Olympic medals restored to athletic legend Jim Thorpe
Los Angeles — The International Olympic Committee woke up some powerful echoes recently when it announced that it was restoring Jim Thorpe's medals for winning the pentathlon and the decathlon in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
The Sac and Fox Indian was stripped of his medals in 1913 after it had been learned that Thorpe had played minor league baseball in 1909 and 1910 for $2 a game.
When confronted with the evidence, Thorpe readily admitted he had played baseball for money. What he was unaware of at the time, he said, was that this made him a professional under the international Olympic rules of that day.
So seven months after King Gustav V of Sweden told him, ''You are the greatest athlete in the world,'' and Jim replied, ''Thanks, King,'' his trophies were taken back.
Now, largely through the continuing efforts of relatives and friends, Thorpe's medals will be returned to family members during the IOC's January meeting in Los Angeles. Jim passed on at his California home in 1953.
Actually the medals will be duplicates. The originals will remain with the survivors of the two athletes who were named winners of the pentathlon and decathlon after Jim's disqualification.
What made the 6 ft. 1 in., 185-lb. Thorpe such a tremendous all-around athlete was a natural ability and desire that made everything he did look so uncomplicated and easy. He had a superb physique, a quick mind, and tremendous athletic instincts.
Jim was often a one-man track team who always seemed to have a reserve tank that could be cut in like a jet afterburner. He also played six years of major league baseball, once appearing briefly in the 1917 World Series with the Giants.
The curveball was Thorpe's undoing, but he might have learned to hit that if he had begun his career earlier.
At a time when professional football was ranked well below the college game, pro teams discovered they could double their attendance by merely signing Jim for a guest appearance in their backfield. He was both a finesse and power runner, and trying to tackle him was like trying to grab a piece of the wind.
How good was Thorpe?
Well, return with us now to 1911, when Coach Pop Warner's famed team from the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania invaded Harvard Stadium.
Their opponents would be Percy Haughton's unbeaten and defending national champions. This was back in the day when the East dominated college football and produced All-America candidates by the truckload.
Haughton was three-deep in manpower, while Warner would make his stand with a squad of 16 Indians. In fact, Harvard was so confident that it had nothing to fear that Percy started his second team.
Even though Harvard scored early, the Crimson left the field at halftime trailing 7-9, the result of three Thorpe field goals. By the middle of the third period, though, Harvard was back in control and leading 15-9.
Thorpe asked for the ball nine consecutive times late in the third period. On his ninth carry Jim burst into the end zone for a touchdown.
He had gained 70 yards against a Harvard team that never had to guess who was going to carry the ball. Then he kicked the extra point that made the score 15 -all, a touchdown being worth only five points in those days.
As the game wound down late in the fourth period, Harvard seemed willing to settle for a tie. But not Thorpe.
With less than two minutes remaining in the game and the ball near midfield, Jim kicked his fourth field goal of the day, a 49-yarder that split the uprights.
Final score: Harvard 15, Thorpe 18!
Years later Hollywood made a movie of his life that starred Burt Lancaster and for which Thorpe reportedly received only $1,500 for some technical help.
It is widely believed that Jim never saw the film of his life until it had been re-released, when he paid 65 cents for a ticket just like everyone else.