- Last Updated: 7:06 AM, August 10, 2012
- Posted: 1:56 AM, August 10, 2012
LONDON — For now and for all time, the record will show Ashton Eaton of the United States of America won the gold medal in the 2012 Olympic men’s decathlon Thursday. For now and for all time, his name will stand atop the list of 31 competitors in the test that has always determined the world’s greatest athlete.
Eaton will bring his medal home with him to Oregon, and he will show it off at school assemblies and county fairs, he will display it on his mantel or lock it away in a safe-deposit box. The hardware will be his; the record belongs to the Olympics, and to the sport of athletics. It was a good night for Eaton, a good night for silver medalist Trey Hardee, a good night for the United States.
In fact, there is only one thing that could make this 100th anniversary of the first Olympic decathlon better for the nation and for the decathletes who have competed under the stars and stripes across the decades, 13 gold-medal winners in 26 tries. It was exactly one century ago that another American, competing in another decathlon, in Stockholm, Sweden, performed so well and with such dominance and such flair that he inspired royalty.
“You, sir,” King Gustav V told Jim Thorpe on the medal stand that day, July 15, 1912, “are the greatest athlete in the world.”
For most of the next 70 years, the record wouldn’t reflect that. A newspaper revealed Thorpe had received two bucks a game playing minor-league baseball. The International Olympic Committee — surprise! — stripped Thorpe of his medals, though it violated its own sacred regulations by letting its statute of limitations expire.
And for decades the IOC. which really should adopt the George Costanza Theory and do the opposite of whatever it thinks is best, wouldn’t budge.
“Ignorance,” said Avery Brundage, the IOC chief who was as well-versed on the subject as anyone, “is no excuse.”
Thirty years ago, the IOC finally softened, reinstating Thorpe’s medals (though they’d long since been stolen from the museums where they’d been displayed). But it didn’t go far enough. To this day, if you thumb through the purple-covered Olympic record book for athletics, and you turn to page 175, this is what you see under “Decathlon, 1912”:
1. Jim Thorpe, USA, 8,412.955 (WR)
1. Hugo Wieslander, SWE, 7,724.495
A near 700-point victory, and a co-No. 1. And it’s the same thing in the pentathlon, an event that no longer exists, Thorpe riding into eternity as a co-winner along with Ferdinand Bie of Norway. Essentially, the IOC has given Thorpe — who died at 64 in 1953 — a permanent asterisk even though he crushed both Wieslander and Bie, even though, for years, both men urged the IOC to reverse itself.
“I did not beat Mr. Thorpe,” Wieslander said not long before his death in May 1976. “And I do not deserve to be recognized as if I did.”
A 100-year anniversary, it seems, would be an appropriate time for the IOC to finally restore an accurate record and restore Thorpe’s remarkable triumphs, and it seems an especially prudent time for the USOC to try to nudge this along since the decathlon is once again a sport ruled by Americans.
Not even the magic of NBC can punch up the decathlon and make it must-see viewing. The event really is from out of another time, and the truth is it’s hard to conjure much artificial excitement when the runaway winner finishes a distant fifth in the climactic race. No offense to Eaton; no U.S. decathlon winner has ever won the 1,500 meters that ends the race. Some have been a full minute off the pace.
It’s still a heck of an event, and an historic achievement that earns him entrance to a special club of names — Mathias, Johnson, Campbell, Toomey, Jenner.
“All these guys in this competition, we’ve put in a lot of work,” Easton said after he had wrapped up the gold. “I wondered why I deserved the gold because all these other guys worked so hard as well. It’s like a family out there, all of us wanting to succeed.”
Now, it’s time to officially acknowledge their ancestral patron, 100 years after he wowed a king and crossed a corrupt bureaucracy. We crowned the latest decathlon champion last night. Let’s re-coronate the first one, officially, and soon.Follow @NYPostsports