Monday, August 20, 2012

Vol. 2 No. 85 Sam Stoller , Indignity at Berlin


The following biography of Sam Stoller was sent to us from Bill Schnier, men's track and cross country coach at the University of Cincinnati.  Bill will be presenting Sam Stoller (deceased) at his induction in the Cincinnati area Track and Field Hall of Fame.  Sam was a native of Cincinnati.  


            A 1933 graduate of Hughes High School and a 1937 graduate of the University of Michigan, Sam Stoller led a fascinating life of champion and runner-up, of Olympian and non-Olympian, of athlete and singer.  Sam was born in Cincinnati and attended Hughes High School at the same time that Jesse Owens was running in Cleveland.  As a result Sam never won the state meet in high school, finishing second to the great Jesse Owens who ran for Cleveland East Tech.  The two followed each other to the Big Ten where Stoller continued to be a frequent runner-up to Owens.  Sam ran for the University of Michigan while Jesse competed for Ohio State.  During their college days they faced each other 20 times with Sam winning only once, yet the races were always close.  Sam once said “I’m the fellow you see in the movies of Jesse’s footraces.” 
                                                        Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller
  en route to Berlin
            Jesse Owens burst onto the national stage when he set four world records at the 1935 Big Ten Championships.  Sam made his national mark for the first time by setting the world record for the 60 yard dash in 6.1 seconds.  Yet it was in the 1936 Olympic Trials followed by the Berlin Olympic Games where the two earned lasting recognition.  Jesse immortalized himself by winning four gold medals in the historic “Hitler Olympics” whereas Sam became best known for qualifying for the USA 400 meter relay, then being denied the opportunity to run.  Considerably controversy surrounded that decision at the time and even to the present.
                                               Ralph Metcalfe, Sam Stoller, Jesse Owens
                                                       possibly at 1936 Olympic Trials
            At the 1936 Olympic Trials at Randall’s Island in New York City, the places were as follows:  1. Jesse Owens,  2. Ralph Metcalf,  3. Frank Wykoff,  4. Foy Draper,  5. Marty Glickman,  6. Sam Stoller and 7. Mack Robinson (brother of Jackie Robinson).  Using the logic and current thinking of United States sprinting, the top four would run the finals of the 400 meter relay while fifth and sixth would serve as backups, running only in the trials.  However, at that time, 1936, the plan was to have the headliners run the open sprints and to have the others concentrate on their handoffs, directing their entire attention to the relay.  Consequently Stoller rode the Olympic ship to Germany fully planning to run the 400 meter relay.  Once in Germany the team of Sam Stoller, Marty Glickman, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff practiced their handoffs faithfully in anticipation of the day when they would represent the USA.  While in Berlin they heard a rumor that the Germans were hiding their best sprinters so they could surprise the world but especially the Americans in the 400 meter relay, yet in the 100 and 200 meter races they were nowhere to be seen.  Near the end of the Olympic Games and the morning of the 400 meter relay trials, a meeting took place with US head coach Lawson Robertson, assistant coach Dean Cromwell and the seven American sprinters.  In that meeting it was announced that Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who had placed first and second in the 100 meters, would replace Stoller and Marty Glickman.  The rationale during that meeting is that the coaches wanted to put the four fastest runners on the relay.  In a 100 meter race at the Olympic site a few weeks earlier, the places were Stoller, Glickman and Draper indicating that the two who did not run were faster than those who did run.  The interpretation by the two runners left off the relay is that they were dropped for religious purposes since they were both Jewish and the US Olympic Committee did not want to offend Hitler and the Nazi leaders.  Both Avery Brundage, the Head of the USOC, and assistant coach, Dean Cromwell, were members of the American First Committee, an isolationist group headed by Charles Lindbergh with anti-Semitic leanings.  The team of Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalf, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff went on to win the gold medal in the world record time of 39.8.  However, the controversy continues today.

            On Sam’s 21st birthday he did not go to the stadium to see the relay and vowed never to run again.  However he reconsidered and ran his final year at Michigan, winning the Big Ten and NCAA 100 meters.  After the NCAAs in 1937, he stayed in California, taking up a singing career in nine separate movies as Singin’ Sammy Stoller.  Later in life he was an announcer for the Washington Senators.  In 1988 the US Olympic Committee tried to atone for the Olympic slight by awarding Stoller and Glickman the General MacArthur Medal.  Sam Stoller was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame before dying in 1985 at the age of 69.  

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