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‘Greatest athlete’ Jim Thorpe reinstated as sole winner of 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon

Former U.S. Olympic great Jim Thorpe running in a business sui with crowd of schoolgirls
Jim Thorpe, the former U.S. Olympic great, sets a fast pace for some girls during an athletic event in Chicago in 1948.
(Associated Press)
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Jim Thorpe has been reinstated as the sole winner of the 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon in Stockholm — nearly 110 years after being stripped of those gold medals for violations of the strict amateurism rules of the time.

The International Olympic Committee announced the change Friday on the 110th anniversary of Thorpe winning the decathlon and later being proclaimed by King Gustav V of Sweden as “the greatest athlete in the world.”

Thorpe, a Native American, returned to a ticker-tape parade in New York, but months later it was discovered that he had been paid to play minor league baseball over two summers, an infringement of the Olympics’ amateurism rules. He was stripped of his gold medals in what was described as the first major international sports scandal.

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To some, Thorpe remains the greatest all-around athlete ever. He was voted as the Associated Press’ Athlete of the Half Century in a poll in 1950.

In 1982 — 29 years after Thorpe’s death — the IOC gave duplicate gold medals to his family, but his Olympic records were not reinstated, nor was his status as the sole gold medalist of the two events.

Two years ago, a petition by the organization Bright Path Strong — named after Thorpe’s Native American name, Wa-Tho-Huk, which means “bright path” — advocated declaring him the outright winner of the pentathlon and decathlon in 1912. The IOC had listed him as a co-champion in the official record book.

Family members want to return the Olympic athlete’s remains to the Oklahoma reservation where he grew up. But the town wants to keep Jim Thorpe in Jim Thorpe.

Oct. 18, 2013

“We welcome the fact that, thanks to the great engagement of Bright Path Strong, a solution could be found,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement as part of Friday’s announcement. “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.”

Bright Path Strong, with the help of IOC member Anita DeFrantz, had contacted the Swedish Olympic Committee and the family of Hugo Wieslander, who had been elevated to decathlon gold medalist 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 medalist,” the IOC said, adding that the Swedish Olympic Committee agreed.

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“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 medalist when Thorpe was stripped of the pentathlon title,” the IOC said.

Bie will be listed as the silver medalist in the pentathlon, and Wieslander as silver medalist in the decathlon.

World Athletics, the governing body of track and field, has also agreed to amend its records, the IOC said.

Thorpe tripled the score of his nearest competitor in the pentathlon and had 688 more points than the second-place finisher in the decathlon.

During the closing ceremony, the Swedish monarch told Thorpe: “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”

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