BELLEVILLE, N.J. — Robert Rodenkirchen, a world-class sprinter who refused Hitler's request to represent Nazi Germany in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, has died of a heart attack at age 74.
Born in Cologne, Germany, Rodenkirchen came to the United States with his family as a child. After qualifying for the 1936 U.S. Olympic team in the trials, Rodenkirchen was denied a spot when someone discovered his father had never obtained U.S. citizenship for himself and his family.
While Rodenkirchen was on the rubbing table for a race at Princeton University in 1936, the German ambassador to the United States hand-delivered a letter from Adolf Hitler. The letter invited the 19-year-old athlete to represent Germany in the Olympics that year as a representative of the Aryan race.
Rodenkirchen refused, according to press reports at the time. "I never finished the letter," he was quoted as saying.
Rodenkirchen, who died Friday, competed for North Texas State and Cornell universities and set a world record at the 1936 Olympic trial semifinals by running the 200-meter dash in 21.2 seconds.