Today on October 13, 1982, the International Olympic Committee posthumously restored the pair of gold medals won by American athlete Jim Thorpe in pentathlon and decathlon events in the 1912 Olympic Games at Stockholm.
The two gold medals were stripped off Thorpe, the first native American member of the Sac and Fox Nation, when it was found that he had played semi-pro minor league baseball in North Carolina in 1909 and 1910 – a violation of the strict rule on amateurism in effect at that time.
The Thorpe family petitioned to have the medals returned after Thorpe’s death in 1953 but IOC president Avery Brundage, who Thorpe beat badly in those two events, dismissed the request, making the Olympic “Iron Man” suffer a double whammy brought about by misplaced idealism and politics.
Then IOC has, for years, opened competitions to several sports like basketball, football, tennis, baseball, to mention few. Why, they’re even thinking of opening, too, the competition to professional boxing.
The restoration of the two gold medals Thorpe stashed away after strutting wares in 17 track and field events, 10 in decathlon and five in pentathlon, came 70 years after winning them and almost three decades following his demise.
James Francis Thorpe is acknowledged one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports, likewise, played American football in collegiate and professional, leagues, professional baseball, and basketball.
Thorpe grew up in the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma, and attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where he was a two-time All-American for the school’s football team.
After his Olympic success in 1912, which included a record score in the decathlon, he added a victory in the All-Around Championship of the Amateur Athletic Union.
In 1913, Thorpe signed with the New York Giants, and he played six seasons in Major League Baseball between 1913 and 1919. Thorpe joined the Canton Bulldogs American football team in 1915, helping them win three professional championships.
He also played for six teams in the National Football League (NFL). He played as part of several all-American Indian teams throughout his career, and barnstormed as a professional basketball player with a team composed entirely of American Indians.
From 1920 to 1921, Thorpe was nominally the first president of the American Professional Football Association (APFA), the forerunner of today’s NFL. He saw action in professional sports until age 41, the end of his sports career coinciding with the start of the Great Depression.
Thorpe struggled to earn a living after that, working several odd jobs. He suffered from alcoholism, and lived his last years in failing health and poverty. He was married three times and had eight children, before suffering from heart failure and dying in March 1953.
Thorpe has received various accolades for his athletic accomplishments. The Associated Press named him the “greatest athlete” from the first 50 years of the 20th century, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted him as part of its inaugural class in 1963.
A Pennsylvania town was named in his honor and a monument site there is the site of his remains, which were the subject of legal action. Thorpe was portrayed in the 1951 film Jim Thorpe – All-American, and appeared in several films himself.
It’s been even decades since Jim Thorpe dashed through the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, and we’re still chasing him. Greatest-evers are always hard to quantify, but Thorpe is especially so, a laconic, evasive passerby, a victim that defies Olympic idealism.