08-01-2016 - 1982: Hawthorne's JIM THORPE'S OLYMPIC MEDALS ARE RESTORED
JIM THORPE OLYMPIC MEDALS ARE RESTORED
Published: October 14, 1982
The two gold medals from the 1912 Olympic Games that Jim Thorpe was forced to return almost 70 years ago after he admitted he had once been paid to play baseball were restored posthumously yesterday.
The International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, which for many years had resisted returning the medals and restoring Thorpe's amateur status, agreed to do both after hearing a plea by William E. Simon, the president of the United States Olympic Committee.
The proceeding closed a chapter in one of the sports world's most intriguing and, for the Thorpe family, frustrating stories. Since Thorpe's death on his 65th birthday in 1953, his widow, his seven children from two previous marriages, and President Ford, among others, had attempted to bring the medals back to the United States.
Thorpe's Olympic feats, and subsequent loss of medals, gave a poignant aspect to the larger-than-life heroics that surrounded the legendary American-Indian athlete's career. Not only were the medals taken away, but his triumphs were expunged from the official Olympic record books.
But he is in the halls of fame of three sports - college football, pro football and track and field - and was a major league baseball player. He lived to see the actor Burt Lancaster portray his life in a movie. In addition, a town in Pennyslvania was renamed for Thorpe after his death.
He was probably this country's most famous college football player, enrolled at the Carlisle Institute, an Indian trade school in Pennsylvania, when he entered the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. By the end of a week's Olympic activity, he had become the world's most acclaimed athlete as well.
For in that span he competed in two grueling competitions, the five-event pentathlon and the decathlon, with its 10 events then spread over three days and culminated by a run of 1,500 meters, the metric equivalent of the mile race.
Thorpe captured his first gold medal by winning four of the five pentathlon events and finishing third in the other. Then he went on to take four of the 10 decathlon events, finish third in four others, and fourth in two. He earned the gold medal in the decathlon - which is based on overall point total in the events - by taking the 1,500-meter run by more than 50 yards.
A newsman saw Thorpe's picture in a newspaper after the Olympics and recalled that he had seen Thorpe play baseball professionally two years earlier. It turned out that Thorpe had earned about $60 a month from teams in Fayetteville and Rocky Mount, in North Carolina. United States Olympic officials confronted Thorpe.
Then, as now, the Olympic's Rule 26 forbids any athlete from competing in the Games if he has been paid to play a sport - even if he does not compete in the Olympics in the sport for which he was paid. Praise From Sweden's King
Within six months of the presentation of the medals by King Gustav V of Sweden, who called him, ''The world's greatest athlete,'' Thorpe had to return the medals.
''I was not very wise in the ways of the world and did not realize this was wrong,'' he said in a 1913 letter of apology to the United States Olympic authorities.
Still, his fame never waned. In a 1950 poll by The Associated Press, Thorpe was voted the greatest athlete of the half-century. His accomplishments included:
- Scoring 25 touchdowns and 198 points for Carlisle in 1912.
- A career in baseball as an outfielder that spanned seven seasons, including one in which he batted .327 for the Boston Braves.
- A pro football career of nine years that followed his baseball retirement. ''He never felt he did anything wrong,'' one of his four sons recalled yesterday. Richard Thorpe, the chief purchasing agent for the State Senate in Oklahoma, said: ''It's a damn shame it took that long, but that's the way things work sometimes. I think it would have been restored long ago. But Avery Brundage was the chairman of the International Olympic Committee for many years. He competed in 1912 and got beat real bad by my dad.
''And of course, in 1912, there was a little bit of prejudice against Indians.'' Brundage a Figure in Controversy
Brundage was the often-controversial figure in United States and international sports, who rose to president of the International Olympic Committee. He placed 14th in the 1912 decathlon and fifth in the pentathlon.
He was among those opposed to restoring Thorpe's medals. But in the last few years, the United States has wielded more influence on the international committee, the governing body for the Games. Also, the question of amateurism - the international committee has asked its members to redefine the concept - has become more complex than it was 70 years ago.
Finally, last weekend, Mr. Simon, the former Secretary of the Treasury, went before the international committee to ask for the return of Thorpe's medals.
''The very first Olympic meeting I attended in 1965 was about Jim Thorpe and his medals,'' Mr. Simon recalled yesterday after returning from Switzerland. ''I went home and told my wife after that meeting, 'Here's a guy took $15 a game in 1910 and we're still debating about him.' ''
In the most recent meeting, Mr. Simon said, ''Everyone just wiped off the Olympic record.'' New Medals to Be Presented
He added that new medals - the originals were redistributed in 1913 to the second-place finishers - would be presented by the president of the international committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, to one of Thorpe's three daughters, Charlotte Thorpe of Phoenix, at a major Olympic meeting in Los Angeles next January. Los Angeles is the site of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.
Miss Thorpe said yesterday from Phoenix: ''When my father died in 1953, it seemed to me his spirit invaded my body. It gave me such a heavy burden, and I've been pushing this ever since. I started saving newspaper clippings of him when I was a teen-ager, and I'm 63 now.''
Mr. Lancaster had vivid memories of performing as Jim Thorpe in the 1951 Warner Brothers film, ''Jim Thorpe - All-American.'' ''He had a token job as a football consultant,'' said Mr. Lancaster yesterday from Los Angeles. ''He was at the time in pretty dire financial straits. There was even a move afoot by the producers to get him the medal. It would have been a perfect ending for the movie. But Avery Brundage was a stickler. Lancaster Felt 'Cynicism'
''My only personal contact with him during the filming was when we did drop-kicking. He came out of the stands and tried to teach me. It was sort of touching. His life had gone to pot. I remember his wife had opened a bar during the filming and the producers went crazy and bought her out.''
Mr. Lancaster said that when he read the news yesterday, he wasn't elated. ''I felt a certain cynicism, that he didn't get it before,'' the actor said. ''What the hell does it mean now? There's a feeling of bitterness, that it didn't get done in its own time.''
Miss Thorpe said that now she will attempt to bring her father's body back to Oklahoma, where he was born. His third wife, Patricia, who is deceased, moved his remains twice after she was angered when the State of Oklahoma refused to allot $25,000 for a Jim Thorpe memorial in the 1950's. Buried in Jim Thorpe, Pa.
Finally, in 1954, she was invited by the northeastern Pennsylvania towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk to bring his remains there. The towns had agreed to merge and change their names to Jim Thorpe, and build a mausoleum.
''Tourism is building up more and more,'' said Mayor Michael Hichok, who is a barber in Jim Thorpe, a town of 5,300. ''We have his nice, clean mausoleum.''
But Miss Thorpe said, ''My next push is to get dad's remains back to Oklahoma so his soul can rest.''
In 1932, Jim Thorpe was too poor to afford a ticket to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. U.S. Vice President Charles Curtis, who was part Native American, invited Thorpe to the Opening Cermonies as his guest. The crowd of more than one hundred thousand gave Thorpe a standing ovation!