Denied Olympic Glory by Nazis, Now Honored by Queens

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Margaret Lambert

    Margaret Lambert was a 22-year-old star athlete when the Nazis ended her dream of Olympic glory.

    But recognition is coming Lambert's way now, 74 years after she was kicked off the German Olympic team because she is Jewish.

    The New York City Department of Education named a high school athletic field after Lambert, who held a German high jump record in 1936 when she was known as Gretel Bergmann.

    "I didn't know I was such a big shot," Lambert, now 96, said Tuesday at a ceremony she attended with her 99-year-old husband. "You can fight injustice in many different ways, even if it means jumping higher than anyone else."

    The honor comes six months after Germany's track and field association restored her record, which had been expunged. It also requested that Lambert be included in Germany's sports hall of fame.

    "I feel quite honored," Lambert said in a telephone interview Monday. "But if it hadn't happened I would live on."

    Lambert has been a New Yorker since she fled Nazi Germany in 1937. She became an American champion in women's high jump in 1937 and 1938 and women's shot put in 1937, but she stopped competing when war broke out in 1939.

    Lambert married, worked as a cleaning woman and then as a physical therapist, and raised two sons.

    She has lived long enough to be feted by the country that once spurned her.

    In 1995, a gymnasium in Berlin was named after Lambert and in 1999, her hometown of Laupheim, Germany, named its athletic center after her.

    Lambert attended a ceremony Tuesday at which the field at Francis Lewis High School in Queens was named the Margaret Lambert Track and Field.

    Lambert said she was "a little bit embarrassed" when she learned of the honor.

    Asked what message she would pass on to the young athletes who will compete at the field named for her, she said, "I hope they keep it honest and stay away from steroids."

    There were no performance-enhancing drugs — and no endorsement contracts — for track stars in the 1930s.

    "We never got a cent," Lambert said. "It was all for the honor of it."