Before 1911, track and field athletes competed in the all-around championship, a 10-event tournament that placed an emphasis on strength events.
Athletics at the 1912 Summer Olympics – Men’s Decathlon
With the 1912 Olympics in mind, however, the Swedes created a new 10-event multi-event that put a premium on speed and jumping. On 15 October 1911, the first recorded decathlon events took place, one in Münster, Germany (won by Karl von Halt), and the other in Göteberg, Sweden (won by Hugo Wieslander).
In preparation for the Olympic Games, Wieslander won two further Swedish decathlons in June 1912. In Sweden, he was the crowd favourite.
Americans Favoured A Wonderful Native American Athlete Named Jim Thorpe.
Thorpe, whose father was Irish and whose mother was Sac and Fox, excelled at football, baseball, and track while attending the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Although he had never competed in a decathlon before Stockholm, his performance in the pentathlon at the eastern U.S. Olympic Trial was so impressive that he was chosen to compete for the United States in both the decathlon and the pentathlon.
Both Wieslander and Thorpe were favoured to place highly in the Stockholm decathlon. And it wasn’t. After dominating the pentathlon the week prior, Jim Thorpe blew away the competition in the decathlon by nearly 700 points to set a new world record and defeat Wieslander. In a total of 10 competitions, he finished first three times, second once, third four times, and fourth twice.
He finished with 25 points, behind Wieslander’s 67 and Charles Lomberg’s 75 in a point-for-place scoring system. During the awards ceremony at the end of the games, King Gustav V of Sweden presented Thorpe with his trophy. According to folklore, King George VI once called Thorpe “Sir,” after which Thorpe responded, “Thanks, King.” No matter how much truth there is to the legend, the King was right.
Hugo Wieslander was the 1912 Olympic decathlon champion, but his name was never removed from the record books until 1982. When word of Jim Thorpe’s baseball career in North Carolina’s minor leagues leaked in January 1913, many were surprised. The American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in the United States promptly recognised Thorpe as a professional athlete.
The International Olympic Committee then did the same. It was mandated that Thorpe give up all of the medals and trophies he had won in the Olympics.
However, Interest in the Tale Remained Constant.
Many people worked tirelessly for a long time to try to get Jim Thorpe’s medals, trophies, and honours restored to him or his family. The Czar of Russia provided the Challenge Trophy, awarded for the decathlon. In an unprecedented judgement in 1982, the International Olympic Committee reinstated Thorpe’s amateur status and named him co-champion alongside Hugo Wieslander.
Thorpe’s exclusion from competition, the subsequent efforts to clear his record, and the success of the ultimate effort all make for a lengthy and intricate tale. For more information, read about Jim Thorpe’s life. On the day of the 110th anniversary of Thorpe’s medal in decathlon, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially confirmed its decision to display Jim Thorpe’s name as the single gold medalist in the pentathlon and decathlon at the Olympic Games Stockholm 1912.
According to the statement released by the IOC, this change was made possible thanks to the efforts of the Bright Path Strong organisation, which was backed by IOC Member Anita DeFrantz and reached out to the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC) and the surviving family members of Hugo K. Wieslander, who had been named the gold medalist in the decathlon after Thorpe was stripped of his medals in 1913.
Family members stated that Wieslander never received the Olympic gold medal that was given to him because he believed Jim Thorpe to be the only deserving Olympic champion. The Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports issued an identical statement when their athlete Ferdinand Bie was declared the gold medalist after Thorpe’s pentathlon championship was taken away.