News22 Jul 2021

Olympic legends Thorpe and Radke awarded World Athletics Heritage Plaques


Lina Radke and Jim Thorpe (© Getty Images / IMAGO)

Jim Thorpe and Lina Radke are the latest recipients of the World Athletics Heritage Plaque in the posthumous category of ‘Legend’. Their plaques will be unveiled next year respectively in the Stockholm and Amsterdam Olympic Stadiums where they will be on permanent public display.

Thorpe was the Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm while Radke was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the 800m in Amsterdam in 1928, but their victories held even greater symbolism in the times when they competed.

“Even among the pioneers of our sport Jim Thorpe and Lina Radke stand out from their peers due to the significant social and political barriers they challenged," World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said.

“More than 100 years later, their struggles, and their determination to succeed in the face of societal opposition, still resonate today. I’m delighted that we are acknowledging these two outstanding Olympic champions, exemplars for generations of athletes who followed."

The World Athletics Heritage Plaque is a location-based recognition, awarded for “an outstanding contribution to the worldwide history and development of the sport of track and field athletics and of out-of-stadia athletics disciplines such as cross country, mountain, road, trail and ultra-running, and race walking”.

James ‘Jim’ Francis Thorpe (USA)
28 May 1887 – 28 March 1953

The Olympic victories of Jim Thorpe, a first nation American, in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, his subsequent disqualification for professionalism and later return of his medals 30 years after his death, make him one of the legendary figures in Olympic history, let alone athletics.

Thorpe’s dominance in the pentathlon (7 July 1912) was almost absolute. Only in the javelin throw did he not take first place.

King Gustav V of Sweden presented Thorpe with a bronze bust following his victory in the pentathlon saying: “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” To which Thorpe replied, “Thanks. King”.

A week later (13-15 July) in the decathlon, the first time the event had been staged at the Olympic Games, he won in a world record nearly 400 points clear of silver.  

Thorpe also finished equal fourth in the individual high jump (8 July) and seventh in the long jump (14 July).

His medals were stripped from him two months later when it was discovered he had received $25 playing minor league baseball in 1909 and 1910.

It was not until 13 October 1982 that Thorpe’s ban was lifted. On 18 January 1983, his gold medals were presented to his children.

Karoline ‘Lina’ Radke-Batschauer (GER)
18 October 1903 – 14 February 1983

Lina Radke’s position as a pioneer in women’s athletics, a multiple world record-breaker who was the inaugural women’s Olympic 800m champion in 1928, a victory which was not welcomed by officials and resulted in the event’s immediate removal from the Olympic programme (until 1960), represents a struggle against female discrimination.   

The first two Women’s World Games organised by the International Women's Sports Federation (FSFI) in Paris (1922) and Gothenburg (1926) featured a 1000m event.

When the FSFI reached an agreement with the IOC and World Athletics (then the IAAF) to stage women’s athletics events in the Olympic Games for the first time in 1928, the 800m, the nearest Olympic distance to the 1000m, was included in the Amsterdam Olympic programme.

The accepted FSFI world record coming into those 1928 Games was held by Radke with a time of 2:19.6.

In the final in Amsterdam, Radke took the lead with 300 metres to go and finished with a three-metre victory over Japan’s versatile Kinue Hitomi. Radke’s time improved her own world record to 2:16.8.

Despite newspaper stories of athletes finishing the race distressed, the truth was that just one collapsed afterwards. However, the resulting public uproar caused the immediate removal of the women’s 800m event from the Olympic programme. It was not to return until Rome 1960!

During Radke’s outstanding career she set six ratified world records at distances from 800m to 1200m, which included the 1000m mark which she set in 1930.

Chris Turner for World Athletics Heritage


·      ATFS/World Athletics Olympic Statistics Book, editor Mark Butler
·      The Complete Book of the Olympics, David Wallechinsky
·      International Women's Sports Federation (FSFI)

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