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The unbelievable story of Shining Path

If one of the consequences of Stockholm was to reinforce the legitimacy of the Games, they also managed to provide one of the most controversial cases of Olympic injustice ever witnessed when Jim Thorpe was ordered to return the medals he had deservedly won in the decathlon and the pentathlon - due to IOC claims of past "professionalism".

An Indian from the Algonquin tribe, although he also had Irish origins, Thorpe would not live to see justice restored.

A courteous and civil competitor with exceptional physical attributes, (1.87m and 83kg), who was able to realise his true potential in life through sport, Thorpe eventually died believing that his medals would never be handed back to him.

At the Olympic Games, the 25-year-old amazed the western world by winning four of the five events in the pentathlon, before going on to win the 100m hurdles, the high jump, the 56-pound weight-thowing event, and the discus - totalling an impressive 8412 points.

At the Games he was hailed the world's greatest athlete by no less than three heads of State, including President Roosevelt, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and King Gustav V of Sweden.

Restored by Samaranch

Yet a scandal soon followed. A Connecticut newspaper revealed that Thorpe had previously been paid for playing for a short time with a baseball team in North Carolina.

The Irish-Indian admitted to have taken home a few dollars for playing with a mediocre baseball team, but claimed it was "only for pleasure, not for any financial gain".

But the IOC's findings were irrevocable: he was obliged to hand back his medals under pressure from the United States Amateur Athletic Union and the IOC.

In a final, proud attempt at recognition, Shining Path - his original Indian name - pleaded to retain his medals.

But all his efforts were in vain, even although the man who presided over the IOC in years to come was none other than Avery Brundage.

This sensitive American did not only set himself up as the embodiment of unadulterated amateurism, but was unable to forget his inferior 6th place in the pentathlon, nor his 12th place in the decathlon contest in the Stockholm Games.

Jim Thorpe died a broken man after developing cancer in March 1953. Seventy years later, Juan Antonio Samaranch restored the memory, and medals, of Thorpe. Finally.

"I'm sure that my father is among us today," said his son Jack Thorpe, "and that words will not be able to express his immense gratitude."


Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.



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