INDIANAPOLIS -- USA Track & Field mourns the loss of Louis Zamperini and Frank Greenberg, who both passed away this week. Zamperini, a veteran of WWII and Olympian in the 1936 Olympic Games, died Wednesday of pneumonia at the age of 97. Former USATF president Greenberg passed away on Sunday, June 29, from complications due to Alzheimer's. He was 81.
“In the span of just a few days, our sport has lost two giants,” USATF President and Chairman of the Board Stephanie Hightower said. “Frank Greenberg was so pivotal in the history of USATF as an organization, and he made his mark with distinction. Louis Zamperini was a remarkable person whose legacy was reignited late in his life. His is a human story that took place on the track and in the battlefield. On behalf of USATF, we extend our most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of both of these extraordinary, irreplaceable men.”
Louis Zamperini was born in Odeon, New York and moved to Southern California at the age of two. After becoming a scholarship athlete at USC, he made the U.S. Olympic team at the age of 19. In the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, he placed eighth in the 5000m. He later decided to retire from track & field in order to serve his country in WWII. A POW in Japan, Zamperini spent 47 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean before being captured by the Japanese Navy by the Marshall Islands and tortured until the end of WWII in August 1945.
Later in life, he ran as an Olympic torchbearer for five different Olympic Games, including the Nagano Winter Olympic Games at the age of 80, running past the site of the camp where he was imprisoned. He returned to the Berlin Olympic Stadium in 2005 for the first time since competing there in the 1936 Games.
Author Laura Hillenbrand wrote Zamperini’s story in Unbroken, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than three years. Unbroken, a feature film directed and produced by Angelina Jolie, is set to release on Christmas Day 2014.
Greenberg’s life was centered around track and field. He was the first non-coach to serve as USATF’s president when he was appointed in 1988 and served until 1992. He also served on numerous other track associations on the national and international stage, including president of the Athletics Congress, a member of the U.S. Olympic International Competition Committee, and vice chair of the International Doping Commission for the International Association of Athletics Federations.
One of his biggest impacts on track and field came as vice chair for the doping commission in 1997, where his committee helped pass a reduction in penalties for athletes that violated international doping rules, from four years to two years.
He received the Robert Giegengack Award, the top honor bestowed by USA Track and Field, in 1986 and was also given the Jesse Owens Award by the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Association.
An active track official in his hometown of Philadelphia beginning in 1971, Greenberg co-founded the Philadelphia Official Council, which gave women, African-Americans and Jews the opportunity to officiate track meets in the greater Philadelphia area for high schools, AAU meets, and colleges. He was inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 for his contributions.
Greenberg was a master of hand-timing photo finishes and judging the decathlon, though he nearly lost his leg in a freak accident in 1979. Greenberg lost 30 percent of his foot’s functionality due to a stray javelin gashing his leg. He returned to officiating a year later and was awarded Herman J. Mancini Award in 1995, which honors an active official of the Penn Relays for continued meritorious service.
He graduated from Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School in 1950 and earned an undergraduate and law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He served in the Army from 1955 to 1957 and was honorably discharged with the rank of first lieutenant. His career as a lawyer spanned 30 years with the firm Katz, Slifkin and Greenberg, which later became Slifkin & Greenberg.
He was preceded in death by his second wife, Linda Alpert Greenberg. He is survived by his sons Jeff and Scott; three grandchildren; and a sister.
Tyler Stevenson and Kashton Foley
Tyler.Stevenson@usatf.org | Kashton.Foley@usatf.org