Sports Legend Jim Thorpe Restored as Sole Winner of 1912 Olympic Gold Medals: 'Long Past Time'

Jim Thorpe, a Native American athlete, was stripped of his medals a year after the 1912 Olympics after it was discovered he had made a small sum of money playing minor league baseball

American athlete Jim Thorpe (1888 -1953) at an athletics meeting at the Parc Pommery in Reims, France, 23rd July 1912. Thorpe is competing in the 110 yards Hurdles. BRA-75991.
Jim Thorpe . Photo: Branger/Roger Viollet via Getty

Native American athlete Jim Thorpe was reinstated as the sole winner of the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics after the medals were stripped a year following the event.

Indian Country Today was first to report Thursday that the International Olympic Committee had changed its website to indicate Thorpe as the sole gold medal winner of the two events. The IOC officially announced the change Friday.

After Thorpe's win at the 1912 Stockholm games, it was discovered he had made a small sum of money playing minor league baseball from 1909 to 1910, ESPN reported. As a result, his title was stripped for violating amateurism rules.

The outlet said Thorpe was a Sac and Fox Nation member and was the first Native American to win a gold medal.

"It's long past time," Pulitzer-winning journalist David Maraniss tells PEOPLE of Thorpe's medals being reinstated.

"This decision by the IOC is 110 years too late but better late than never," he continues. "When Jim's medals were rescinded after his brilliant performances in Stockholm, the move went against Olympic rules, common sense, and public opinion."

Maraniss is the author of Path Lit By Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe, set to be released on August 9 from Simon & Schuster.

Jim Thorpe ca. 1910-1920 .
Jim Thorpe. HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty

The decision to revoke Thorpe's medals has been heavily criticized over the decades. The incident has been considered the result of "a blend of racism… and a fanatical devotion to the idea of amateurism," the New York Times explained.

Before Friday's announcement, nearly 30 years after his death in 1982, Thorpe was reinstated as co-winner of both events alongside Hugo Wieslander, who placed second in the decathlon, and Ferdinand Bie, who finished just behind Thorpe in the pentathlon, the Times explained.

The Times said both athletes were reluctant to accept the gold medal status for the events after the title was stripped from Thorpe.

Despite the move, supporters still pushed to have Thorpe claim the sole spot.

"We are so grateful his nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been corrected, and there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history," Nedra Darling, the co-founder of Bright Path Strong said, according to ESPN.

Bright Path Strong is a foundation named for Thorpe's Indigenous name and has been leading the efforts to restore Thorpe's title, the Times reported.

"We welcome the fact that, thanks to the great engagement of Bright Path Strong, a solution could be found," IOC President Thomas Bach said, according to the announcement of the reinstatement. "This is a most exceptional and unique situation, which has been addressed by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the National Olympic Committees concerned."

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According to the IOC, several related parties for both Wieslander and Bie were contacted, who all agreed that Thorpe should have the title back.

In an obituary written by the Times at the time of his death, Thorpe was called "probably the greatest natural athlete the world had seen in modern times."

Beyond being an Olympic gold medalist, Thorpe went on to play professional baseball and football.

He played major league baseball from 1913 to 1919 for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves. In 1920 he changed sports and began playing professional football with six teams, including the New York Giants, the Times reported. He played until he was 41.

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