Copeland, Lillian : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Copeland, Lillian

track and field

Country Represented:
United States

Years Competed:
1928, 1932

Medals Received:
gold, silver

Olympic Info:
One of the greatest female athletes of the 1920s and 1930s, Copeland competed in two Olympiads as a member of the United States track and field team. At the 1928 Amsterdam Games, the first to include women's track, Copeland won the silver medal in the discus, with a throw of 121'8".

Copeland returned to the Olympics in 1932 at the Los Angeles Games, and won the gold medal in the discus throw. In front of many supporters (Copeland attended law school in L.A.), she set the world record with a sterling toss of 133'2". Copeland then boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympics in protest of the Nazi goverment's refusal to allow Jewish athletes on the German Olympic squad.

Career Highlights:
One of the greatest track and field athletes of the first half of the 20th Century, Copeland was born in New York to Polish-Jewish immigrants. After her father died, her mother married Abraham Copeland and the family moved to Los Angeles. Copeland attended the University of Southern California and was an outstanding athlete, excelling in track and field, tennis and basketball (she was the first woman from USC to compete in the Olympics).

In 1926, Lillian won the U.S. titles in the shot put, discus, and javelin, setting a meet record in each. She was a four-time national champion in the shot put (her favorite event), which unfortunately was not an Olympic event in either 1928 or 1932. Between 1925-1932, Lillian set six world records each in the shot put, discus, and javelin; she would have won even more titles, but decided to shift her focus from athletics to academics, attending USC Law School from 1928-1932. After graduating, Copeland worked at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department from 1936-1960.

At the 1928 Olympic Trials, Lillian showed off her athleticism by running the lead-off leg on the World Record-setting U.S. 440-yard relay team (50.0). She retired from international competition in 1932, but returned in 1935 to compete for the U.S. Maccabiah team. At the 1935 Games, Copeland won gold medals in the shot put, discus, and javelin. It was her final athletic competition. Lillian was inducted into the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1994. She is also a member of the Helms Athletic Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Nov. 25, 1904 - d. July 7, 1964

New York City

Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.

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Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Olympic Games: Athens 1896-Sydney 2000, (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1999)