Marty Glickman, Jesse Owens and a Forgotten Story of the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Peter Richman@ peter_f_richmanCorrespondent IAugust 22, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03:  The Olympic Cauldron burns on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 3, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On Monday, August 26th, at 9 p.m. ET, HBO will preview the documentary Glickman, concerning "one of the most revered sportscasters in history."

A synopsis mentions that "Before Marv Albert and Bob Costas, there was Marty Glickman. A gifted Jewish-American athlete," who went on to a pioneering and influential broadcasting career for the New York Knicks, Giants and Jets. 

But there's more to the story of one of the most recognizable sports voices in New York sports history.

Glickman was involved in a historic event at the 1936 Berlin Olympics—which has since become obscured—and he will forever be inextricably tied to the emergence of legendary African-American runner Jesse Owens.

Here's the rest of that story.

On August 14, 1917, Martin "Marty" Glickman was born in the Bronx, New York to Jewish immigrant parents. He attended Brooklyn's James Madison High School where he was a prominent, nationally-dominating sprinter, according to Haaretz.

The Daily News states that Glickman was even known as the "Flatbush Flash" in his speedy Brooklyn youth.

While at Syracuse University, Glickman qualified for the 4x100 meter United States Olympic relay team. He and another Jewish sprinter, Sam Stoller, traveled overseas to Germany in 1936 to comprise one half of the relay; only, they would never get the opportunity to compete.

Between August 1 and August 16, the Summer Olympic Games were hosted in Berlin—in Nazi Germany; Hitler's Germany.

The ceremonies commenced in the Nazi regime-built Olympic Stadium—the 110,000-capacity mammoth constructed under Joseph Goebbels' direction to showcase Aryan supremacy and a "New Germay," as The History Place point out.

Just before the trials of the 4x100 meter relay, however, Glickman and Stoller—then a student at the University of Michigan—were replaced.

Two new American sprinters took the place of the two Jewish-American student-athletes.

The new-look foursome went on to win gold in the event, set a world record (39.8 seconds) that stood for 20 years and entered the annals of U.S. sports lore forever.

The names of the replacement runners?

Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe—both famous African-American athletes and sprinters.

The 1936 games created the legend of Jesse Owens because he won a stunning four gold medals, earning the distinction as the most decorated athlete in the Olympiad.

The fourth gold medal was that 4x100 relay.

One of the longstanding myths of those Berlin games regards Hitler's alleged racist snubbing of Owens upon claiming his first gold medal in the 100 meters.

The Chancellor was said to have purposely avoided recognizing Owens' achievements—despite shaking hands with the other competitors—since the notion of a victorious and formidable African-American threatened Nazi claims to a superior race.

But that myth has been numerously countered, as in this Daily Mail article, in which Allan Hall states of the 1936 allegation:

Or so the story goes. 

But now a veteran sports reporter in Germany has come forward to claim that, though Hitler did indeed leave the stadium after the race, it was not before shaking Owens' hand.

Siegfried Mischner, 83, claims that Owens carried around a photograph in his wallet of the Fuehrer doing just that.

Not only does this truth mitigate the supposed racism toward Owens, but it also underscores the forgotten side of the story: the overt anti-semitism against Glickman and his teammate; but not solely by Nazi Germany.

The Jewish-Americans were replaced and snubbed by the decisions of their own country's Olympic committee.

As The Daily News reports, the HBO documentary brings something else to light:

James L. Freedman, the producer of a documentary called “Glickman” that makes its HBO debut on Aug. 26, says USOC chairman Avery Brundage replaced Glickman and another Jewish athlete, Sam Stoller, at the last minute to appease Adolf Hitler.

The picture is further muddled by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's positing, on the other hand, that "Various reasons were given for the change. The coaches claimed they needed their fastest runners to win the race;" but then also concurring, in part, with The Daily News, that "Glickman has said that Coach Dean Cromwell and Avery Brundage were motivated by antisemitism and the desire to spare the Führer the embarrassing sight of two American Jews on the winning podium."

Denying reasons of anti-semitism, a 21-year-old Stoller simply recorded "the incident in his diary as 'the most humiliating episode' in his life," according the Memorial Museum's website. 

But as The Daily News writes, the documentary's producer, Freedman, claims some additional condemning insight: "But wait, there’s more: Freedman says Hitler rewarded Brundage two years later by giving Brundage’s construction company the contract to build the German embassy in Washington, D.C."

Glickman, as will be documented on August 26, went on to enlist in the Marines during World War II, which, among other consequences, resulted in the collapse of Hitler's Third Reich by 1945.

Following the war, he embarked on an extremely successful broadcasting career, covering New York sports and even "[endearing] himself to New Yorkers as the voice of Giants football during their 'golden age' of the '50s and '60s," according to HBO.com.

He coined catchphrases like the staccato "swish" and invented much of the terminology in broadcasting still in use today.

Glickman passed away on January 3, 2001, and as the documentary's web page explains in part below, his inability to compete on the United States Track and Field Team because of his religion did not prevent him from attempting to open doors for others later in life:

[He] devoted his life to helping kids, as well as working with New York City high schools and the Police Athletic League, among others. Marty Glickman was a lifelong advocate of sports as a means of transcending divisions created by race, class and religion.

This forgotten story of the 1936 Olympics is an extremely interesting one, and its link to Jesse Owens' emergence on the world stage is even more intriguing. 

This upcoming documentary and the ensuing discourse should help in ensuring the Jewish-American's story will not be ignored for much longer and that his legacy—beyond just his broadcasting innovations—will be emphasized more in the future.


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