Jim Thorpe Gets His Medals 70 Years After They Were Taken Away January 18, 1983
January 18, 1983 – Jim Thorpe Gets His Medals Back from the 1912 Olympics
Just about seventy years after they were taken away, and almost thirty years after he died, Jim Thorpe got his medals back. At the Stockholm Olympics of 1912 he won gold medals in both the decathlon and the pentathlon. He also took fourth place in the the high jump and seventh place in the long jump. His margins of victory in the decathlon and pentathlon were staggering, prompting King Gustav V of Sweden to declare at the medals ceremony “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world”, to which Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King”. In 1913 he was stripped of his medals after it was revealed that he had played two seasons of semipro baseball (for $60 a month) in North Carolina.
IOC now lists Jim Thorpe as “Co-Winner” of the Decathlon and Pentathlon
On January 18, 1983, at a ceremony in Los Angeles, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), presented Thorpe’s children with gold medals to replace the ones that he was forced to return. The ceremony followed an October 1982 announcement by the IOC announcing that they would return Thorpe’s medals and re-instate his amateur status. The committee was responding to a plea on Thorpe’s behalf by William E. Simon, president of the United States Olympic Committee. Thorpe was then designated as a “co-winner” of the two events. To this day, the two men who Thorpe who thoroughly trounced, Ferdinand Reinhardt BIE in the the pentathlon, and Hugo K. WIESLANDERin the decathlon, still appear on official website of the IOC as gold medal winners of those events.
Thorpe Calls Avery Brundage “A Stuffed Shirt”
When Thorpe’s professionalism was first revealed he wrote in a letter of “confession” to the American Athletic Association (AAU), “I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and I did not know all about such things.”, but his ignorance-as-an-excuse appeal was rejected.
There was no serious effort to reinstate Thorpe’s medals until 1943 when a resolution was introduced into the Oklahoma House of Representatives, by two Indian legislators. They asked for the formal backing of the State of Oklahoma to petition the AAU for the return of his medals and the restoration of his name to the record books.
In 1949, Warner Brothers was making a movie about Thorpe’s life. Their request to the IOC for the return of Thorpe’s medals, to be used in the movie, was denied. Thorpe called U.S. Olympic Chief Avery Brundage, “A stuffed shirt”.
In 1950 a resolution was introduced at the National Congress of American Indians, asking for the return of Thorpe’s medals. That was followed by Thorpe’s own appeal in 1951. The New York Times reported,
Impoverished Jim Thorpe, with nothing left with memories at 63, finally swallowed his pride today and asked the Amateur Athletic Union to return the Olympic Trophies it took from him 39 years ago. “I would like to have them back before I die” muttered the erect, massive full-blooded (incorrect, both parents were half caucasion) Indian, referring to the laurels he was forced to relinquish because the A.A.U, charged he was a professional at the time he won them.
Brundage’s response to Thorpe and to an advertisement that appeared in a New York paper was, “It’s up to the second place men who were given the medals when it was ruled that Thorpe was not correctly classified as an amateur.” It should be noted that Brundage competed against Thorpe at the 1912 Olympics, placing 14th in the pentathlon and 5th in the decathlon.
In 1952 Brundage authored an article entitled “My Biggest Olympic Battles”, in it he wrote, “No man, no matter how gifted, is a special case in the Olympic Games. To re-instate Thorpe now would be to break faith with the more than 30,000 athletes who have kept the code since the modern revival of the Games in 1896.
Washington Goes to Bat for Thorpe
President Gerald spoke up for Thorpe in 1975, just a few months after Avery Brundage died. He wrote a letter to Lord Killanin, the president of the IOC. Ford asked if the panel “would consider this request and act with a sense of equity in light of the history and the contribution that Jim Thorpe has made to the world of sport. The IOC did not respond.
On October 8, 1982, the U.S.House of Representatives concurred with a prior Senate resolution that declared it is “the sense of Congress that the International Olympic Committee should officially recognize Thorpe’s Olympic feats and present medals to his family in the 1984 Olympics.”
Finally, on October 13, 1982, the IOC announced that it had reinstated Thorpe’s amateur status and that his gold medals would be posthumously awarded the following January in Los Angeles. His daughter Charlotte said at the time that she was “on cloud 12. The reason I say cloud 12 is that’s the year it happened,” she said.