Otto Peltzer

Posted on November 4, 2010


Long-forgotten world-record holder Otto Peltzer grew from a frail child into one of Germany’s foremost athletes in the early 20th century. He first broke a world record in 1926 when he unexpectedly won a specially arranged 1500 meter race in Berlin against Finnish champion Paavo Nurmi and two others. In 1928, when the Germans were allowed to take part in the Olympics after being forced to sit out in 1920 and 1924, Peltzer was the team captain but he was injured shortly before the games. He was captain again in 1932, but through another mischance (the team had spiked shoes inappropriate for the hard track) he failed to win any medals.

During his tenure as captain, he rankled those in charge by advocating for the athletes over the trainers and management, which nearly got him fired in 1932 – it was only his fellow-teammates refusing to go on without him that saved him. Unfortunately, solidarity with his teammates could not save him when the Nazis came into power. He was strongly disliked for his iconoclasm, and persecuted for his homosexuality. He was jailed for a time, left the country and lived a hand-to-mouth existence in Denmark, Finland and then Sweden before returning to Germany, where he was interned in the Mauthauzen concentration camp along with other homosexuals, communists and Roma.

After the war, Germany’s law against homosexuality continued in place, which meant that many of those still alive who interned at the work camps had survived only to end up in jail. Peltzer was blacklisted and unable to find work, he ultimately ended up in India, living in extreme poverty, coaching at the National Athletics Stadium in Delhi and founding the Olympic Youth Delhi Club.

After having a heart attack in 1967, he returned to Germany. In 1970 while training Indian Junior Champion Happy Sikand in preparation for the 1972 Olympics, Peltzer died.

Otte Peltzer has a Wikipedia page, here.