In the lead-up to this year’s Summer Olympic Games, Marnie Eisenstadt and Johnathan Croyle of syracuse.com have unearthed a fascinating story about a Syracuse Olympic gold medalist that has seldom been talked about. It’s the tale of a man who exemplified true sportsmanship and perseverance in the face of great trial.
Myer Prinstein was born in the Jewish suburb of Szczuczyn, Poland in 1878. He had two brothers and two sisters. The family of seven left Poland for greener pastures in the United States, fleeing the plight of persecution of all Jews there. They decided to choose Syracuse as their landing spot because Prinstein’s mother had family living there. He attended Syracuse University as a student of law and liberal arts while also joining the track and field team.
Myer was selected to the U.S. team that would travel to Paris for the 1900 Summer Games after setting a record for the best American long jump at 23’ 3/4” as a freshman for the Orange.
Because he was a student at SU at the time, he had to abide by the university’s rules in addition to those provided by the Games. Syracuse was Methodist, which meant that no athletes of theirs could compete on a given Sunday. Prinstein was up against UPenn’s Alvin Kraenzlin in the long jump finals slated for Saturday and, you guessed it, Sunday. The two had agreed to not compete on Sunday, but Kraenzlin went ahead and jumped the next day anyway, thus winning the gold and Prinstein the silver. Myer was undoubtedly angry and proceeded to shove Kraenzlin. Despite this, though, the two men made amends and became good friends from then on. He went on to win gold in the triple jump.
One fun side story is that the track and field team wouldn’t have even made it to the 1900 games if it hadn’t been for an oil baron letting them sail on an oil steamship across the ocean.
Prinstein competed again in the St. Louis 1904 Games and Greece 1906 Games and won two golds in the long jump both years and another gold in the triple jump in 1904.
Myer met his wife Henrietta Northshield at one of his competitions in New York City in 1908. They had a son, Eddie, who was nine when his father died of illness at the age of 45.
Dan Prinstein, one of Myer’s grandchildren, recalls his father Eddie describing Myer as someone who “quietly persevered,” finding his own way when there wasn’t already one carved for him.
The moral of his story is that it’s important to make amends with those who may have been your rivals and thus to never hold grudges.