Isaacson, Harold : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Isaacson, Harold

Harold S. Isaacson


Country Represented:
United States

Years Competed:

Olympic Info:
An Olympic equestrian, Isaacson was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the time of the 1936 Games, when the equestrian team was made up entirely of U.S. Cavalrymen. At the Berlin Games, the Americans were considered favorites entering the competition as the defending gold medal-winning team. During the cross-country course, however, the fourth jump caused countless problems as the water was deeper than the three feet reported by the German team and the bottom was soft, causing many riders to fall and horses to be injured. Only 15 of the 48 horses cleared the fourth obstacle with no difficulty, and 28 horses fell, while three refused to even attempt the jump. Three other horses were injured so badly they had to be destroyed. Interestingly (and not without much suspicion), German riders seemed to have no difficulty negotiating the fourth jump and their team went on to win the gold medal. The Americans were disqualified and neither the French nor Italians had any riders who completed the course. No fourth-place position could be awarded because so many riders were either disqualified or failed to finish the course.

Many American Jews had hoped that Jewish athletes would boycott the Olympics in Germany because the Nazis forbade Jews from competing as members of the German Olympic team. After learning that Isaacson, along with fencer Norman Armitage and basketball player Sam Balter, had decided to compete in Berlin, Henry Levy of the American Hebrew wrote: "These three comprise, I hope, the entire Jewish representation on the 1936 American Olympic team. Three are enough black sheep." In fact, six other Jewish athletes traveled to Berlin, including sprinters Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman who were removed from the 4x100-meter relay team at the last minute in favor of Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. Glickman always insisted that he and Stoller had been removed because of anti-Semitism and craven attempts to appease Hitler.

Career Highlights:
During World War II, Isaacson, a U.S. Army captain, led the Fifth Army’s 77th Field Artillery Group in the Italian Campaign.

Birth and Death Dates:


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Ellis Island to Ebbets Field: Sport and the American Jewish Experience, by Peter Levine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)