Jim Thorpe’s Records Restored

Little did Bob Wheeler know in 1967 that he was starting a lifelong odyssey when he thumbed his first ride to hitchhike across America to interview people who had known Jim Thorpe. His crisscrossing the continent was necessary to meet all of them. Lugging a 30-pound tape recorder of the kind that stooped Howard Cosell’s shoulders, he embarked on a trip to gather information for his master’s thesis. Oral histories were in their infancy and Wheeler’s advisor was no fan of them, but that didn’t discourage the young historian.

Wheeler collected a lot more material than needed for a master’s thesis but he kept going until he had a book. “Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete,” is still in print, available from University of Oklahoma Press. Getting published might have been the end of the story but, in many ways, it was just the beginning.

In 1971, Bob married another Syracuse University student, Florence Ridlon, who was working on her Ph.D. in Sociology. Bob was teaching at the time but he soon made a career shift to public relations. Their focus soon changed. In 1975 they formed the Jim Thorpe Foundation, headquartered in a closet at Danker’s Restaurant in Washington, DC. Its purpose was to restore Jim Thorpe’s Olympic honors, including his medals and records.

Little progress was made until Dr. Ridlon discovered a long-forgotten rule book for the 1912 Olympics that had dropped behind a row of books in a Library of Congress stack. The rules clearly stated that all challenges had to be made in 30 days. The revocation of Jim’s medals was illegitimate because the challenge came seven months after the games.

Eventually Thorpe’s medals were restored but there was a problem: no one knew where they were. So, new medals were struck and awarded to his surviving children. Perhaps his original medals may be found but, with two world wars having ravage Europe in the intervening years, it seems unlikely.

Now, after 41 years of trying, Bob and Flo have succeeded in getting Jim Thorpe’s Olympic records restored. Will they retire or is a movie in their future?

Official Announcement

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