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jim thorpe, olympics

Jim Thorpe dominated the competition at the 1912 Olympics in the decathlon and pentathlon events.

Jim Thorpe is widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, and many would claim he is still the greatest. Britannica describes him as "a marvel of speed, power, kicking, and all-around ability," and he excelled in multiple sports throughout his life. In 1950, he was voted the Associated Press' Athlete of the Half Century.

As a person of Sac, Fox and Potawatomi descent, Thorpe became the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States in 1912. He dominated the decathlon and pentathlon events at the Stockholm Olympic Games that year, winning by large margins, but an investigation the following year resulted in him being stripped of his medals.

Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball in 1909 and 1910, which, according to the stringent rules on only having amateur athletes competing in the Olympics at the time, should have disqualified him. He ended up having the gold medals he clearly deserved to win taken away due to a minor violation of a technical rule that would end up being changed anyway.


Forty years ago, the International Olympic Committee gave shared gold medals to Thorpe's family, but they did not reinstate his Olympic records or name him as the sole gold medalist in the two events he won.

Now the record has officially been corrected.

Bright Path Strong, an organization created to continue Thorpe's legacy of community service, created a petition to have Thorpe's medals and records fully reinstated. (Thorpe's Native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, means "bright path.")

“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,” said Nedra Darling, Bright Path Strong co-founder and citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, according to the Associated Press.

As it turns out, the silver medalists had never accepted the gold medals they were offered after Thorpe had been stripped of them. Bright Path Strong and IOC member Anita DeFrantz contacted decathlete Hugo Wieslander's family as well as the Swedish Olympic Committee to discuss the matter with them.

“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,” said the IOC, according to the AP. “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."

Now the record has been set straight. Thorpe will officially go down in history as the sole gold medal winner of the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games.

Darling told Indian Country Today that she called Billy Mills, the Oglala Lakota runner who won gold in the 10,000 meter race in the 1964 Olympics (in one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history), after she heard the news.

“It was emotional," she said. "It was the most beautiful gift I could get to be able to tell him, and I didn’t realize it ’til he just couldn’t speak and I couldn’t speak. He’s been so supportive of what I’ve been doing.”

IOC President Thomas Bach expressed his gratitude to all involved.

“We welcome the fact that, thanks to the great engagement of Bright Path Strong, a solution could be found,” he said. “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.”

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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