OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Decades after he was stripped of his Olympic medals, relatives of Jim Thorpe are speaking about the actions of the International Olympic Committee and what they did to finally make it right.
“His legacy is probably two part,” Anita Thorpe said. “As far as defeating racism, I’m just trying to think. I’m trying to verbalize it, what that means.”
What it means to defy racism. Defy odds. Defy time.
“There’s just so much, and I have all these emotions,” she said.
Jim Thorpe’s native name, Wa-tho-huck, means “Bright Path.”
“Jim Thorpe’s legacy, a lot of people can identify with it,” Anita Thorpe said. “Athletes can identify with it. People who support the underdog and then Native Americans.”
Anita Thorpe is the granddaughter of Jim Thorpe.
“‘Are you related to THE Jim Thorpe?’ and I proudly say, ‘Yes, yes I am,’” Anita said.
Anita never knew her world famous grandfather in person. He died years before she was born. Yet, she knows him.
“I know him through my father,” she said. “I know him through my uncle and my aunts.”
Perseverance personified. Victory in the face of adversity.
“My father and my aunts and uncles, it was their whole life passion as far as the Jim Thorpe legacy, and keeping his name and having his records and his medals returned,” she said.
Though none of them lived to see the day that wrong would be made right.
Jim Thorpe is one of the greatest athletes of all time. He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the first Native American to win Olympic gold.
Thorpe would later play baseball in the major leagues and play professional football.
His athleticism seemed to have no bounds, but the International Olympic Committee made one by claiming Thorpe was paid for playing two seasons of semi-professional baseball and stripped him of his 1912 Olympic medals.
“The racism was there,” Anita Thorpe said. “They sponsored other athletes from America to go to the Olympics, but when it came time for Jim Thorpe, he had to fund his own way, and that was a part of the racism. I could really speak of that, but that’s not who I am.”
And neither was her grandfather.
“People say ‘Well, he never really complained about it,’” she said. “But I know there was a deep hurt there, and so I believe he’s looking down and thinking, ‘Yes, I finally got those back.'”
The IOC would later give duplicate medals to Thorpe’s family, but it was not until July 15, 2022 that the committee reinstated Thorpe as the sole winner of the pentathlon and the decathlon and reinstated his Olympic records.
“It’s a dream come true,” Anita Thorpe said.
The original medals were given to the second place winners but remain in museums in their home countries of Norway and Sweden, because the athletes refused to accept them.
“They didn’t want them, no,” she said. “They knew.”
For the next two years, Thorpe’s gold medal duplicates are on loan to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Jim Thorpe is buried in the town where he attended college and is now named after him.
“When he died, his wife at the time brought him to Oklahoma to be buried, and that’s what his wishes were, to be buried in Oklahoma,” Anita said. “But some things happened.”
Many members of the Thorpe family are buried in a cemetery just outside Prague, Oklahoma, but when the Olympian passed away in 1953, his family needed help with an honorable burial and a monument.
“That didn’t happen, and so she got upset,” Anita Thorpe said. “That’s how he ended up in Pennsylvania. It was like a win-win.”
It helped the community economically and gave Thorpe the recognition he earned and deserved.
“And so when asked, ‘Why didn’t you do anything?’” Anita Thorpe said. “Natives just didn’t have the voice at the time, or the political backing, or support from the government.”
But over time that voice has gotten louder, and the path is brighter.
“Jim Thorpe was able to be wronged and still continue to be great, and that’s why he’s my hero,” Anita Thorpe said.