UND’s Hurdler Fritz Pollard, Jr.
The Summer Olympics of 1936 in Berlin was a spectacle of Nazi hype in track-and-field. Adolph Hitler proclaimed his Aryan “Master Race” would defeat all others, but America’s Jesse Owens won four gold medals, exposing the “Master Race” as a sham.
There was a side story in Berlin that summer that involved another black athlete. On this date, in 1936, Fritz Pollard, Jr., a University of North Dakota sophomore, went to the starting line in the 110 meter high hurdles quarterfinal heat. It was a surprise that Pollard was even there, for Pollard had come “out of nowhere” to qualify for the U.S. team, finishing second in the Olympic Trials in New York, beating many highly-rated hurdlers. The only one who surpassed Pollard was Forrest Towns, the University of Georgia star, co-holder of the world-record. Pollard had finished second – beating USC’s Roy Staley, also a world record holder.
Pollard had been a longshot, but he also faced another obstacle, having injured his leg during workouts on the cross-Atlantic voyage. He was not fully-recovered, but the concern soon dissolved as he won his heat handily in 14.7 seconds – knocking a German hurdler out of competition. Fellow-Americans Towns and Staley also won their heats.
The next day, August 6th, brought the high-hurdles semifinals and finals.
Both Pollard and Towns qualified in the semifinal races, but teammate Staley was eliminated.
Before an overflow-crowd of 105,000 spectators, with Hitler in attendance that day, UND’s Fritz Pollard and the favorite, Forrest Towns, were in the 110-meter finals.
The starting-gun fired, and Pollard “flashed sensational speed,” setting a torrid pace. Towns, a notoriously slow starter, trailed Pollard by a foot at the third hurdle, but Towns “really began to run,” skimming over the next hurdles. For the first 80-meters, Pollard was leading the field. But, fatefully, Pollard’s injured leg nicked the next-to-last hurdle, slowing Pollard for a heartbeat. In the blink-of-an-eye, the flawless Towns swiftly took the lead with a “finishing burst.”
And so, America’s Forrest Towns got gold, his 14.2 seconds setting an Olympic record, equaling the world-record. British hurdler Don Finlay edged past Pollard for silver, so UND’s Fritz Pollard got bronze, though both finished with a time of 14.4, equaling the former Olympic record.
Fritz Pollard, Jr., (1915-2003), despite being hindered by a leg injury, brought home to N.D. an Olympic bronze-medal, thereby helping to repudiate Hitler’s race-theories.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Sources: “Pollard Wins Handily,” Bismarck Tribune, August 5, 1936, p. 2; “110-Meter Hurdles Quarter-Finals (First 2 in Each Heat Qualify for Semi-Finals Tomorrow,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 5, 1936, p. 21; “Towns Cracks High Hurdle Mark; Fritz Pollard of North Dakota is Third,” Bismarck Tribune, August 6, 1936, p. 1; “U.S. Sweep in Hurdles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 6, 1936, p. 16; “Towns of U.S. Triumphs,” New York Times, August 7, 1936, p. 1; “Olympic Highlights in Events Yesterday,” New York Times, August 6, 1936, p. 24.
“Olympic Highlights In Events Yesterday; Track and Field,” New York Times, August 7, 1936, p. 12.
“Pollard’s Victory Biggest Surprise Of Olympic Semis,” Bismarck Tribune, June 29, 1936, p. 9.
Arthur J. Daley, “Hurdlers of U.S. Picked to Annex Both Titles at Olympics in Berlin,” New York Times, July 2, 1936, p. 18.
Arthur J. Daley, “Two World Marks Set as Best U.S. Olympic Track Team Emerges From Trials,” New York Times, July 13, 1936, p. 18.
Lewis Dial, “The Sport Dial,” New York Age, July 4, 1936, p. 9.
“U.S. Athletes In 1st Workouts On German Soil,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 26, 1936, p. 39; Lewis Dial, “The Sport Dial,” New York Age, August 1, 1936, p. 9.
“Olympics,” The Dacotah For 1937 (Grand Forks: University of N.D., 1937), p. 120.
“1939 Graduate, School’s First Black Athlete,” Dakota Student [UND], April 10, 1990, p. 3, 8.