Henry Helmet Laskau
track and field
1948, 1952, 1956
One of the greatest race walkers in history, Laskau competed in three Olympiads for the United States' track and field team. His best finish occurred at his first Olympic competition when he finished in seventh place in the 10-km walk at the 1948 London Games. Four years later at the 1952 Helsinki Games, Laskau competed in the 20-km walk, but was disqualified for illegal walking. At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, his final Olympic appearance, the forty-year-old finished twelfth in the 20-km walk. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, Laskau officiated both walking events.
Known as 'Mr. Walking,' Laskau is a member of the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. In the 1930s, he was one of Germany's top middle-distance runner before fleeing that country. In 1939, Henry spent three months in a forced labor camp before escaping after a sympathetic guard told him he'd turn his back if Laskau left that night (his parents and brother perished in concentration camps). After spending time in France, he went to Cuba before emigrating to the U.S.
On the suggestion of Emil von Elling, NYU's track coach, Henry began race-walking in 1946 (at the age of 30) after serving in counterintelligence for the U.S. Army in World War II. From the start, Laskau's performance was remarkable; he was unbeaten in the U.S. in race-walking from 1947-1956, winning 42 National AAU Championships, and every indoor one-mile championship from 1948-1957. In 1951, Laskau set the world indoor one-mile record (6:19.2), which stood for twelve years; he also won the gold medal at the first Pan American Games that year. Laskau set three American records during his career: 10km (46:45) in 1951, 3km (12:52.7) in 1952, and 15 km (1:12.40) in 1956. In 1950, 1953, 1957, and 1965, Henry won gold medals at the Maccabiah Games; the 1965 Games saw him come out of an eight-year retirement to win the 3km!
Laskau's enthusiasm continued following his retirement and he served as an official, promoter, coach, and national committee member; the Henry Laskau Race Walk takes place in Coconut Creek, Florida each year. In 1983, Laskau was named to the USA/Mobil All-Time Track and Field team. In 1997, he was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, only the second race-walker to be so honored; it was the ninth time he appeared on the ballot, the most of any Hall of Famer. Laskau is also a member of the Helms Hall of Fame, and the Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Fellow Olympic walker Elliot Denman said of Laskau: "He has been a great ambassador for the sport...many athletes just bow out when they're finished, not Henry. He gave a lot back to his sport...after he quit competing, he coached thousands of people in Florida, where walking is big. He was a guru to all those people."
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Sept. 12, 1916 - d. May 7, 2000
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
New York Times, May 9, 2000
New York Times, July 21-August 2, 1952