There’s a fantastic article at the Smithsonian about Jim Thorpe’s 1912 Olympic medals and records, which were stripped from him shortly after he won them. The given reason was his playing of minor-league baseball a couple of years earlier.
He is one of the most impressive athletes the Olympics have ever seen. He would win the high jump to this day. His time in the 1,500 meters wasn’t surpassed until 1972.
The reasons given by the IOC for stripping Thorpe’s medals were rubbish. And they’ve not even had a pretense of justification since 1992, when the IOC finally allowed professionals to compete in tacit acknowledgment that they’d been tolerating professionals from the Communist Bloc for years.
From the Smithsonian article:
Thorpe’s Olympic victories still have not been properly reinstated in the official record.
It’s commonly believed that Thorpe at last received Olympic justice in October of 1982 when the IOC bowed to years of public pressure and delivered two replica medals to his family, announcing, “The name of James Thorpe will be added to the list of athletes who were crowned Olympic champions at the 1912 Games.” What’s less commonly known is that the IOC appended this small, mean sentence: “However, the official report for these Games will not be modified.”
In other words, the IOC refused even to acknowledge Thorpe’s results in the 15 events he competed in. To this day the Olympic record does not mention them. The IOC also refused to demote Wieslander and the other runners-up from their elevated medal status. Wieslander’s results stand as the official winning tally. Thorpe was merely a co-champion, with no numerical evidence of his overwhelming superiority. This is no small thing. It made Thorpe an asterisk, not a champion. It was lip service, not restitution.
On this 100-year anniversary of the Stockholm Games, there are several good reasons for the IOC to relent and fully recognize Thorpe as the sole champion that he was. Countless white athletes abused the amateurism rules and played minor-league ball with impunity. What’s more, the IOC did not follow its own rules for disqualification: Any objection to Thorpe’s status should have been raised within 30 days of the Games, and it was not. It was nice of the IOC to award replica medals to Thorpe’s family, but those are just souvenirs. After 100 years of phantom contending, Thorpe should enter the record as the incomparable that he was.