Roby, for his part, worried that Thorpe's family was pushing for reinstatement of the medals for commercial reasons. He had heard that they wanted to "open up a museum or something and charge admission." He said he would not push for reinstatement, either.
According to Wheeler, Roosevelt softened his position somewhat in a telephone conversation they had on Sept. 30, just before Roosevelt left for an IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. Roosevelt pledged that he would try to get the Thorpe issue on the agenda for the full IOC meeting scheduled for January in Los Angeles.
But Simon's goal was more specific. "I went to the meeting in Lausanne with two purposes in mind," Simon said last week. "To settle a wrestling dispute and to get Jim Thorpe's medals returned. And both of them were done."
As president of the USOC, Simon isn't a member of the IOC but wields a powerful influence in its deliberations. He has the ear of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the IOC. And as a veteran political power broker—he served as secretary of the treasury under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford—Simon knows how to get things done, i.e., get your man alone and make a deal.
Simon made it clear to Samaranch that he wanted Thorpe's name cleared. So did USOC Executive Director F. Don Miller, who had advocated the return of the medals for several years. Samaranch got the message, and perhaps down the road Simon will have to repay the debt on some other issue. It was Samaranch who brought up the resolution to restore Thorpe's amateur status at a meeting of the nine-member executive committee, and it was Samaranch who saw that it got through without a hitch. Roosevelt had nothing to do with the resolution's passage, other than to vote for it.
A reporter in Lausanne asked Samaranch why it had taken so long to change Thorpe's status. "I don't know," he said. "For the first time since I became president we studied this problem, and we solved it in two hours."
The committee isn't asking that the original medals be returned by the heirs of Ferdinand Bie of Norway (pentathlon) and Hugo Wieslander of Sweden (decathlon), the runners-up who advanced when Thorpe was disqualified; rather, the IOC will issue duplicate medals to Thorpe's heirs. (The originals are gone, anyway. Descendants of both Bie and Wieslander say the medals were stolen. Perhaps there's a curse on them.) A less tidy decision is the committee's verdict that the record books continue to recognize Bie and Wieslander as winners. "We will just add Thorpe's name as co-champion," says Samaranch. That's in the worst tradition of asterisk record keeping. If Thorpe's status is truly to be restored, then he should be declared the clear winner.
But the long battle for his medals and his honor is over and, for the most part, won. The battle for his body, however, goes on.
The plaque is almost impossible to spot from the road. Even Jim Thorpe's son Jack, the 45-year-old chief of the Sac and Fox Tribe, who has been this way countless times before, misses it and has to back up the car. He's driving along a dirt road in a section of south central Oklahoma known as Eckontuske Bottom, about 16 miles northeast of Shawnee, the town Jim Thorpe listed as his birthplace. Twenty miles the other way is Stroud, site of the Sac and Fox tribal offices.
Jack gets out of the car, walks over to a barbed-wire fence and rips some brush out of the way. Bolted to a concrete post is the small plaque erected in 1970 by the Cimarron Valley Historical Society. It reads in part: