Updated 4 September 2022
In this piece, Larry Eder recognizes the hard work that was needed for the reinstatement of the late Jim Thorpe, the legitimate winner of the Olympic 1912 decathlon and heptathlon, including Seb Coe, Robert Wheeler, Billy Mills, Caitlyn Jenner, and Jeff Benjamin.
Opinion – Robert Wheeler, Flo Ridlon & Jeff Benjamin Helped Put Jim Thorpe “Over The Top!”
No doubt by now, many of us Athletics geeks, along with the rest of the world, celebrated the great news last month about the reinstatement of Native American Jim Thorpe into the International Olympic Committee record books.
ABC News Link –
What so many of us remember is that Thorpe, who destroyed his competition in BOTH the Decathlon & Pentathlon in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, was then subsequently stripped of his Gold Medals and awards over the hypocritical and racist views of the so-called “Amateurism” rules of the era.
By 1950, Thorpe (who also played Baseball, Basketball and was one of the founding leaders of the NFL!) was ranked by many as the GREATEST Athlete who ever lived.
But the tint of the Olympic debacle never went away in his lifetime and beyond.
Thanks to many petitions and movements from the early part of the 20th century right through the 1980s, Thorpe’s family FINALLY received the Gold Medals (albeit replicas) from the IOC in a sort of apology.
I, like many others, thought that Thorpe’s Olympic injustice had been put to rest.
But I was wrong.
Robert Wheeler and his wife Flo Ridlon, who researched Thorpe and helped restore the medals to the family, were well aware that the IOC NEVER changed the record books. Jim Thorpe was never officially reinstated into the Decathlon & Pentathlon as the SOLE champ.
From the outside looking in, it seems that Wheeler and Ridlon kept the attention on this issue, which only began picking up steam over the last 10 years in the mainstream media.
Alongside the announcement of an upcoming Jim Thorpe movie with “Bright Path Strong,” was formed.
“Bright Path” is the translation of Thorpe’s Sac & Fox Nation’s name.
With the formation of this group, a new petition drive was launched, with names like Wheeler, Ridlon, Abraham Taylor, and Nedra Darling alongside Olympians Donna DeVerona, Billy Mills, and Anita DeFrantz leading the way amongst thousands of supporters and activists.
It was in 2016 that my Senior Writer Jeff Benjamin started bothering the heck out of me about Jim Thorpe. Having reviewed the paramount Wheeler biography on Thorpe, which was written in the 1970s, Jeff was contacted by Wheeler and Ridlon and was brought into the movement as well.
Without a doubt, Thorpe’s injustice appealed to many who tried to right a terrible wrong. But Jeff had a personal reason – being from Staten Island, Jeff knew Thorpe’s Olympic teammate, 1500 Silver medalist Abel Kiviat, a Jewish Athlete who had also suffered at the hands of the USOC and IOC due to the hypocrisy and racism.
It seemed to me that Wheeler, Ridlon, and Jeff made a good team, and I believe that relationship paid off!
In early 2021, Jeff “cornered” World Athletics President Seb Coe to acknowledge what was going on, and “I will continue to support it!”
Also, in early 2021, Wheeler, Ridlon, and Jeff reached out to Caitlyn Jenner for support. Then known as Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist immediately lent support and posted the subject on her Instagram encouraging people to sign the petition. Jenner’s Instagram was “liked” by over 30,000!
“Jim Thorpe deserves it,” said Jenner last week to Jeff. “He’s the Grandfather of the Decathlon, and he put it on the map!”
“When I was growing up, Jim Thorpe was “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” which was so inspiring and led to the Decathlon becoming the ultimate test of running, jumping, and throwing, and because of Thorpe, he’s a BIG inspiration in my life and for so many of the Decathletes out there.”
I had no problem supporting Bob, Flo, and Jeff…It was a great injustice!”
In 2022, it seemed things were picking up steam in a good way. Wheeler and Ridlon also published a new legal case study in Thorpe for the Doug Williams Center.
Also, Seb Coe, finally an IOC member and moving forward post-Covid, was leading our Sport to Eugene this year for the first World Athletics Championships on American soil.
The next thing you know, IOC President Thomas Bach, right at the opening of the Worlds, announces Thorpe’s reinstatement.
As Jeff wrote when he celebrated briefly with Coe –
“You know, the great advantage about making this decision on Jim Thorpe is that it’s so obvious that it’s the right decision,” said Coe out here in Hayward Field this week at the World Track & Field Championships, where he emphasized that many were responsible in the IOC for making this happen.
“Under these circumstances, it’s truly righting a wrong.”
Seb Coe is absolutely correct in that this movement to bring Justice to Thorpe was a HUGE team effort.
“Without a doubt, Bob, Flo, and I were just cogs in a great machine,” said Jeff to me recently.
“Lots of people deserve credit for sure!”
But I’ll tell you what to my friends out there -In my humble opinion – Wheeler, Ridlon, and Jeff – ALL New Yorkers, by the way! – were most definitely part of this noble group who put Jim Thorpe over the top to clear this last “Athletic Hurdle”!
PS – Last Jeff FINALLY met Robert Wheeler & His Wife Flo Ridlon, where they celebrated Thorpe’s reinstatement into the IOC record books!
Joining Jeff was his wife Roseann, the Iconic Legendary Oren Lyons, the Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation. One of America’s predominant activists on Native rights & the environment, Lyons serves on the Grand Council of Chiefs of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy –Haudenosaunee.