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Heffley: Reinstate Thorpe’s gold medal status

An effort to reinstate Jim Thorpe as the sole gold medal winner of two Olympic events in 1912 was advanced in a unanimous vote by the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee last week.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley said he sponsored the resolution after speaking with Jim Thorpe’s grandson, John.

“My resolution encourages the International Olympic Committee to reinstate Jim Thorpe as the sole gold medal winner of the pentathlon and decathlon events during the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm,” said Heffley. “Unfortunately, his gold medals were revoked after it was discovered that he violated strict rules regarding amateurism. The medals were reinstated in 1982. However, Thorpe was only recognized as a co-gold medal winner with the athletes who were elevated to gold medal status after his medals were revoked. I believe the time is long overdue to reinstate one of our nation’s greatest athletes as the rightful winner of these two Olympic events.”

The International Olympic Committee stripped Thorpe of the medals in 1913, saying he had been paid to play minor league baseball before the Olympics took place. The committee’s own bylaws, however, stated grievances had to be filed within 30 days. The challenge to Thorpe’s victories took six months.

“It’s time to finally right a terrible wrong,” John Thorpe said. “Everyone knows who won those events. Hugo Wieslander didn’t even want the gold medal because he knew grandpa beat him. He tried to give it to grandpa and the Olympic committee wouldn’t let him.”

For many years, Thorpe’s family has considered it an injustice that the medals were stripped in the first place. John Thorpe said there was much more at play than the money Jim Thorpe took for playing baseball.

“It was racism, no doubt about it,” John said. “Heck, in 1912 they were still shooting Indians in Arizona. You can’t tell me that wasn’t behind it.”

Pictureworks Entertainment in partnership with several Native American tribes, the National Congress of American Indians and several of Thorpe’s descendants started a petition earlier this year to restore Thorpe’s status as the sole gold medalist in those events.

“Now is the time to fix this because we still have so much racism in this country, it could send such a positive message,” John Thorpe said. “In this day and age, there is no reason for it and this would be a huge step in the right direction.”

Heffley said a similar resolution would also be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.


Born in a one-room cabin in Oklahoma Territory on May 28, 1888, Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox tribe. He went on to attend Carlisle Indian Academy near Harrisburg, where he starred in football, track and basketball. In 1912, he became the star of the Olympic Games, which were held in Stockholm, Sweden, breaking multiple records en route to earning gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon.

In addition, Thorpe also took fourth place in the high jump, seventh place in the long jump, and played on the baseball team. After the Olympics, however, it was discovered that Thorpe had played two seasons of professional minor league baseball in North Carolina for about $2 a game before the games. Because of this, he was no longer considered an amateur athlete and the International Olympic Committee stripped him of his gold medals. Thorpe went on to play professional football and became the first president of the American Professional Football Association, known today as the NFL. He also played professional baseball for both the New York Giants and the Boston Braves. After his death in 1953, Thorpe’s widow, Patricia, approached Times News editor Joe Boyle with the suggestion of uniting the two towns, bringing her husband’s body there, and renaming the consolidated town Jim Thorpe. It would be a fitting tribute, she said, and memorial to her husband as well as a drawing card to attract guests to the area. The two towns united in 1954. On Memorial Day 1957, Thorpe was laid to rest above ground in a 20,000-pound red granite mausoleum paid for by a special “Nickel A Week” fund. In October 1982, Thorpe’s amateur status was reinstated. Posthumously, Thorpe’s family was presented with replicas of his gold medals in January 1983.

The 1912 games

In the 1912 games, Thorpe won the pentathlon, finishing first in the long jump (7.07 meters), first in the 200-meter dash (22.9 seconds), first in the discus (35.57 meters), and first in the 1,500-meter race (4:44.8), and third with a 46.71-meter throw in the javelin.

The next day, Thorpe finished fourth in the high jump (1.87 meters), and four days later, he finished seventh in the long jump (6.89 meters).

His best effort, however, came in the decathlon. Thorpe finished first in the shot put (12.89 meters), the high jump (1.87 meters), the 110-meter hurdles (15.6 seconds) and the 1,500-meter race (4:40.1).

Swedish King Gustav V, patron of the Games of the V Olympiad, later told Thorpe, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”

John Thorpe places his hand on the grave of his grandfather, Jim Thorpe, during a prayer recently. Thorpe, now living in Weatherly, said that he visits his grandfather's grave whenever he's in town. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
John Thorpe smudges sage near his grandfather's grave. Thorpe said that burning sage has natural properties that remove negative ions.
John Thorpe casts his shadow while placing his hand on his grandfather's grave Friday morning.
John Thorpe says it's time to restore the medals won by his grandfather.
John Thorpe burns sage near his grandfather, Jim Thorpe's, grave recently.
Jim Thorpe's statue near his final resting place.
John Thorpe burns sage at his grandfather, Jim Thorpe's, grave recently.