Canada's boxing champion in the lightweight division, Luftspring made the 1936 Olympic team, but boycotted the Games in protest of Germany's treatment of the Jews. Luftspring and another Canadian Jewish boxer, Norman "Babe" Yack, announced their decision not to attend the Berlin Games in a stark and revealing statement. They declared, "We would have been very (loath) to hurt the feelings of our fellow Jews, by going to a land that would exterminate them if it could." Instead, the two boxers chose to compete in the alternate Games being held in Barcelona. When they reached the port city of Dieppe, France, though, they learned the Barcelona Games had been cancelled due to the Spanish Civil War.
According to his brother Syd, Luftspring began fighting at an early age at the Brunswick (Toronto) Talmud Torah. Sammy moved up the ranks quickly, but he also used his talents outside the ring. In 1933, he was part of a group of hundreds of young Jewish men who fought a battle against Toronto's Swastika Club during the Christie Pitts riots (Christie Pitts was a neighborhood in Toronto and the riots started when fascists challenged some Jews playing baseball; the Jews won the battle).
Sammy turned professional in 1936, and two years later became the Canadian welterweight champion when he defeated Frankie Genovese in the first 15-round bout ever held in Ontario. He held the title for two years, and was third in line for a shot at Henry Armstrong, the world champion, when his career was tragically cut short. Three months before he was scheduled to fight Armstrong, in 1940, Sammy faced Steve Belloise at Madison Square Garden. Considered a warm-up fight, Luftspring took a thumb in his left eye during the second round. Sammy refused to quit, and finished the fight, although he lost on a split decision. Worse, he lost all vision in his eye and was forced to retire.
Although he could no longer box, Sammy remained in the ring as a referee. In the 1970s, he made the Guinness Book of World Records for refereeing more than 2,000 boxing matches, including one world title. In 1985, Sammy was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. 1915 - d. Sept. 2000
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