TOGETHER!!! More than 75,000 of you signed our Bright Path Strong petition, and the International Olympics Committee listened! So today, on the 110th anniversary of his medal ceremony, Jim Thorpe is finally restored as the rightful and sole gold medal-winner of the 1912 Decathlon and Pentathlon! 🥇🥇
In July of 1912, Jim captivated a global audience in Stockholm, Sweden, before King Gustaf V proclaimed him “the World’s Greatest Athlete.” It was a moniker that persists even today and turned Jim Thorpe, a Sac and Fox and Potawatomi farm boy from Oklahoma, into the first celebrity-athlete in history. 🤩
Even though the World’s Greatest Athlete represented the United States 🇺🇸 at the Olympics before Native Americans were even granted U.S. citizenship, not even the mighty Jim Thorpe was protected from racism and jealousy. Six months after the Games, an unfair and obscure application of rules governing amateur play led to one of the biggest sports scandals ever.
Pop Warner, Jim’s own coach from Carlisle, entered Jim’s room with others when Jim wasn’t home. They packed his medals and trophies from the 1912 Games and shipped them back to the IOC.
Following the scandal, Jim never complained about what was taken. According to his family, he rarely mentioned it. Instead, Jim went on to have a long and stellar football career. He helped found the NFL, and even played professional baseball and baskeball. After retiring from sports in his 40s, he became an actor, working in more than 70 movies until he died from cardiovascular disease in 1953.
The IOC eventually awarded duplicate medals to Jim’s family 30 years after his death. And despite some records standing unbroken for more than 60 years, the official Olympic record has still listed Jim as a “co-champion” for nearly 110 years – until now! The IOC will announce today that Jim will once again be listed as the first place winner of his events and no longer be listed as a “co-champion.”
Our co-founder Nedra Darling shares Jim’s Potawatomi heritage, so this journey has been personal for her. She said, “We are so grateful this nearly 110-year-old injustice has been corrected. Finally, there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history.” Remarkable indeed.
We want to thank our team here at Bright Path Strong, our many tribal partners, authors/historians Bob Wheeler and Flo Ridlon, our non-profit and academic partners, and allies like Olympians Billy Millss (Lakota) and Anita DeFrantz. Last but not least, we especially want to thank our loyal supporters like all of you! Without our amazing #BrightPathStrong community, this glorious day may have never come. ⚡️
IOC to display the name of Jim Thorpe as sole Stockholm 1912 pentathlon and decathlon gold medallist
15 Jul 2022
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will henceforth display the name of Jim Thorpe as the sole gold medallist in pentathlon and decathlon at the Olympic Games Stockholm 1912. This change comes on the very day of the 110th anniversary of Thorpe’s medal in decathlon.
This development has been made possible by the engagement of the Bright Path Strong organisation, supported by IOC Member Anita DeFrantz. They contacted the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC) and the surviving family members of Hugo K. Wieslander, who was named as the gold medallist in decathlon when Thorpe was stripped of his medals in 1913. They confirmed that Wieslander himself had never accepted the Olympic gold medal allocated to him, and had always been of the opinion that Jim Thorpe was the sole legitimate Olympic gold medallist. When contacted by the IOC, the SOC also declared that Thorpe should be acknowledged as the sole Olympic champion in decathlon at the Olympic Games Stockholm 1912.
The same declaration was received from the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports, whose athlete, Ferdinand Bie, was named as the gold medallist when Thorpe was stripped of the pentathlon title.
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “We welcome the fact that, thanks to the great engagement of Bright Path Strong, a solution could be found. This is a most exceptional and unique situation, which has been addressed by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the National Olympic Committees concerned.”
With this decision, Thorpe’s name will now be displayed as the sole gold medallist in pentathlon and decathlon, with the silver going to Bie in the pentathlon and Wieslander in the decathlon. However, James Donahue, from the US, and Frank Lukeman, from Canada, will keep the silver and bronze medals in pentathlon that they were awarded when the results were amended in 1913. The same applies to Charles Lomberg (silver) and Gösta Holmér (bronze), both from Sweden, in the decathlon.
In addition, World Athletics, as the responsible International Sports Federation for track and field, has agreed to amend its records to reflect this decision.
Jim Thorpe, the Native American track and field athlete whose original given name of Wa-Tho-Huk means “Bright Path”, won both events at the 1912 Games, but was stripped of his Olympic titles one year later. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the predecessor of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), deemed that he had infringed the rules regarding amateurism in place at the time.
After Thorpe was reinstated by the AAU (in 1973) and the USOC (in 1975), the IOC Executive Board resolved in 1982 to restore his status as an amateur at the request of the USOC. Following this change of status, the IOC decided that the IOC President should present the two medals to Thorpe’s children during a ceremony with the USOC, and that his name should be added to those of the other gold medal winners, but the official report of the 1912 Games should remain unchanged, meaning that the other 1912 medallists were not declassified.