Mistake of 1936 Olympic Games Not Forgotten
More than six decades ago, U.S. Olympic officials told Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller that their dreams were over, that they wouldn’t run in the Berlin Games.
More speed was needed, their coaches said, but history points to something darker.
A world war and a world of change later, the current U.S. Olympic leader is coming to town to praise the former sprinters and try to atone for an act that has become linked through the years to the anti-Semitism and Aryan theories of Nazi Germany.
Stoller is dead for more than 10 years. But Glickman, now 80 and retired as a nationally acclaimed sportscaster, is around and has one question: “What took you so long?”
“This is something from back in the ‘30s,” he said. “Yet I still feel terrible about what happened so many years ago.”
Glickman and Stoller, the only Jewish athletes on the U.S. team in 1936, were replaced on the 400-meter relay squad at the last minute.
Their coaches said they were reacting to rumors that the Germans were sandbagging some super sprinters for the race, but reports have persisted almost from the moment of the change that religion was behind it.
Glickman has blamed Avery Brundage, the autocrat who was president of the American Olympic Committee, for kowtowing to pressure from Adolph Hitler.
“It was overt anti-Semitism against Sam Stoller and me,” Glickman said.
While stopping short of an apology, Bill Hybl, president of what is now the U.S. Olympic Committee, said it was time to recognize that a mistake was made 62 years ago.
“We regret this injustice and we feel it was an injustice,” Hybl said. “We’re not only atoning for this but recognizing two great individuals.”
On Sunday in a Long Island suburb, Hybl honors the benched sprinters with the USOC’s first Gen. Douglas MacArthur Award. Named for the former Army commander and Olympic panel chief, it is intended to honor lifetime achievement and adherence to the Olympic ideals, including the belief that the most important thing is to take part.
Glickman and Stoller never got that chance.
Based on practice sessions, they were set to run the first two legs of the relay, in front of Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff. Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, the fastest runners on the team, would concentrate on individual sprints.
On the day of the heats, however, coaches Lawson Robertson and Dean Cromwell called the U.S. sprinters together for some shocking news.
“They said they had learned that Germany had hidden two world-class sprinters for the relay to beat the Americans, and therefore we had to go with the fastest runners, so Sam and I were out and Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe were in,” Glickman said.
Owens protested, arguing that Metcalfe and he had medals already and that Stoller and Glickman should be allowed to run.
“Cromwell pointed his finger at Jesse and said, ‘You’ll do as you’re told,”’ Glickman said.
Glickman also argued unsuccessfully and had to watch from the stands as the U.S. quartet won the gold medal by 15 yards in a world-record 39.8 seconds. Germany, with no surprise entries, finished third.
“They just lied to us,” Glickman said.
Brundage, who died in 1975 after serving 20 year as president of the International Olympic Committee, denied in his official report on the 1936 Games that Glickman and Stoller had been punished because they were Jewish.
“An erroneous report was circulated that two athletes had been dropped from the American relay team because of their religion,” Brundage wrote. “This report was absurd.”
But Brundage made no mention of Germany’s supposed secret sprinters. He said the relay team was based solely on the results of the U.S. trials.
When World War II wiped out the next two Olympics, Glickman’s chance at redemption died.
“I promised myself that in 1940 I’d win it all,” he said. “But 1940 never came.”
In his 1996 autobiography, “The Fastest Kid on the Block,” and in a telephone interview last week, Glickman noted statements Brundage made before the Berlin Games criticizing “Jewish propaganda.” While he acknowledged that he had no way of verifying it, Glickman also said he believed Hitler had somehow let Brundage know that he would prefer not to have Jewish members of the U.S. team on the winners’ stand.
He said he never had approached Brundage about the matter.
“Nobody talked to Brundage,” he said.
Glickman said he was happy to receive the USOC prize, for him and his late teammate.
“I accept the current Olympic committee attempting to atone for what was done then,” he said. “It was a terrible thing.”
But, while he will thank Hybl, Glickman also said he would have some very harsh words for one of his predecessors.
“How could you not be nasty to Avery Brundage,” he said.