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Shame of the Games

Death of Glickman Brings Back Memories of 1936, When Two Jewish Sprinters Didn't Run Relay in Berlin

January 05, 2001|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marty Glickman died Wednesday, and so what has long been one of the ugliest chapters in U.S. Olympic history--when he and Sam Stoller, both of them Jewish, were denied sure gold medals in Berlin in 1936--comes finally to a close.

All these years later, however, why it happened remains a mystery, shaded not only by history and memory but clouded by individual experience and expectations of behavior and shaped by perceptions of anti-Semitism, of race and of the sort of filial loyalty that often develops between a coach and his sprinters.

Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff--running in that order--easily won gold for the United States in the 1936 400-meter relay. Owens and Metcalfe were black. Draper and Wykoff were white; both were from USC. So was the assistant U.S. track coach in those Games, Dean Cromwell.

Glickman and Stoller were the only Jews on the U.S. track and field team. German dictator Adolf Hitler sought to use the 1936 Olympics as proof of the Nazi myth of Aryan superiority. As it turned out, Glickman and Stoller returned to the United States as the only members of the team who had not competed in Berlin--told the day of the race that they would not run.

Who can say why? Theories abound. Historians and authors have never been a able to provide a definitive answer.

"To the day he died, Marty was in tears," acclaimed Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan, a longtime friend of Glickman's, said Thursday.

"He would say, 'I have grandchildren and I can't show them the gold medal I should have won.' "

Glickman died Wednesday in New York of complications after undergoing heart surgery in mid-December. He was 83.

He was well known in New York as one of its leading sportscasters. Over his long broadcasting career he was variously the voice of the football Giants, the Knicks and the Jets. Generations of New Yorkers knew his trademark basketball call: "Swish!"

Always, however, he was known for what he did not get to do--run in the 1936 Olympics.

That summer, Glickman was 18, a sophomore at Syracuse. Stoller was a senior at Michigan.

At the Olympic trials, the U.S. coaches--Cromwell and head Coach Lawson Robertson of the University of Pennsylvania--had announced that the first three finishers in the 100-meter dash would represent the United States in that event in Berlin. The next four, the coaches said, would make up the 400-meter relay team.

Owens, Metcalfe and Wykoff finished 1-2-3.

Draper came in fourth, Glickman fifth and Stoller sixth. Mack Robinson of Pasadena, Jackie Robinson's older brother, finished seventh.

Then Mack Robinson qualified for the 200 meters. Wykoff--who had won gold in the 400-meter relay at the 1928 Amsterdam Games and the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics--was picked to replace him in the relay.

Thus, heading to Berlin, it was assumed that the 400-meter relay team would be Wykoff, Draper, Glickman and Stoller. After arrival, the foursome spent considerable time practicing their baton passes.

Four or five days before the race, according to an account Glickman later gave author William O. Johnson Jr., the two coaches held a race to help determine the running order of the relay. In that race, recalled in Johnson's 1972 book, "All That Glitters is not Gold," Stoller finished first, Glickman second and Draper t

hird.

On Aug. 5, Owens won the 200, picking up his third gold medal of the Games. Robertson was asked if Owens would be on the 400-meter relay team. According to David Wallechinsky's "The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics," Robertson said that Owens had garnered "enough glory" and that Glickman, Stoller and Wykoff were guaranteed spots; the fourth choice, he said, "rests between Foy Draper and Ralph Metcalfe."

On Aug. 7, however, Robertson told the press that Owens would indeed run.

The morning of Aug. 8, Robertson and Cromwell gathered their sprinters in a room in the Olympic village. Robertson reported a rumor that the Germans had been hiding their best sprinters for the relays.

So, Robertson said, Owens was definitely on the U.S. team. So was Metcalfe, who had finished second, behind Owens, in the 100 meters.

Then came the bombshell: Stoller and Glickman were out. Draper and Wykoff were in. Even though Draper had finished third in the practice race days before, behind Stoller and Glickman, he had more experience, the coaches explained.

The U.S. team won the race by 15 yards, setting a world record of 39.8 seconds that lasted for 20 years.

Owens ran the first leg. Metcalfe ran second--a leg so spectacularly fast that, as University of Maine historian William J. Baker notes in a 1986 book on Owens, audiences "invariably gasp" when they see it in Leni Riefenstahl's film on the Games. The photos at the finish line frame Wykoff's white skin.

After the Games, when Robertson debarked in New York, he told reporters that Stoller and Glickman being Jewish had "absolutely nothing" to do with the move.

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