Jim Thorpe Was an All-Time Great Olympian Who Was Stripped of Two Gold Medals

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Aug. 30 2022, Published 10:11 a.m. ET

Few athletes build the kind of legacy that Jim Thorpe established over the course of his long athletic career. Jim was an exceptionally versatile athlete, and in 1912, he traveled to Stockholm for the Olympic Games being held there. He won two gold medals in the games: one for the pentathlon, and another for the decathlon, instantly marking him as one of the great Olympians of all time.

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Why did Jim Thorpe lose his medals?

After the 1912 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made the decision to strip Jim of his medals, claiming that he had violated the amateurism rules that existed around the games at that time. The decision came down in 1913 and was based on two seasons of semi-professional baseball that Jim had played prior to competing in the Olympics.

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At the time, the Olympics had rules in place which didn't permit non-amateurs to compete in the Olympics. If you were at some point paid for your sport, you were no longer allowed to compete. Those rules were eventually scrapped, and now, a wide array of professional athletes compete in the Olympic Games in everything from basketball to track and field.

Jim Thorpe's medals weren't fully restored until 2022.

In 1983, the IOC ruled that Jim's medals could be restored after stating that the initial ruling had fallen outside of the 30-day window when these decisions were supposed to be made. The restoration came 30 years after Jim's death, and it only listed him as a co-victor in both events. It wasn't until 2022 that the IOC fully restored Jim as the sole champion in both the decathlon and pentathlon.

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Jim had a long athletic career after the Olympics.

Jim, who grew up in Oklahoma and was of Native American descent, had a long career in professional sports even after he was stripped of his Olympic medals. He played six seasons of baseball for the New York Giants and also played for six separate teams in the earliest version of the NFL. He was also an outstanding basketball player and joined a team composed entirely of Native Americans.

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Jim played professional sports until the age of 41 and then worked several odd jobs after that. He had alcoholism and spent the final years of his life in declining health.

Jim's lengthy legacy is still remembered by the public. The Associated Press named him the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century, and he was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their inaugural class, which was in 1963, 10 years after his death.

As is often the case, the IOC was pretty slow to recognize the error that they had made in taking away Jim's medals. He may have technically violated the rules, but those rules were always silly, and the move always seemed like it came at least a little bit out of spite. Jim Thorpe was an all-time great, and now the IOC has finally acknowledged it.

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