Perhaps the most famous of all modern Olympics was the 1936 “Nazi Olympics,” held in Berlin. Hitler tried to use the Olympic Games to demonstrate the superiority of “pure Aryans” over nations that allowed Jews, blacks and other “mongrel” races to compete on their behalf. Jesse Owens and other African-American track stars embarrassed the Fuhrer by winning most of the gold medals in the men’s track sprints and relays, defeating their German rivals easily.
What is less remembered about the Nazi Olympics is the saga of two American Jewish sprinters, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. The 18-year-old Glickman had been a track and football star at Syracuse University, while Stoller competed for the University of Michigan. The two young men made the U. S. Olympic squad as members of the 400-yard relay team. Glickman and Stoller traveled to Germany and prepared diligently for the relay race. The day before the race, however, with little explanation, the U.S. track team coaches replaced Glickman and Stoller with two other runners, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, both African-Americans.
By Glickman’s own account, the last-minute switch was a straightforward case of anti-Semitism. Avery Brundage, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, was an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler’s regime and denied that the Nazis followed anti-Semitic policies. Brundage and assistant U. S. Olympic track coach Dean Cromwell were members of America First, an isolationist political movement that attracted American Nazi sympathizers. Additionally, Cromwell coached two of the other Olympic sprinters, Foy Draper and Frank Wyckoff, at the University of Southern California and openly favored those two over Glickman and Stoller.
Glickman’s suspicions about the fairness of the relay team selection process began at the American Olympic team trials in New York, when he was told he placed fifth of the seven runners competing in the sprint finals. Finish-line photography was not yet in use at that time, but films of the race seem to indicate that Glickman actually finished third behind Owens and Metcalfe. The judges, apparently under pressure from Cromwell, placed Glickman fifth behind Draper and Wyckoff. As a result, Glickman was not one of the three sprinters entered in the 100-yard dash, a premiere Olympic event. Instead, Glickman and Stoller traveled to Berlin as part of the 400-yard relay team, each scheduled to run a 100-yard leg of the race.
As an 18 year old, Glickman was grateful to be going to the Olympics, even if he felt that he’d been robbed of his chance at a medal in the 100 yard dash. There was an effort made by some American Jewish organizations to convince the U. S. Olympic committee to boycott the Nazi Olympics, but Brundage prevailed and the team went. Glickman, like most American Jews, thought that the anti-Semitism he might encounter in Berlin would be no worse than what he faced growing up in Brooklyn. Like many Americans, Glickman had no inkling of the horrific fate awaiting German Jewry in the years after 1936.
Once in Germany, Glickman, Stoller, Draper and Wyckoff spent two weeks practicing as the 400-yard relay team. They were confident of victory. Then, on the day of the qualifying trials, head track coach Lawson Robertson told Glickman and Stoller that Owens and Metcalfe would be replacing them. To his credit, Owens protested to Robertson that Glickman and Stoller deserved to run. Glickman pointed out to Robertson that any combination of the seven teammates could win the race by 15 yards. Robertson replied that he would enter his four best athletes in the relay and that, in his judgment, Owens and Metcalfe were better than Stoller and Glickman. Robertson said his goal was winning, nothing more. Glickman turned to assistant coach Cromwell and said, “Coach, you know that Sam and I are the only two Jews on the track team. If we don’t run there’s bound to be a lot of criticism back home.” Cromwell retorted, “We’ll take our chances.” The American team won in record time as Glickman watched from the stands.
Glickman (who remained a close friend of Owens until the latter’s death) and Stoller were devastated by the decision. Stoller, age 21, announced his retirement from track competition but later recanted. Later that year he won an NCAA sprint championship. Glickman returned to college and became a football All-American. After a brief professional career in football and basketball, Glickman went on to become a distinguished sportscaster, best known as the voice of the New York Knicks and football Giants. Despite his later success, the disillusionment of the 1936 Olympics always loomed large for Glickman. He recalled returning to Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 1985 as part of a tribute to Jesse Owens. Glickman was surprised by his reactions. He told historian Peter Levine:
As I walked into the stadium, I began to get so angry. I began to get so mad. It shocked the hell out of me that this thing of forty-nine years ago could still evoke this anger… I was cussing…I was really amazed at myself, at this feeling of anger. Not about the German Nazis …that was a given. But the anger at Avery Brundage and Dean Cromwell for not allowing an eighteen-year-old kid to compete in the Olympic Games just because he was Jewish.
Glickman had been in Syracuse one year when he made the 1936 Olympic team. After he graduated in 1939, he joined the radio station WHN and by 1943 was its sports director. A long, distinguished broadcasting career followed. When the New York Knickerbockers were formed in 1946, Glickman was their radio announcer. Later, he was the National Basketball Association’s first announcer for TV. He was the voice of the football Giants, for 23 years, of the Knicks for 21, Yonkers Raceway for 12, the New York Jets for 11. Glickman did pre- and postgame shows for the Dodgers and Yankees for 22 years; he broadcast track meets, wrestling matches, roller derbies and rodeos, even a marbles tournament. NBC employed him as a critic and teacher of its sports announcers. In 1988 WCBS hired him for his second tour as the Jets’ play-by-play announcer on radio. It was from that position that Glickman quietly said goodbye to his last audience in December 1992, at age 74.
In 1996, his autobiography, The Fastest Kid on the Block, was published.
Glickman underwent heart bypass surgery Dec. 14. He died of complications from the operation on January 3, 2001. He was 83.
Source: American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), New York Times, (January 4, 2001).