Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) restored Jim Thorpe as the sole winner of the gold medal in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.
Although Thorpe initially won both competitions in 1912, the IOC stripped him of his medals. This recognition comes at the 110th anniversary of Thorpe’s participation in the Stockholm Olympic Games.
The Bright Path Strong Organization’s Influence
Thorpe was able to have his gold medal restored to his name with help from the Bright Path Strong nonprofit organization. Additionally, IOC member Anita DeFrantz supported the motion to recognize Thorpe as the sole gold medal winner.
Both the Bright Path Strong organization and DeFrantz contacted the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC) and argued their case. The parties also reached surviving family members of Hugo K. Wieslander, who the IOC declared the gold medal winner in 1912.
However, after talking to Wieslander’s family, they learned he never actually accepted the gold medal because he felt Thorpe was the only true winner.
Then, after communicating with the SOC, the board also concluded that Thorpe should be recognized as the gold medal winner for the 1912 decathlon.
Why Thorpe Lost His Gold Medal
Thorpe had his gold medal stripped in 1913, shortly after the Stockholm Olympic Games. At the time, the IOC took Thorpe’s medal away because they discovered he had participated in minor league baseball before the Olympics.
In 1912, it was illegal for Olympic athletes to be paid for any sport before any event in the Games. On top of that, the IOC erased Thorpe’s record from the Olympic record books, essentially deleting any evidence he was at the 1912 Games.
Part of why this situation drew controversy is how common it was for athletes to be paid for sporting events. That said, several other athletes besides Thorpe were found guilty of the same thing. However, only Thorpe received such a harsh punishment.
“The IOC’s decision in 1912 to strip Thorpe’s medals and strike out his records…intended to punish him for violating the elitist Victorian codes of amateurism. It also intended to obscure him–and to a certain extent, it succeeded,” Sally Jenkins wrote in Smithsonian Magazine.
In 1982, the IOC sent gold medal replicas to Thorpe’s family to correct the wrong-doing. Still, they never altered the 1912 Olympic record books.
And according to the Bright Path Strong organization, the IOC did not go far enough by only rewarding the medals. In addition, the IOC needed to correct the record books so history would accurately portray the 1912 Olympic Games.
What Happens Now
After the corrections, the IOC will now recognize Thorpe as the sole gold medalist for the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Summer Olympic Games.
Co-founder of the Bright Path Strong organization, Nedra Darling, expressed how grateful she was to see justice restored to Thorpe.
“We are so grateful this nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been corrected, and there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history,” Darling said in a statement to the press.
Who Was Jim Thorpe?
Jim Thorpe is regarded as one of the greatest and most versatile athletes of his time.
As a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Thorpe was the first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States in the Olympic Games. In addition to participating in the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe also played professional football, basketball, and baseball.
The fact that the IOC stripped Thorpe’s medals was one of several examples of discrimination he faced at the 1912 Summer Olympics. Therefore, the recent restoration of his gold medal provides accurate information.
Further, Thorpe’s situation serves as an example that correcting Native American injustices is meaningful, despite how much time has passed.