Jim Thorpe, who was stripped of his 1912 Olympic gold medals because he was paid for playing semi-professional baseball, on Thursday was reinstated as the sole winner of that year’s decathlon and pentathlon events.
Thorpe, who was named the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century by The Associated Press, was given his victories back by the International Olympic Committee, ESPN reported.
“This is a most exceptional and unique situation,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a statement. “It is addressed by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the concerned National Olympic Committees.”
Thorpe, who died in 1953, belonged to the Sac and Fox Nation, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He excelled during the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, but because he was paid for playing baseball in 1909 and 1910 -- earning a reported $2 per game up to $35 per week -- he was stripped of his medals in 1913 for violating his amateur status.
The Amateur Athletic Union withdrew Thorpe’s amateur status, and the IOC unanimously stripped his gold medals for being a professional, ESPN reported.
Thorpe was the first Native American to win a gold medal. When he was awarded the medals, King Gustav V of Sweden told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world. I would consider it an honor to shake your hand.”
The news of Thorpe’s reinstatement was first reported by Indian Country Today.
The IOC Executive Committee reinstated Thorpe in October 1982 but said he was the co-champion with Hugo Wieslander in the decathlon and Ferdinand Bie in the pentathlon, ESPN reported. Thursday’s decision means that Thorpe is once again the sole champion in both events.
The reinstatement was the culmination of a two-year effort by Nedra Darling, co-founder of Bright Path Strong and executive producer of the Thorpe biopic, “Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story.”
“That’s terrific. We have been working with the IOC for almost two years now and asking them to reinstate Jim’s winnings for his decathlon and pentathlon events,” Darling told Indian Country Today.
Darling, a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, told ESPN that her group was “so grateful his nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been corrected.”
Thorpe was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1963. He played seven seasons of professional football, including during the first decade of the National Football League. He also coached for four seasons in pro football, piloting the Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians and the Oorang Indians.
He was also a member of the NFL’s first all-decade team in 1931.
Thorpe also played major league baseball for six seasons, competing with the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves from 1913 to 1919.
Thorpe attended Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas, and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Playing for coach Pop Warner at Carlisle, Thorpe was named halfback on the Walter Camp All-America teams in 1911 nad 1912, according to Brittanica.
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