The IOC reinstates Jim Thorpe as the sole winner of the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon

Jim Thorpe, stripped of his 1912 gold medals for being paid to play minor league baseball, was reinstated Thursday by the International Olympic Committee as the sole winner of this year’s Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.

Thorpe, voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century by The Associated Press, won the decathlon and pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics. However, because he had played minor league baseball in 1909-10 – reportedly making $2 a game to $35 a week – he was stripped of his medals in 1913 for violating existing amateur rules. The Amateur Athletic Union in the United States stripped Thorpe of amateur status, and the IOC unanimously stripped Thorpe of professional status.

The decision has since been controversial, particularly for Native American communities. Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation and was the first Native American to win a gold medal.

After years of lobbying, the IOC Executive Committee reinstated Thorpe in October 1982 but declared him co-champion with Hugo Wieslander (decathlon) and Ferdinand Bie (pentathlon). On Thursday, he was restored as the sole champion.

“This is an extremely extraordinary and unique situation,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “It is being addressed with an extraordinary gesture of fair play by the National Olympic Committees concerned.”

“We are so grateful that his nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been righted and there is no confusion about the most notable athlete in history,” said Nedra Darling, the co-founder of Bright Path Strong, a group formed to share Voices of Native Americans and a leading organization fighting to have Thorpe – who died in 1953 – regain his medals. She is also a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

“Jim Thorpe is a hero in all Indian country and he’s an American hero,” she said. “He represented this country before it even recognized Native Americans as citizens, and he did so with humility and grace. Even after being wronged by his coach, the American Athletic Union, and many others, he never gave in to bitterness and carried with him a spirit of generosity and kindness. I pray that Jim, his family and our ancestors will celebrate that today, on this 110th anniversary of Jim receiving the Olympic gold medals, the truth was told.”

A petition on the Bright Path Strong website asking the IOC to reinstate Thorpe as sole champion at both events received 75,000 signatures.

News of Thorpe’s reinstatement was first reported by Indian Country Today.

Thorpe played professional baseball with the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves. He returned to football with the Canton Bulldogs and was a member of the NFL’s first all-decade team in 1931. He retired from professional football in 1928 at the age of 41 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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