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.
Less remembered about the Nazi Olympics is the saga of two American Jewish sprinters, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. The 18-year-old Glickman starred in track and football 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 4×100-yard relay team. Glickman and Stoller traveled to Germany and prepared diligently for the relay race. The day before the race, however, the U.S. track team coaches replaced Glickman and Stoller with two other runners, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe.
By Glickman’s account, the last-minute switch was straightforward anti-Semitism. Avery Brundage, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, supported Hitler’s regime and denied that the Nazis followed anti-Semitic policies. Brundage and assistant Olympic track coach Dean Cromwell belonged to America First, an isolationist political movement that attracted many pro-Nazi sympathizers. Additionally, Cromwell coached two 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 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 entered in the 100-yard dash, a premiere Olympic event. Instead, he traveled to Berlin as part of the 4×100-yard relay team.
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. Some American Jewish organizations tried to convince the U. S. Olympic committee to boycott the Nazi Olympics but Brundage prevailed and the team went. Glickman, like many American Jews, assumed that the anti-Semitism he might encounter in Berlin would be no worse than what he faced growing up in Brooklyn. Like most Americans, Glickman had no inkling of the horrific fate awaiting German Jewry.
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 replace them. To his credit, Owens protested to Robertson that Glickman and Stoller deserved to run. Robertson told him to do what he was told. Glickman pointed out to Robertson that any combination of the seven teammates could win the race by 15 yards. Robertson replied that he suspected the Germans were hiding their best sprinters to upset the American team and he would enter his four best athletes in the relay. In his judgment, Owens and Metcalfe were better than Stoller and Glickman. 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 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 had a distinguished career as a sportscaster, best known as the voice of the New York Knicks and Rangers and football Giants and Jets. Despite his later success, the disillusionment of the 1936 Olympics loomed large for Glickman, who recently died in his 80s. 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.