We all know the stories of Olympic heroes such as Jim Thorpe, Carl Lewis, Rafer Johnson, Mary Lou Retton and Mark Spitz -- great athletes who took advantage of their opportunity to perform on the world stage and win gold medals.
However, for every story of Olympic glory there are many more stories of those who were denied the chance to shine on the world's stage.
Eulace Peacock was the man who should have been Jesse Owens. During the 1930s and 1940s, Peacock was one of the world's greatest sprinters and long jumpers. While competing for Temple University's track team, he won the AAU 100-meter dash in 1935, defeating a field that included future track Hall of Famers Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. In that same meet, he defeated the future legend Owens in the long jump. Peacock then went on to beat Owens in several other meets that year in the sprints and the long jump. Unfortunately, before the Berlin games, Peacock suffered a pulled thigh muscle that kept him off the 1936 Olympic team. It was Jesse Owens, not Peacock, who went on to become an Olympic and cultural legend. The Olympic Games were canceled in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II, and Peacock was too old to compete by the time the Olympics resumed in 1948.
Marty Glickman was a member of the United States track team who was removed from the 400-meter relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. It wasn't a hamstring or food poisoning that kept Glickman from running in that event. Glickman and another relay teammate, Sam Stoller, were pulled from the race on the eve of the event. United States Olympic team officials told them that because they were Jewish, a victory would embarrass the host Nazis.
Glickman and Stoller were replaced in the relay event by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, despite the protests of Owens, who felt that Glickman and Stoller should run. The American 400-meter relay team easily won their race and captured the gold medal.
Glickman went on to have a very successful sports-related career in broadcasting as the voice of the New York Knicks, New York Giants and New York Jets. Despite his later success in life, Glickman agonized over what could have been and he remained bitter. According to a 1999 article in the San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, Glickman expressed his feelings to historian Peter Levine about returning to Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 1985 as part of a tribute to Jesse Owens. "As I walked into the stadium, I began to get so angry, Glickman told Levine. Not about the German Nazis, that was a given. But the anger at Avery Brundage (Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee) and Dean Cromwell (U.S. Olympic team track coach) for not allowing an eighteen-year-old kid to compete in the Olympic Games just because he was Jewish."
Michael Brooks was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the city of Philadelphia. He starred at West Catholic High School and then went on to have an incredible college basketball career at La Salle University. Brooks scored 2,628 points during his career, had 51 points against BYU in one game, and was named the college basketball player of the year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 1980. He was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1980 with the ninth pick.
Brooks was named captain of the 1980 United States Olympic Basketball Team, which was scheduled to compete in the 1980 summer Olympic Games in Moscow. Unfortunately, the United States chose to boycott those games due to the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan. For all of his great college achievements, Michael Brooks lost his chance to compete on the world's stage.
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, American sprinters Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson were eliminated from the 100-meter competition because their coach had given them the wrong starting time for their quarterfinal race. Both men had tied the world record months earlier and had been considered co-favorites along with Soviet star Valery Borzov to win the gold medal.
As Hart told Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Examiner in September 2000:
One of the things that athletics teaches you, particularly at that level, is that you don't win everything. I think it just better prepares you for life, because that's how life is. Things happen, and you don't always get what you want. You don't get the house you want. You don't get the job you want. You don't get the car you want. That's life. It makes you stronger.
So while you watch the upcoming Summer Olympics in London and admire the triumphs of Michael Phelps and other new Olympic legends, keep in mind how fortunate they are that they had their opportunity to shine.
This is an updated version of Op-Eds that Larry Atkins wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News