Nutshell: The Great Jim Thorpe Gets his Olympic Due
Jim Thorpe is the sole winner of the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.
The never-ending debate about who the greatest athlete of all time is should always include Jim Thorpe. Shit, it should start with Jim Thorpe. Thorpe, whose Native American name was Wa-Tho-Huk ("Bright Path"), played six years of professional baseball and 13 years of professional football, often simultaneously. He was a two-time, consensus All-American in football at Carlisle, and was later inducted into the Collegiate and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Oh, and he won two gold medals in record-breaking fashion in the 1912 Olympics, in some of the most physically-demanding events the sporting world has to offer: the decathlon and pentathlon.
But he wasn't always the "winner," sadly.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had very strict rules regarding amateurism at the time of Thorpe's Olympic career. Shortly after the games had concluded, newspapers began to get wind that Thorpe had played professional baseball (defined as accepting any monetary sum in exchange for his services) a few years before the Olympics. This was a common practice for young collegiate ballplayers at the time, who were looking to make a little extra scratch in the summer. They often used fake names, though, so as to not lose their amateur status. Thorpe didn't, which served as the smoking barrel that led to the American Athletic Union (AAU) retroactively terminating his amateurism. He pled ignorance, but he IOC followed suit with the AAU, stripping him of his medals and awards and giving them to the second-place finishers.
Mind you, the IOC's rulebook for the 1912 Olympics stated that amateurism protests must be made within 30 days of the closing ceremonies. Thorpe's professional status was called into question nearly six months after the games. Put simply, they overlooked their own bylaws in order to fuck Thorpe.
Some of this injustice was rectified in 1982. A community of Thorpe's supporters presented a case for reinstatement, headed by the aforementioned 30-day protest limit. The IOC ruled in their favor...with a catch. Jim Thorpe's would be reinstated as the winner of the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, but not the sole winner. They would not be bumping down the competitors who finished second to Thorpe (by a country mile). They were now "co-gold medalists."
Now, this past Friday, 40 years after the "co-champion" ruling and 110 years since he became the world's greatest athlete in Stockholm, Sweden, Jim Thorpe has been restored by the IOC as the sole winner of the 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon. This is thanks in large part to a Native American organization known as Bright Path Strong, which amassed over 75,000 signatures in their petition to the IOC.
Thorpe is long gone (he passed in 1953), but it must be nice for his descendants to know he is the one and only champion of the 1912 games. A champion who, even more impressively, won the decathlon and pentathlon while wearing two mismatched shoes he fetched out of the garbage after his were stolen the morning of the competition.
Like I said, you have to start a GOAT athlete conversation with Thorpe. Always and forever.