September 15, 1906 - March 20, 1981
Irving Jaffee was an American speed skater who won two gold medals at the 1932 Winter Olympics, becoming the most successful American athlete there, along with another famous sportsman, Jack Shea.
Irving Jaffee – The Skating Legend
Irving Warren Jaffee was born in New York City, to Jewish parents who had emigrated from Russia in 1896, after a wave of pogroms that swept the Western parts of the Russian Empire. He grew up in the Crotona Park section of The Bronx, and from childhood took interest in baseball, playing with the future Baseball Hall of Fame sportsman Hank Greenberg. He even dropped out of high school after failing to make it into the varsity baseball team.
At the age of only 14, Jaffee took up skating at the Gay Blades of Iceland rink, paying the 75-cent admission fee by working as an ice clearer at the rink. He fell in love with the sport and soon, in the 1920 s, took part – quite successfully- in multiple local skating races.
His rise to fame was meteoric: he won the Silver Skates two-mile race in 1926, then the national five-mile race in 1927, and then qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1928!
At the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Jaffee was leading the fearsome Norwegian competition In the 10,000-meter race, when thawing ice forced the Norwegian referee to make the controversial decision to cancel the race. The wrangling between the International Olympic Committee and the International Skating Union over the gold medal that should have gone to Jaffee resulted in the victory for the ISU, which refused to honor Jaffee as the rightful winner of that race.
Jaffee competed again at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York – despite the fact that the venue was adorned with signs "No dogs or Jews allowed"! There, he won two gold medals, one of them - by simply leaping across the finish line ahead of his competitors.
During the Great Depression, the unemployed Jaffee ended up on bread lines and had to pawn his medals for the considerable (at the time) $3500. When he finally found a job on Wall Street, he went back to the pawn shop, but it had gone out of business and the medals were lost forever...
Even after leaving professional sports, Jaffee continued to set records: while working as a sports instructor at a resort hotel in the Catskills, he set a new world record in 25-mile skating! For this, and for other contributions to American sports, Irving Jaffee was elected to the United States Skating Hall of Fame, and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
The sportsman died in his home in San Diego at the age of 74.
Jewish sports legends: the International Jewish Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 27, 2011.
The Winter Olympics: An Insider's Guide to the Legends, Lore and The Games. 2009